Best places for expats to raise a family in Portugal

11 October 2021, Luke Worthington

For people looking abroad to live there are many options for where to move. If you are looking for the sun in the south of Europe, then the most obvious destination might be Spain, but her smaller neighbour, Portugal, has been staking a claim as an excellent country for expats in recent years. The advent of remote working recently has only increased this tendancy, and Portugal's phenomenal safety, ranking within the top five safest cities on the planet every year since 2016, is making an increasing number of families look to the country for their futures. If you have a family, or plan to start one, it's hard to say a bad word about Portugal. But where  is the best place for an expat to raise a family in Portugal?

The Algarve

Let's get it out of the way: obviously the Algarve is going to be on the list. The sunny southern coast of Portugal is of course a huge magnet for tourists, particularly from northern Europe, and this has led to many deciding to stay there, giving the wider region a vibrant and thriving expat community. This of course comes with all of the associated benifits you would think of: easing of the language barrier given how prevelant English is, reduced culture shock for the same reason, and the density of international schools if you wish for your children to keep up with a similar style of education system to what they are used to. 

Then of course there is what the tourists come for: the beaches! Living in the Algarve means that you can enjoy them even when the tourists aren't there. And don't worry about the weather; it is sunny and warm long before and after the traditional high season here on the south coast. And if you know the area, you can avoid the most touristy destinations in favour of less well known places like Sagres and the villages around it. 

A beautiful coastline in the Algarve


The capital city of Portugal, and next most obvious answer. But just because it is obvious doesn't mean that it is wrong! If you are moving to Portugal for work, Lisbon is the city to head to: it is one of the best cities in the world for remote workers, it boasts a quality public transport system, a number of coworking hubs, and among the highest salaries in Portugal. It also has a diverse community of expats from dozens of different countries, a beutiful historic centre with many famous landmarks like the Torre de Belém, and enough of a variety in its neighbourhoods that there will be something to suit any taste. 

And as for raising a family, Lisbon ranked as the second best city in the world to raise a family, thanks to its low crime rate and high safety, enormous number and variety of cultural and outdoor activities, quality of life, and high quality of education, both in the public schooling system and in the variety of international schools available for expats to educate their children. 

A view of the city of Lisbon


Lisbon might not be the biggest city in the world, but if you want a city-lifestyle and the capital is a little too big for your tastes, then Porto might be the city for you. Portugal's second largest city is also, somewhat naturally, cheaper than the capital city, but it easily matches, or surpasses even, Lisbon in architectural beauty. The historic centre of Porto was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, and the numerous bridges that arc over the river Douro are world famous: there will be plenty to see and do with the family in Porto! 

The main reason that expats overlook Porto in favour of Lisbon is the climate, with Porto further north along Portugal's coast. That said, maybe your family want's something a little cooler, or maybe the fact that Porto is much closer to its surrounding beaches than Lisbon is to its own will make you consider it. The city is incredibly family-friendly and safe, but it does not boast as broad a variety of educational choice as some locations, so it is worth researching schooling options before your decide. 

A view over the Douro river
Svetlana Gumerova on Unsplash


Maybe even Porto is too much big city and tourism for your tastes. If that is the case, and you want a quieter lifestyle for your family then Coimbra might be the choice for you. You won't have to sacrifice the rich history to be found in Lisbon or Porto's centres; Coimbra was the original capital of Portugal and has its own rich historical and cultural heritage with plenty to explore in the old town, including the famous Joanina Library in the University of Coimbra, the oldest university in the country. 

The city is practically right in the middle of the country, between Porto and Lisbon, with excellent transport links by rail and road to both cities. You will easily be able to take daytrips or weekend breaks to visit different parts of the country as a family. The biggest downside is that the city is not on the coast, so if you want to see the beach, you will have to travel. But with excellent beaches barely an hour away, this might not be so much of a dealbreaker for your family.

"Paço das Escolas" at the University of Coimbra
Wikimedia commons


Last, but not least, we suggest the town of Aveiro as a different option to the touristy beaches and larger cities. Known as the "Venice of Portugal", the town is famed for its canals and gondolas (known as moliceiros in Aveiro) just like its larger Italian counterpart. Exploring the town on the water, or walking along its many pedestrian areas, you will find that it has much more variety in architecture than the marble clad city on the Adriatic: from houses coloured like sweet-wrappers, to tall Art Nouveau buildings, to narrow gable houses that call to mind Amsterdam; another city filled with canals. 

While its small size might make you apprehesive if you have't gotten the hang of the language yet, the town is a tourist destination so you should find plenty of English-speaking locals if you need, but it would be recommendable to speak Portuguese if you plan to live here. But don't let that hold you back: the town is incredibly safe, and family friendly, an excellent choice if none of the others have convinced you!  

The moliceiros on a canal
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