The Iberian Peninsula is made up of two of the world’s most popular travel destinations: Portugal and Spain.
Sunny and warm, bursting with culture, and economically thriving, it’s no surprise that so many non-nationals want to relocate there permanently. Both have a huge expat population — Spain has over 5.8 million immigrants (roughly 8% of its population), while Portugal has around 700,000 (about 14% of its population).
However, with both countries sharing many similarities, it can be difficult to choose between them. Fortunately for you, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of both to help you come to a decision.
Portugal has hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. It is generally warmer than Spain, particularly in the south, with temperatures often reaching up to 40°C (104°F) in the summer. It has a largely uniform climate throughout the country, although coastal regions have pleasant sea breezes and wetter winters. It also tends to snow in the north between October and May, and centrally during the winter.
Spain has a more varied climate due to its larger size and varied topography. Southern Spain enjoys hot, dry summers and mild winters, whereas the north has cooler temperatures and greater rainfall. Spain’s central region is more continental, with hot summers and cold winters.
Portugal is home to many iconic cultural landmarks, such as the Torre de Belem in Lisbon and the Luís I Bridge in Porto, while the country has made many contributions to fields like cinema, art, literature and music.
The country’s cuisine is also excellent, with its seafood and wine particularly renowned. When it comes to Portuguese people themselves, they are known as laid back and introspective, while also being proudly patriotic.
Spain boasts numerous notable landmarks, from La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to the Plaza de España in Seville, while its art, cinema, literature and sports scenes are famed. Spain’s cuisine is also very popular, with tapas and paella among the highlights.
The Spanish are generally considered more outgoing than the Portuguese and tend to be prouder of their regional heritage than Spain as a whole.
Portugal’s economy is growing rapidly, largely fuelled by its prosperous tourism and cork industries. The country’s tourism sector was Europe’s fastest growing pre-Covid, while Portugal currently produces around half of the world’s commercially used cork.
Spain is a much larger country than Portugal, and so is its economy, which is the world’s 16th largest by nominal GDP. Its main industries include medical technology, shipbuilding, tourism, and textiles, and Spain’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in 15 years. In terms of the cost of living, however, it is 14% more expensive than in Portugal.
Portugal is arguably a harder language to learn and speak than Spanish. You’ll also find more popular TV shows and films in Spanish, helping you to learn it quicker and incorporate it into your daily life.
Learning Spanish is more practical than learning Portuguese too considering how many more countries it’s spoken in, including most of Latin America. European Portuguese is also a lot different to Brazilian Portuguese than European Spanish is to Latin American Spanish.
With Spain’s large English-speaking population, you’ll certainly find plenty of people there to converse within your native language, though it’s not as widely spoken among locals as in Portugal.
If you don’t own an EU passport, then you’ll need a dedicated long-stay visa to move to Portugal. There are a few main types:
- Work visa – This is given for a long-term or permanent work placement that is for a period longer than one year. You’ll need to provide various documentation, such as a work contract or service agreement.
- Retirement visa – If you have the money to support yourself financially in the long term, a retirement visa may be your best option. To receive this, you must show proof of earnings or savings.
- Golden visa – As residency investment advisory firm CS Global Partners notes, Portugal’s golden visa scheme allows you to buy a Portuguese visa for a minimum investment of €350,000. Going down this route is very quick and grants you permanent residency.
There are a couple of advantages of the country’s programme over Spain’s. One is that a citizenship application can be made after five years in Portugal instead of ten years in Spain, with Spain also having lots of limits on dual nationality.
Another is that property investment costs start at around €150,000 less in Portugal.
Other types of visas include study, professional training, volunteering and family reunification visas.
Like with Portugal, non-EU citizens will need a dedicated residence visa to live in Spain. Your main options are:
- Work permit – A work permit can be granted to those who are employed by a Spanish company. There are two main types: the highly qualified worker visa and a regular work permit. The former is for senior professionals with a salary of over €40,000, while the latter is difficult to obtain as you must be applying for a shortlisted job.
- Non-lucrative visa – This type of visa is similar to Portugal’s retirement visa. It allows you to stay in Spain for a year provided you have at least €28,800 in a bank account and a health insurance contract. The non-lucrative visa can only be renewed if you have lived in Spain for at least a period of 183 days.
- Golden visa – As touched upon above, Spain has its own residency by investment programme. Schengen Visa Info explains that you need to invest a minimum of €500,000 to obtain a Spanish permanent residency permit.
Other types of Spanish visas include business, family regrouping and student visas.
We hope the guide above has helped you edge closer to choosing one country over the other. However, don’t stress too much. Because both Portugal and Spain are such wonderful countries to live in, you can’t go wrong with either choice. Good luck with your future abroad!