With its castles, wines, ancient ruins, and cobblestoned streets that make you feel, in the words of expat writer Holly Raible Blades, "like you’ve fallen through a crack in time," one wonders why Portugal has long been overlooked by American retirees. That’s changing. A plenitude of golf, beaches, resorts, and trendy café life makes Portugal one of Europe's most pleasant surprises. Costs are lower than in other parts of Western Europe, and Portugal prides itself on having a quieter, more civilized pace of life than its neighbor, Spain. The Portuguese are reserved but friendly; even their bullfights are polite (they spare the bull).
Lisbon is a grande old dame of a city, where traditional mournful fados are still sung in candlelit taverns; but most expats gravitate to the postcard-pretty resort towns of Estoril and Cascais on the Atlantic coast, 15 miles west of the capital. Though expensive by Portuguese standards, both towns have seen prices drop in the last year—and expats are reaping the benefits. Pat Westheimer, 67, a teacher from Baltimore, moved to Portugal in 1991 and lives in Cascais with husband Don David Price, 69. She recently rented a large office/apartment with a pool for $1,000 a month. A nice home in Cascais, she reports, currently sells for about $250,000.
Among the town's many attractions, says Westheimer, are "traditional Portuguese crafts and wares, wonderful simple food highlighted by grilled fish, and the kindest people you’ll ever meet. They welcome foreigners, speak a good level of English, and like Americans!" The small Cascais expat community itself, she adds, "is casual and unpretentious, based on mutual interests such as sports, games, books, and fun." Meanwhile, services are "abundant andinexpensive, too. It’s easy to get around here by train, car, and taxis, which are very inexpensive."
For Westheimer, Cascais seems to have it all. "I can play golf 12 months a year, and there are plenty of activities," she says. "I also volunteer with kids. I didn’t move here to get away from anything, but to enhance, to broaden, my life."
What to Expect in
Temperate, with warm-to-hot summers and pleasant winters, some rain.
An international mix, with several hundred U.S. expats.
Cost of Living
A comfortable life can be had on $25,000 a year; frugal comfort on $20,000 a year. Dinner out: $40 for two.
A nice home goes for $250,000 and up. Rent: $1,000 to $2,000 a month.
Good. Nearby hospitals include the well-regarded British Hospital in Lisbon.
Culture and Leisure
Castles, museums, music festivals, even English-language theater; also golf, outdoor activities.
Access to the U.S.
Excellent. Westernmost country of mainland Europe; direct flights between U.S. and Lisbon.