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Living in Spain vs Portugal: Which is Better?

Living in Spain vs Portugal Which is Better

If you’re thinking of moving to Europe, living in Spain vs Portugal may be one of your main comparisons. This guide compares and contrasts life in Spain and Portugal for expats.

Many expats face a delightful dilemma when considering moving to Europe: between living in Spain or Portugal. Both countries offer a rich tapestry of culture, history, and cuisine, wrapped in varied landscapes that range from sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches to lush, green mountains. With their warm climates and friendly locals, it’s easy to see why they’re top picks for those seeking a European lifestyle.

With its charming cobblestone streets and historic towns, Portugal has an allure that’s hard to resist. The cost of living tends to be lower than in many European countries, including Spain, which makes it particularly attractive to expats on a budget. Although smaller than Spain’s, the Portuguese economy offers affordable living without compromising on quality of life. Cities like Lisbon and Porto boast vibrant cultural scenes, while the picturesque countryside brims with serene spots ideal for a relaxed lifestyle.

Meanwhile, Spain is enticed with its own blend of vibrancy and diversity. It offers a greater variety of large cities, such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville, which are hubs of activity and business. Expats  looking for a cosmopolitan environment might find Spain more appealing. Known for its festive atmosphere, Spain also provides warmth in both its climate and community spirit, presenting a compelling choice for those aiming to immerse themselves in a dynamic, social culture.

Whether you’re drawn to the arts, hoping to indulge in gastronomic delights, or looking to dive into the thrills of city life, Spain promises a bold and flavorful expat experience.

✦✦ Additional Reading:
Cheapest Place to Live in Spain: 10 Cities You Should Know
7 Biggest Mistakes When Moving to Spain: Everything to Know
8 Best Beaches in Spain That You Cannot Miss
How To Get A Residence Visa In Portugal?
23 Things to Know Before Visiting Portugal – Best Portugal Travel Tips
Comparing Lisbon vs Porto: Which is Better?

Living in Spain vs Portugal – Cultural and Lifestyle Comparisons

Spain and Portugal offer unique experiences deeply rooted in their rich histories and traditions, attracting expats with their vibrant food scenes, languages full of personality, and daily rhythms that define their respective ways of life.

Language and Communication: Spain vs Portugal

Spanish and Portuguese are the official languages of Spain and Portugal, respectively. Both languages have Latin origins and share similarities, yet they distinctly define the communication style in each country. In Spain, one can hear a variety of dialects, such as Castilian and Catalan, while Portuguese remains largely uniform throughout Portugal. Bilingualism is common in Spanish border regions, and both nations highly value direct and friendly conversation that reflects their warm social cultures.

Food and Cuisine

Spanish cuisine is popular around the world. Living in Spain vs Portugal
Spanish cuisine is popular around the world.

The cuisine of Spain and Portugal is rich in flavor and tradition. Spanish food is known for its tapas and the famous paella, a vibrant rice dish often made with seafood or meats. In contrast, Portuguese food emphasizes delectable seafood dishes like bacalhau and salted cod, which are considered a national staple. Despite differences, both cuisines share a penchant for olive oil, garlic, and fresh, locally sourced ingredients that provide a delectable window into the Mediterranean lifestyle.

  • Spanish Cuisine Highlights:
    • Tapas: Small, flavorful appetizer-style dishes meant for sharing.
    • Paella: A classic saffron-infused rice dish.
  • Portuguese Cuisine Highlights:
    • Bacalhau: A ubiquitous cod dish prepared in countless ways.
    • Pastéis de nata: Custard tarts that have gained international fame.

Traditions and Daily Life

In terms of daily life, Spain is known for its siestas, which are short afternoon rests following the midday meal. This tradition beautifully illustrates the relaxed lifestyle that counters the busy city life seen in places like Madrid and Barcelona.

While similarly laid-back, Portuguese life is less globally known for such customs but shares the Iberian penchant for enjoying life slowly.

Both cultures cherish family connections and communal meals, which are fundamental aspects of the local way of life. In Portugal, festivities such as the Feast of Saint Anthony with its sardine-fueled block parties, and in Spain, fiestas like La Tomatina, showcase each country’s love for celebration and community.

Cost of Living and Expenses in Spain and Portugal

When considering a move to Iberia, potential expats will find Portugal generally offers a lower cost of living, while Spain provides a strong economy with higher wages. However, expenses in metropolitan areas like Madrid and Lisbon tend to inflate these countries’ overall cost of living.

Housing and Rent – Living in Spain vs Portugal

The beautiful city of Lisbon Portugal - Living in Spain vs Portugal
The beautiful city of Lisbon Portugal – Living in Spain vs Portugal

In Portugal, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a city center like Lisbon is notably more affordable than a comparable property in central Madrid. However, rents in smaller cities such as Porto can be even more reasonable. In contrast, Spain sees lower rent prices outside its main cities, making places other than Madrid and Barcelona potentially more budget-friendly.

Average Rent Comparison Table:

Location1-Bedroom City Center1-Bedroom Outside Center

It is important to note that utilities and apartment sizes can vary, impacting these costs.

Healthcare and Insurance

Both countries boast high-quality healthcare systems. In Portugal, health insurance is recommended for access to private healthcare, which is quite affordable in comparison to other European countries. Spain also offers an excellent healthcare network with both public and subsidized private care options. Private healthcare options in both countries are extensive, with Spain having a slight edge in terms of facilities and specialists.

Taxes and Economy – Living in Spain vs Portugal

Spain has a higher minimum wage than Portugal, sitting around €1,100 per month, while Portugal’s is approximately €740 per month. This is reflected in their respective economies, with Spain having a more robust economic structure. The tax systems in both countries favor residents, offering various deductions and personal allowances. It’s also worth mentioning that common expenses like public transportation are generally reasonable in both countries, supporting a cost-effective lifestyle.

Climate and Geography

Algarve Portugal Living in Spain vs Portugal Which is Better

When considering a move to the Iberian Peninsula, expats often weigh the climate and geography of Spain and Portugal. Each offers diverse weather patterns and landscapes that cater to a multitude of preferences.

Weather Patterns

Spain and Portugal share similar Mediterranean climates, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. However, regional variations are notable. For example, Southern Spain, where cities like Seville and Malaga are located, enjoys warm weather nearly year-round, with very hot summers. Portugal’s southern region, particularly the Algarve, also offers a pleasant Mediterranean climate with Atlantic breezes that moderate the summer heat.

In contrast, the north of both countries, including Galicia in Spain and northern Portugal, experiences cooler temperatures and higher rainfall. Barcelona and Valencia on the Spanish east coast offer a balmy climate with mild winters. Lisbon, located on Portugal’s west coast, enjoys warm summers and cool winters influenced by the Atlantic Ocean.

Regional Varieties

Malaga in Spain Living in Spain vs Portugal Which is Better

Spain’s topography varies from the mountainous Pyrenees north to the central plateau and the southern coast. Barcelona‘s geography includes both coastal lounges and hilly terrains, providing a variety of microclimates within a single city. Meanwhile, Portugal boasts a more consistent landscape, with rolling hills in the Alentejo, dramatic cliffs in the Algarve, and lush, green countryside in the Minho region.

Spain’s Canary Islands and Balearic Islands also have unique climates, with the former enjoying a pleasant subtropical climate year-round. As you move inland in both countries, you’ll find the temperatures can fluctuate more, with colder winters and hotter summers, away from the tempering effect of the sea.

Madeira Portugal Living in Spain vs Portugal Which is Better

Both countries offer a rich tapestry of geographical diversity, from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal areas to the rustic interiors. They present a considerable variety of climates and landscapes to suit any lifestyle, be it the warmth of the south or the greenery and cooler temperatures of the north.

Residency and Legal Aspects

When deciding between Spain and Portugal, prospective expats should closely assess the visa requirements and the routes to citizenship and residency. Both countries offer attractive options geared towards retirees, investors, and digital nomads, aiming to make the process smooth and stay secure.

Visa Requirements

Some of the common visas include the Golden Visa, which allows investors to obtain residency by purchasing property or investing in each country. Spain’s Golden Visa requires a minimum investment of €500,000 in real estate, while Portugal’s program starts at €280,000 in low-density areas. Alternatives like the D7 Visa in Portugal cater to passive income earners and retirees, requiring proof of stable income. Conversely, Spain’s Non-Lucrative Visa is tailored for individuals with sufficient funds to support themselves without local employment.

Portugal introduced the Digital Nomad Visa for remote workers, welcoming those who work for non-Portuguese companies. Opening a bank account is typically a prerequisite for residency applications, facilitating financial transactions, and proving economic ties to the country.

Visa TypeSpain InvestmentPortugal InvestmentTarget Group
Golden Visa€500,000 (Real Estate)Starts at €280,000 (Real Estate)Investors
D7 VisaNot ApplicableProof of regular passive incomeRetirees, Passive Income Earners
Non-Lucrative VisaSufficient funds (No set amount)Not ApplicableIndividuals without local employment
Digital Nomad VisaNot AvailableIncome from non-Portuguese companiesRemote Workers

Citizenship and Residency

Both Spain and Portugal provide paths to citizenship through their residency programs. After five years of legal residency, individuals can apply for citizenship in Portugal; Spain generally requires ten years. However, both have nuances, such as the requirement for language proficiency and ties to the community.

Portugal’s Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) program is particularly appealing as it offers tax advantages on worldwide income for the first ten years of residency. On the other hand, Spain offers the option for expats, especially EU citizens, to reside in the nation under different residency visas, which might involve tourism, work, or other reasons.

For those seeking to engage in tourism, shorter-stay visas are available, which do not provide residency but allow for extended stays and the exploration of investment opportunities or simply the enjoyment of what Spain and Portugal have to offer.

Working and Social Integration

When discussing the prospects for expats contemplating life in either Spain or Portugal, one must consider both the dynamics of the job market and the ease with which one can integrate into local and expat communities.

Job Opportunities and Economy

Spain and Portugal offer diverse job markets, with Spain boasting a larger economy and a more comprehensive array of job opportunities in big cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. Expats can find roles in the technology, tourism, and education sectors. Especially appealing to digital nomads and freelancers, Spain presents a robust environment for those who prefer a cosmopolitan lifestyle.

An entrepreneur visa is available for those looking to start a business, while the annual income for a worker in Spain may be higher than in Portugal, as per the 2024 minimum wage: €1,134 in Spain compared to €820 in Portugal.

On the other hand, Portugal has been attracting remote workers and digital nomads given its more affordable cost of living and initiatives like the D7 visa, aimed at retirees and remote workers with a stable income. Lisbon and Porto stand out as hubs for tech start-ups and expat entrepreneurs. The country has a growing economy that is welcoming to UK expats post-Brexit, offering competitive opportunities, especially for those in the tech and tourism industries.

Expat and Local Community Interactions

Expat communities in both countries are well-established, providing a support network that may ease the language barrier and bolster the social integration process. Spain’s large cities have numerous groups and activities for expats, which can be particularly helpful for partners of those relocating for work. Similarly, Portugal’s warm and friendly atmosphere facilitates social activities, contributing to a high quality of life and community interactions.

Learning the local language—Spanish in Spain and Portuguese in Portugal—is essential for full integration into the local society and for expanding one’s job opportunities. However, both countries offer ample opportunities to travel and explore the culture, which can aid in language learning and foster connections with locals. This is particularly relevant for those seeking to settle permanently and for retirees looking to immerse themselves in a new culture.

The ease of obtaining a work visa and the strength of local networks play crucial roles in expats’ decision-making process. Both Spain and Portugal have a relatively straightforward process for EU citizens, but non-EU nationals should be prepared to navigate more complex regulations.

Our Final Thoughts – Living in Spain vs Portugal

Choosing between living in Spain and Portugal depends largely on personal preferences and lifestyle goals. Portugal attracts those seeking affordability and a relaxed lifestyle, with its lower living costs and tranquil environments, ideal for retirees and digital nomads. Conversely, Spain appeals to those desiring a lively, cosmopolitan setting, offering vibrant cities like Madrid and Barcelona and a rich cultural scene.

Both countries boast excellent healthcare, mild climates, and welcoming communities, facilitating easy integration for newcomers. Your decision might hinge on whether you prefer the quieter, cost-effective living in Portugal or Spain’s dynamic, urban life. Hope this guide was able to enlighten you and let us know if you have any questions!

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