What It’s Like Living In The Azores As An Expat

Is living in the Azores a good idea? Find out what the place I like to decide whether the Azores can become your home overseas

If you love the thought of living in Portugal but really, you want a guaranteed laid back lifestyle with fewer of the extremes of temperature that parts of Portugal can offer, why don’t you consider living in the Azores?

Living in the Azores
Beautiful sunrise in a village in Nordeste, Sao Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal

Located in the Atlantic Ocean, this archipelago of nine islands has a pretty perfect climate.

The islands are stunningly beautiful, peaceful yet quite active locations offering expats a wealth of choice when it comes to activities as well as an affordable cost of living.

The climate in the Azores is affected by their location in the Atlantic Ocean, by the Gulf Stream and by their latitude as well. So whilst the Gulf Stream and the islands’ latitude could suggest one extreme of temperature, their physical location in the Atlantic ensures the climate is mild all year round.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the climate in the Azores is perfect!

In the summertime it’s warm, in the winter it’s mild, there is rainfall in moderation and only occasionally do storms hit the islands in the summer, with the odd rough winter day being the only negative climate issue. 

Is it expensive to live in the Azores?

No, compared to other popular expat destinations in Portugal, the Azores are very affordable.

Your house bills will be much lower compared to Portugal’s mainland. Day-to-day shopping will cost you less since the VAT in the Azores is lower (18% versus 23% in mainland Portugal).

Being an island, certain items will cost more to import, however, everything you may need is readily available. European based companies, such as Ikea even deliver here. 

A meal in a local, lower end restaurant will cost you as little as €10 while for a 2 course meal for two in a mid-range restaurant, you can expect to pay roughly €40. A pint of domestic beer will set you back €1 and a bottle of imported beer costs as little as €1.80

For daily essentials, a litre of milk costs just €0.60, a loaf of fresh bread costs €0.78 and a bottle of mid-range wine will cost €3.30. A month’s membership at a gym will cost roughly €30, monthly utilities can cost less than €200, and monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre can cost as little as €470.

Is the Azores a good place to retire to?

Because of the attraction of the weather, the islands have become something of a hotspot for expat retirees.  You will experience few harsh extremes and sufficient rainfall to ensure your garden and the surrounding countryside is always lush, verdant green.

Living in the Azores
Horta, the charming capital of Faial Island in the Azores

If you are looking for a peaceful location, the Azores are quiet enough when it comes to nightlife and tourism so that your summertime days and nights are not punctuated by noise and crowds.

At he same time, the islands have been well discovered and are beloved of visitors from many nations so that there is still plenty to do and see to stop you getting bored!

If you enjoy golf and had considered living in Portugal because of the number of incredible courses there are particularly in the Algarve, you’ll be please to know there are a fair few fairways in the Azores too. 

You can try the Balalha or Furnas Golf Clubs on Sao Miguel island or perhaps Terceira Golf Course on Terceira island.  And if you’re a golf widow then don’t worry, there’s loads more to the Azores than just golf.

As mentioned, the islands are so lush and green thanks to the weather, they are also very fertile and so gardening is a popular pursuit.  Wining and dining out is also a highly enjoyable pastime because there are so many exceptionally good local restaurants and cafes on each of the main islands. 

If you enjoy walking, hiking or mountain biking or cycling these are popular pursuits in the Azores – as is fishing with big game, sea and lake fishing all possible.  Bird watching is another popular pursuit – or if you prefer more activity what about tennis, horse riding, swimming or even scuba diving!

The pros and cons of living in the Azores

The Azores have so much to offer expats. However, like anywhere in the world, there are both upsides and downsides. 

The pros of living in the Azores

1. Mild climate 

The climate in the Azores is very mild. Which makes it friendly for residents and visitors alike! Temperatures can vary between 10°C and 20°C throughout the year. In summer, temperatures can reach 25°C. This means you won’t need any big coats and you’ll save plenty on air conditioning. 

2. Low cost of living

One thing that makes life in the Azores so appealing is how affordable it is to live here. For those seeking to retire here, you can live very comfortably on a small budget. Although you may sacrifice a very small amount of luxuries, you can easily get most things that you need. 

3. Easy access

There are three major airports located in the Azores: 

  • João Paulo II Airport, named after Pope John Paul II, on São Miguel
  • Horta Airport, located in Faial
  • Lages, found on Terceira

There are regular flights to and from the UK, the US and Europe, especially in high season. Flights are still available in winter but are far less common. Ferries operate to mainland Portugal on a regular basis. 

4. A relaxed lifestyle

Life in the Azores is relaxed.

This outlook seeps into all aspects of life, making it an ideal place to unwind for those seeking an escape from the rat race. This can present some hurdles when it comes to anything bureaucratic, however, it is more than made up for when you take in the views and remember where it is you actually live.

There’s also next to no traffic and there are no mosquitoes. 

5. Explorers’ paradise

Made up of 9 volcanic islands, the Azores has something for every taste whether it’s exploring picturesque forests, hiking beautiful mountains, escaping in natural pools or swimming in one of the many beaches.

living in the Azores
Pedreira – a small scenic village in Nordeste region on Sao Miguel island.

The islands are easily accessible, so you have plenty of variety should you want a change of scenery. This is a place to reconnect with nature and escape from the world. 

The cons of living in the Azores 

1. Red tape 

The pace of life here can be frustrating for those unaccustomed to it. Formal processes such as visas can take longer when compared to places like the UK. 

2. Somewhat limited healthcare 

The public system in the Azores, like the rest of Portugal, is very good with many private options also available. Services can be lacking on the smaller islands. 

Non-EU citizens planning to retire in Portugal will need private health insurance for at least until they get a residence permit. After that, they can join the National Health Service (SNS).

Healthcare under Portugal’s national health system is free for children under 18 and for people over 65. The rest will only need to contribute a small fee every time they go to see a doctor. 

3. Unstable weather

Despite the pleasant temperatures, the weather in the Azores can be quite inconsistent. Locals describe the experience of having four seasons in a day, which can mean rain and sun within a matter of hours. You may not need a winter coat, but you’ll definitely need an umbrella. 

Is English widely spoken in the Azores?

Thanks to a NATO base in Terceira and its inclusion in the curriculum of many schools, English is widely spoken in the Azores. Also, due to its proximity to the United States, many locals have migrated and returned, developing skills and bringing them home. In rural and remote areas, this is less common. 

Learning a few Portuguese phrases will go a long way, even if it’s nothing more than a simple courtesy. The gesture will be warmly welcomed.

Is the Azores safe?

Thanks to its isolation, the Azores is considered very safe when compared to other European tourist hotspots in regards to larger threats. 

Plus, recent economic growth, thanks to tourism, has improved the quality of life for the local community. Like anywhere in the world, crime does exist, but on a small scale. The Azores are considered a safe place to live. 

Where to live in the Azores

In terms of where to live in the Azores, well, the choice you make will be very much dictated by your lifestyle preferences and also the locations you feel most at home in. 

Living in the Azores
São Lourenço with its small white houses and vineyards is doubtlessly one of the most beautiful towns in Santa María Island.

As an archipelago made up of nine islands, you might think you’d be spoiled for choice of places to settle.

However the development across these different islands is varied, so the lifestyle you’re seeking will greatly impact where you choose to live.

Given the isolation of the islands, the population on each island is also varied.

The islands are divided into three groups, the Eastern, Central and Western islands. Sao Miguel and the Terceira islands are the two most populated areas, making them the most appealing option for expats. Santa Maria is also worth considering. 

The other islands are: 

  • Sao Jorge
  • Pico
  • Faial
  • Graciosa
  • Flores
  • Corvo

Sao Miguel

Sao Miguel is the largest island in the Azores, both by population and landmass measures. It’s also home to the capital, Ponta Delgada.

This bustling city is the economic, cultural and political centre of the Azores, which makes this the ideal location for expats.

Here, you’ll have everything you may need to live a comfortable life, along with access to stunning local scenery including natural lagoons, forests rich in colour, mountains, and the largest beach on the island – Praia de Santa Barbara.

Sao Miguel is not only well connected to the other Azores islands, but the rest of the world too, thanks to its international airport. Sao Miguel is the kind of place where even in the heart of the city amongst its bright lights, you can see a night sky full of stars.  

Terceira

Terceira is as beautiful as it is historic.

living in the Azores, Portugal
Angra do Heroismo and Mount Brazil on Terceira Island

Since its founding in 1534, the old town of Angra do Heroismo has been slowly built over time into the economic hub that it is today, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For those seeking an alternative to Sao Miguel, Terceira will not disappoint. Life here is very relaxed, so you can maintain a metropolitan feel amongst the island’s peacefulness.

Housing here is also at least 20% cheaper than on the more developed island of Sao Miguel.

You’ll find a lava tunnel in the island’s centre, along with mountains offering breathtaking views of the city and the rest of the island. Beaches, lagoons, stunning scenery and excellent quality of life – there is a lot to love about Terceira. 

Santa Maria

Santa Maria is a great island for those seeking tranquillity and the best weather in the entire archipelago.

Despite being the smallest of the islands, it offers potential residents remote beaches and stunning landscapes. It is known as the sun island after all!

Santa Maria is not as established as say Sao Miguel or Terceira, so for those seeking a more urban lifestyle, we wouldn’t recommend settling here. 

The other islands, whilst beautiful in their own right, are better suited for expats as a temporary destination rather than a place to settle. Given the diversity of the Azores, we strongly recommend visiting the islands first to find the perfect place for you. Plus, what better excuse is there for a holiday right? 

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