Portuguese American Journal

Opinion | Immigration and emigration for a better life | By Len Port

An increasing number of people in recent years have been coming to Portugal for a better life than they have been experiencing in the United States, the United Kingdom and a number of European Union countries.

At the same time, many Portuguese residents have been leaving to the same countries where immigrants are coming from. The number of foreign residents in Portugal is now more than 6% of the total population.

Some, especially those from former Portuguese territories such as Brazil, come to study or work. Many of the English speakers are elderly wanting to enjoy their retirement in Portugal.

For those seeking further education or work opportunities, Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra, and the other main cities are very attractive. The milder climate and less busy environments in the Algarve region is the preferred option for many retirees.

More than 285,000 passengers disembarked at the Azores airports last month, almost a 10% increase on the previous year, but it is not clear how many of those visitors may have been lured to remain and reside on one of those beautiful islands.  More than 4,000 immigrants of almost 100 nationalities are said to be already registered.

The number of foreigners living on the Portuguese island of Madeira was about 10,600 at the beginning of last year, an increase of nearly 20% since 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigrants are obviously drawn to mainland Portugal and the autonomous islands by conditions they consider better than in their homelands. Among the most important is the fact that the Portuguese are generally a welcoming people and, while English is not an official language, many Portuguese understand and speak it fluently. Also of great significance is the fact that Portugal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world.

There are plenty of English-speaking property agents, lawyers and health professionals available to offer their services. All sorts of advice is also available in English and other European languages for members of the Association of Foreign Property Owners (AFPOP).

The cost of living throughout Portugal has risen a lot in recent years, but it is still moderate compared with many other places. On the negative side, property rental and purchase prices have soared, causing a shortage of affordable accommodation for locals who are earning in many cases €1,000 or less a month.

The housing situation in the cities and low incomes are two of the main reasons why so many young Portuguese are emigrating in search of a better life abroad, mainly in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries.

More than two million Portuguese-born citizens are living elsewhere at present. Together with the descendants of Portuguese emigrants, the number around the world is about five million, more than 40% of the home nation’s total population. 

There is no suggestion that the comings and goings will reduce let alone stop in the years ahead.

Len Port, born in Northern Ireland, worked as a news reporter and correspondent, mainly in Hong Kong and South Africa, before moving to Portugal many years ago.


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