Looking for sun, sea and cheap wine? Skip this article, book a holiday to the Algarve and click through to the next page. But if you want to know what it’s really like to live here, read on.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2017
Intro picture by ddzphoto
It’s easy to fall in love with the Algarve on holiday. What’s not to like about drinking a €1 vinho verde in your swimming trunks while looking at limestone rock formations – seagulls and breaking waves providing an ambient noise. But what is it like to live here full time? When winter comes and the beach bars are taken down, the sun loungers all stored away? Quick answer: still nice (at least, that’s what we think). But it’s not all fun and games. Yes, there are around 300 days of sunshine each year and yes, the booze stays cheap, but before you quit your job and buy a one-way ticket to Faro, you might want to consider some things.
Such as how to deal with bureaucracy, how to cope with the Portuguese driving style, and, perhaps most important, how to make a living. Because with an unemployment rate of 9.1%, finding a job isn’t easy – don’t even think about getting hired here if you don’t speak the language. Also, realise that Portugal’s minimum wage is 557 euros a month (in Portugal, employees are entitled to 14 monthly wages per year instead of 12, which explains why some say the minimum monthly wage is €650; both equations come to a yearly total of €7800). Which is, for European standards (see side note in the original article) at least, not a lot – in France it’s €1.480, the Dutch take home a minimum of €1.551, and also the Belgians are paid more than €1.500 each month. Hence why a lot of people who move to Portugal permanently are retired; they can live comfortably off their retirement money and/or savings, seeing as the living costs here aren’t that high either.
Money isn’t everything though. Despite being one of Europe’s poorest countries, quality of life is pretty high in Portugal, especially in the south. A less stressed environment, lots of nature and a climate that allows you to spend most of your time outside: the ideal habitat for surfer hippies (with or without their quintessential home-on-wheels) and eco-lovers (especially the western part of the Algarve is full of Ӧko-Germans living in yurts and doing permaculture). Why spend over 40 hours a week stuck in an office making lots of money to buy the newest mobile phone and the flashiest fridge-freezer combo, when actually a daily walk along the beach would make you happier?
Looking for a simpler lifestyle and wanting to be more connected to nature is a reason many people move here. But how simple is this simple life? Sure, there are certain inland villages that have near to no phone reception and houses with a water tap still on the street. But on the other hand, local mercados have to compete more and more with giant shopping centres filled with international clothing stores and global fast food chains – there’s even a Starbucks in Loulé’s recently opened Mar Shopping. With 4G in many places along the coast, the south of Portugal is an ideal environment for digital nomads, people who only need an internet connection to do their job and are therefore location independent. If you can live everywhere, why not in the Algarve?
Well, the lack of culture might hold some people back. Yes, there are museums, churches and festivals, but Faro just isn’t the metropolis that London, Barcelona or Vancouver is, and also Lagos misses the cosmopolitan attitude of let’s say Sydney, Paris or New York. Especially in winter time, the Algarve has an image of being a bit boring. A pensioners’ paradise, with nothing to do apart from staring out over sea – something that the cultural programme 365 Algarve wants to change by concentrating on activities from October until May. (Still, getting to these events will be a problem for those without car as public transport in the south of Portugal is well, not as abundant and efficient as it is in for example Germany).
Apart from the lack of entertainment, another thing to keep in mind if you plan on living in the Algarve all year round is that it can get cold in winter. Unfortunately, that’s not the ‘frosty, crisp and snowy’ kind of cold. Instead, be prepared for damp houses which are designed to keep in the chill and do this very effectively. If your Portuguese home/office/school building is old and without heating, you might want to keep your coat on inside from December onwards. Not that summer is without trouble: living in one of the popular seaside towns (Carvoeiro, Burgau, Armação de Pêra, Olhos de Água, to name just a few) means you’ll be struggling to get a parking place that’s less than 3km away from your house. Whereas residing in certain parts of Albufeira, Lagos or Portimão offers you free music in high season, right until the very early hours. To make the moaning list complete: yes, living inland does solve these problems – but only because with temperatures of 42˚C, no tourist in their right mind would head away from the coast in the middle of summer.
Still, despite these disadvantages, it’s a good life here. Portugal is a really safe country. Lots of people speak English, which makes it easy for those who aren’t yet fluent in Portuguese. There aren’t many places in the world with such awesome beaches, where you can do all sorts of water sports, and where a quick drive inland brings you traditional culture and artisan skills to the max. It’s a region where a simple coffee costs less than a euro and a meal of freshly grilled fish, plus drinks and dessert, sets you back just a tenner. All this makes the Algarve a pretty awesome place. Live and Invest Overseas, an American online source for information on living, retiring, and investing overseas, shares this opinion and calls the Algarve ‘the best place in the world, all things considered, to live or retire overseas’. In fact, they’ve done so for the last three years. On their list of reasons: an existing expat community, infrastructure, climate and seven other arguments.
Also InterNations is positive about Portugal. They’ve questioned more than 12,500 participants (of 166 nationalities and living in 188 countries) for their 2017 expat survey (see side note in the original article), which rated Portugal as the 5th best country in the world to be an expat. Reasons for this high ranking: the first place in the Quality of Life index (93% of the respondents were satisfied with their life abroad in Portugal) and the winning position when it comes to friendliness and feeling welcome, with 88% of the participating expats agreeing that it isn’t difficult to settle down here. What makes feeling at home here so easy, is the general friendliness of the population (praised by 92%) and the welcoming attitude towards foreign residents (said 94%). Apparently adapting to the customs of arriving a few minutes late for meetings and drinking your morning bica in a café instead of at home isn’t too hard either: 89% of the participants found it easy to get used to the local culture in Portugal.
So, how many non-Portuguese people really live in the Algarve and where do they come from? First some numbers: Portugal’s total population is around 10.3 million, whereas the Algarve is home to 441,929 people, as was measured by INE (Statistics Portugal, see side note in the original article) back in 2015. Contrary to the rest of Portugal, where the majority of the foreigners come from Brazil, down south it’s mainly the English who add to the already existing population of nearly half a million people. According to this rapport of the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), in 2016 there has been a 9% increase in the registered foreign intake in the Algarve region, bringing the number of non-Portuguese living in this region to 63.481. However, this only includes the people who have registered themselves; the real number is probably a bit higher.
Why do all these people choose to live in the Algarve? There are many reasons (look at page 5 to see what inspired some of our expats). What we personally like so much about this region is the diversity, as you can hear in this podcast by Algarve Addicts. Because apart from snowboarding, you can do pretty much everything here. Still, a lot of people only see the Algarve as a perfect place to go on vacation, with the holy holiday trinity of sea, sun and beaches. Plus some golf course thrown in the mix as an added bonus. A friend of us was once asked ‘Do you play golf? No? Do you sail? No? Well, then why are you living here?’ It made us laugh, but who knows, everyone has their own motives. According to our columnist Arthur van Amerongen, we shouldn’t overcomplicate what can lead people to pack their bags and relocate. His opinion: “Don’t romanticise their reasons. Most of them move here because the sun shines and the alcohol is cheap.” Well, he might be right – we can certainly think of worse places to enjoy a drink in the sunshine.
See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine December 2017