Living In Porto For Expats: The Pros & Cons You Must Know

Living in Porto offers a myriad of advantages for people of all ages and interests! Join us as we examine all the ins and outs of life for expats in Portugal's second largest city.

If you’re an aspiring expat who dreams of a life spent nestled within a historic European city, then living in Porto may be your dream come true! With an aesthetic that speaks of romance and a culture that is both relaxed and welcoming, Porto certainly has a lot to offer all who fantasize about a new life abroad.

We mentioned that Porto is second in size only to Lisbon, but that doesn’t mean it’s a huge city. Only around 230,000 residents live within Porto, but over 1.8 million people live in the city’s metropolitan area. As you explore the city, prepare to discover warrens of charming narrow streets, stunning views, beach fronts, colourful houses, fragrant bistros, and trendy gin bars.

Is the city right for you? We’re going to deep-dive into the vibe of Porto, the costs of living here, the nightlife, the job market, whether it’s family-friendly, great for retiring and more! Read on to discover the ins and outs of living in Porto as an expat.

Is Porto a good place to live?

The short answer is Yes, Porto can be a great place for expats of all ages. It’s brilliant for families, attractive for digital nomads and can offer a lot to expat retirees looking for a vibrant (but not too vibrant) urban lifestyle by the beach.

Living in Porto
Porto city centre and the Douro river

The city of Porto sits proudly at the mouth of the iconic Douro river. If you happen to love Port wine and you’re thinking about living in Porto then the fates have certainly aligned, because Port wine is actually named after the city of Porto!

The south side of the Douro’s banks is decorated by the striking facades of some of the world’s most famous Port houses. Popping in for a tour and tasting session is a must, but we’ll come back to that later!

Without a doubt, living in Porto is all about being immersed in history and charm. As one of Europe’s oldest cities, its ancient heart is registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The city’s time zone is GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), so you’ll be in sync with London. Some locals speak English, but not all—so grab your phrasebook and book some classes!

Those living in Porto will need a wallet full of Euros before they can buy fresh flowers or vegetables from the gorgeously quaint and colourful Mercado do Bolhão.

Expect to enjoy a backdrop of traditional Portuguese facades decorated with hand-painted blue and white tiles known as azulejos. When you’re ready to head to those Port houses, cross the impressive double-layered Dom Luis Bridge, while taking in the beautifully painted rabelo boats that float below.

All the while, enjoy the laid back energy of the locals, and many chances to stop for a sweet snack at one of the city’s confeitarias.

What is it like living in Porto?

Porto is definitely one of the best places to live in Portugal for expats.

If you adore the idea of living in a city that will benefit your being from top to toe, then Porto is an excellent choice. Not only do its inhabitants enjoy a bountiful Mediterranean-style diet (fresh-caught fish and even vegan eateries await) but also plenty of opportunities to live well.

Living in Porto
Parque da Cidade, Porto

The city is undulating and small enough to traverse on foot. It’s also packed with stunning parks where you can play on sports courts, rollerblade, run, walk, or cycle. Parque da Cidade Porto is a great place to start; or if you’d prefer to take up surfing, then you can head to Foz do Douro for a dip in the ocean!

Porto enjoys a semi-Mediterranean climate, not being as hot as some of its southerly peers, but quite a bit warmer than cities like London, Paris, or Berlin.

Being so close to the Atlantic ocean, Porto does experience rainy periods, but the summer is still lovely and lasting. Expect to experience temperatures as high as 40ºC (104F) as August peaks, and the occasional drop below 0ºC (32F) in the depths of winter.

With those summer highs to contend with, it’s no surprise that many Porto’s residents love to visit the city’s beaches. Take in some fresh sea air or go for a jog at Praia do Carneiro, Praia do Mole, Praia de Fuzelhas, or Praia Castelo do Queijo. Yep—if you spotted it—that last one literally translates as “Cheese Castle Beach”!

Is Porto safe?

Not only did Portugal land the top spot on the Global Peace Index of 2020 as the safest country in Europe, but Porto itself can boast of being one of the safest cities too. In fact, Porto is one of the best cities for families in Europe. Those living in Porto will discover a pleasingly neighbourly vibe!

Day or night, Porto is considered a very safe place to wander. However, it’s always sensible to take precautions.

Petty thefts are among the most common issues in terms of crime, so do be wary of leaving valuables on display. Stumbling home from the Port house late at night may also not be the safest of practices, but not necessarily on anyone else’s account!

Is it expensive to live in Porto?

The city of Porto is far cheaper to live in than most other European cities, although it is more expensive than the less populated regions of central and northern Portugal.

Living in Porto
Dom Carlos I Avenue at Douro River Mouth (Foz do Douro) in Porto

Groceries are comparable with much of Europe—but property prices, rent, and dining out all definitely win a prize in terms of value!

If nipping out to grab a bite on your lunch break, you can find a prato do dia—or plate of the day—for around€7, including starter, main, and dessert.

For a culinary feast in the evening, anticipate spending around€15 to€25 per person. Do check the menu before taking your seat.

As for drinking, a small glass of Portuguese lager (fino) goes for between€1 and€1.50 depending on the bar. Meanwhile, a pint-sized beer (caneca) will usually set you back between€2 and€2.50.

Accommodation in Porto

If you are planning to rent (which is a wise thing to do when you are new to a place) you will find those studio apartments in the city start from about€500, and 3-bed apartments start from around€1000.

Of course, some of the swankier new-builds and regal historic properties can go for far higher prices!

If buying, you can snag yourself a studio in a prime spot for as little as€150,000, and may even find a small house or family-sized apartment for under€100,000 a little further out of town.

Once again, property prices are on a sliding scale in Porto, which happily means there is likely to be something for every budget.

As a final note on finding your perfect Porto bolt-hole, do be mindful of the weather year-round when looking for accommodation. Many of the city’s older properties are not insulated, which can become uncomfortable when the temperature hits its highs and lows!

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Porto?

A couple can enjoy quite a good lifestyle for€2,500 a month. The biggest spend is rent, of course. Budget in€100-150 on utilities each month, which means that living in Porto can be done on a shoe-string budget in comparison to many other expat-favoured cities.

Living in Porto
A view of Porto from Teleferico de Gaia, a cable car in Vila Nova de Gaia

We mentioned that Porto is great to walk around, but if you decide you need more transport options the Metro is likely your answer. Journeys start from€1,50 and monthly passes are from€30.

There are also modern, cheap, and comfortable buses travelling around the city, although they are notorious for not always running on time! Watch out for the city’s old trams, funicular, and even cable cars, too—although these are mostly used by tourists.

Healthcare in Porto

Portuguese residents can access the Portuguese National Health Service—first registering for the social security system, and then for a medical numero do utente. The only fees are small administrative charges called taxas moderadoras.

To give an example of pricing, an appointment with your family doctor will set you back a whopping€4,50. Affordable private insurance options and international health plans are also available. You can find more details in our Living In Portugal As An Expat guide.

Living in Porto: the pros and cons

The trusty pros and cons list is always a good call when deciding if an expat destination is right for you! Consider these key points when weighing up whether you should try living in Porto:

The pros of living in Porto

1. Relaxed and friendly culture

People in Porto are relaxed, warm, and generous by nature. They will quickly treat you as if you’re family!

2. Epic fine dining

Dining out in Porto is affordable, with a wide variety of restaurants on offer. Experience the finest Portuguese cuisine as well as an international menu.

3. Life by the beach

Enjoy the best of both worlds, with central city living and bathing at the beach only a stone’s throw apart.

4. Spectacular architecture

No matter how busy you are in your day-to-day, it’s impossible to ignore how stunning the city of Porto is!

5. Great connections

Porto has fantastic train connections to Portugal’s other cities, and you can reach the city’s international airport directly via a short metro ride.

6. Top-notch healthcare

Portugal is world-famous for its healthcare system, and with good reason. Living in Porto means gaining peace of mind that your medical needs will be attended to!

The cons of living in Porto

1. Paperwork bureaucracy

The logistics of paperwork in Porto can be frustrating for new arrivals. Whether you’re trying to arrange a purchase or file your taxes, prepare to wait in line, and for things to take a while to get sorted!

2. Less international entertainment

Whenever the world’s biggest music acts or art exhibitions hit Portugal, they tend to land in Lisbon a bit more often. However, there are super-speedy trains between the two cities.

3. Tourists descend

Because of its beauty, Porto does tend to attract a lot of tourists in the summer months. Be prepared for the city to swell temporarily!

4. A smaller expat community

There are fewer expats in Porto than in many other European cities, but numbers are on the rise, and the city sees many tourists and international students too.

Porto’s best neighbourhoods

The most infamous (and expensive) area of Porto is of course the Ribeira, which is the glamorous river-front district in the heart of the city. Moving up and away from the Douro’s banks, we find the similarly trendy Miragaia and Baixa. Keep an eye out for the baroque tower of the Church of Clérigos, but don’t try to scale it as acrobats did in 1917!

Living in Porto
Ribeira Square in Porto

If you’re looking for more moderate prices, check out arty and offbeat Cedofeita with its weekly Porto Belo Market, or try the scenic Boavista. If the idea of beach life has stolen your heart, then Foz do Douro is the place to be.

On the inland side of the city’s centre, Bonfim and Campanhã offer chic and culture-rich city living with lower prices than the old-town.

If your eyes drift across the river, keep in mind that the south bank, an area called Vila Nova de Gaia, is not technically part of the city of Porto itself. However, with only a bridge to cross and a lot of Port wine to drink, the cheaper property prices in this area are worth consideration too!

Are there a lot of expats in Porto?

Porto’s expat community is smaller than in many other cities around the world but it is certainly growing. While retirees more often head for southern Portugal, the city of Porto attracts all age groups.

Lisbon was a very trendy expat destination in recent years, but Porto is starting to see favour as a slightly more affordable alternative.

You’ll certainly find a fantastic mix of people from around the globe. You might not hear it right away, but there are lots of Brazilians living in Porto. Once your ear tunes in to the language, you’ll begin to spot the accent!

Living in Porto vs Lisbon

Expats living in Porto and those living in Lisbon will both be able to indulge in Portuguese culture, a historic setting, plus espresso and wine in abundance. Lisbon has a somewhat more international feel to it, with both a larger expat population and more international entertainment rolling through town.

Living in Porto
Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia with Douro River between.

Porto offers just as much heritage, but with a slightly smaller-city vibe and lower prices across the board.

Lisbon tends to be a little warmer, which is a bonus in the winter but may qualify as a down-vote for some in the summer.

Of course, both boast the benefits of being beach towns, so you can always dip in to cool off.

Certainly, both are wonderful options for expats who dream of Portugal, and want to experience living in an ancient European city, with all the romance that entails!

Living in Porto – summary

Porto is a fascinating and spectacularly beautiful city, with wonderful opportunities to wine and dine, space for an active lifestyle, and great family-friendly credentials.

Thanks to a 19th-century siege, the city also goes by the nickname “Invicta”, which means unconquered. This feels like a pretty poetic moniker for this unbeatably magical place for expats to call home.

Living in Porto offers a myriad of advantages for people of all ages and interests, and should definitely be on your expat destination bucket list!

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Jemima Michielsen
Jemima is a freelance English writer based in Central Portugal. She divides her time between keyboard-fuelled adventures into the realms of commercial copywriting and maintaining a traditional Portuguese smallholding with her Belgian partner. Together they are raising rare heritage cattle and striving to strike the perfect work-life balance. History, culture, travel, and fine wine are always on the agenda!
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