Portugal v Spain

Our blog has mostly been about Spain since I started writing in October of 2017. And now, after loving living in Spain for the past 2 and a half years we’ve suddenly moved to Portugal. What’s that about? I thought I would explain our decision, priorities, and what we’ve learned since we’ve been here in Central Portugal for the past month.

We liked living in Valencia for half the year. But if you’ve ever lived on the Mediterranean you know that summers are hot. It’s one thing to fly there for a couple of weeks on holiday. It’s quite another to live there for months on end during weather that is above 30 and 95% humidity. Summer started in May and ended sometime in end of Sept or October. At least that has been our experience in the 3 summers we’ve spent there. So a move to the northwest of Spain was our goal because we wanted seasons. Not just hot and cold.

We also love fishing and kayaking. Sure, you can fish in the Med. Of course you can. But we like fly-fishing the best and Galicia was the best location for fly-fishing. Not to mention that I tried and tried to get fishing licenses for us while in Valencia but couldn’t get a fishing shop to help me. Sound weird? I will say that I think it’s because I am a woman trying to fish. You don’t see females fishing in Valencia. I’m not making a generalization. I have literally not seen one woman fishing on the water around or near Valencia. When I reached out to shops in Galicia I was met with a much friendlier and open set of shop keepers who seemed happy to help me navigate how to get what I needed.

So at this point you’re probably asking how we ended up in Portugal when we were planning to move to Galicia, thus staying in Spain. When we began looking at real estate last year we were all about northwestern Spain. And when the pandemic hit we sat in our apartment in Valencia and we made our lists. There was no danger that we would miss out because no one could travel so the houses we were interested in weren’t going anywhere. There was one particular house we really wanted and I was chatting via Facetime with the owners, and when the lockdown appeared to be ending we made plans to go see it. But someone swooped in and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Jeff was really sad. He’d been getting through the lockdown by making plans based on that house. It was rare waterfront on a lake in Pontevedra. We were very very disappointed. So I started looking at other lakes near there. And then I went across the border to lakes in Portugal. And I kept going. Eventually ending up on the coast and the house where we are now.

Do I still want to learn Spanish? Yes. I need to get back to it. And there are some similarities between Spanish and Portuguese and I’ve found my thin knowledge of Spanish incredibly helpful when the person I’m trying to communicate with doesn’t speak english. But here’s the thing – nearly everyone here speaks english. Honestly. It’s very strange to find ourselves struggling with our limited language skills and the other person says ‘I’m sorry. Would you like to speak english?’ And then we proceed to have a full conversation.

Because we lived in Spain before this, Portugal seems easier. But everything is relative. If we had come here first it would have felt hard, too. But there are some key differences:

  • Portuguese Tax ID – This number is the unlock to everything in Portugal. You can do nothing without it. You need it to rent an apartment, buy property, get internet. Anything. But you can’t get it on your own without an address. Ugh. But you can go to a lawyer, who will ask you for your passport and an electric or internet bill from somewhere else in the EU and they will arrange to get it for you. It’s a little crazy. But we did this and now we’re set. Everyone will ask for this number. Buy something at the local Leroy Merlin home improvement store? They want that number. Set up any utility? Yup. Sign up for a loyalty card at your local Continente grocery store? Yup. Better know your PTID #. Why? We don’t really understand it but we do it. This is not to be confused with your Portuguese NIE number used for your social and health services or as formal identification. That’s different.
  • Driving License – You can swap your US driving license for a Portuguese one. No testing needed. So we will be doing that with our US licenses here because we have motorcycle endorsements on those and Jeff wants his motorcycle back and I want a scooter.
  • Cars – Registering our Spanish car might cost us in tax (a couple thousand euros) – we are working through that right now. It’s possible to get an exemption on tax but we have to wait and see.
  • Groceries cost more in Portugal. Not US-prices but more than Valencia. And the selection of produce isn’t the same quality and it costs more. I’m not happy about this – I eat a lot of fruits and veg
  • Gluten Free – A fraction of the products available in Spain for celiac are here in Portugal. I have a feeling that every once in a while we’ll do a long weekend in Vigo and I’ll fill the car.
  • In Spain, it’s legs of jamon (Iberian Ham) in every grocery store, everywhere, all the time. In Portugal it’s fish laid out like ham or hanging from pegs. I guess you can tell what’s important to a society by what they eat.
  • Books – After buying my english-language books in Lisbon at Bertrand Livreiros, I discovered there is a branch in Leiria. Yes, it’s small but the staff is friendly. I called and they encouraged me to come in and check out their small selection. They’ll order me whatever I want. I’ll write about it when I do. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to call a shop on the phone and communicate effectively.
  • Home Improvement stores – We’re big fans of the home improvement stores wherever we have lived. There aren’t as many choices in Portugal as in Spain, but they’ve just opened a new home improvement superstore in Leiria and we’re ecstatic. We’ve been there so many times now, and the staff are overly helpful and friendly. The 80 photos of the proud new staff members are up on the wall and these jobs are welcome in the midst of such an economic hit with Covid.
  • Internet/mobile/tv – These services in Portugal are less than half of what they cost in Spain. And the speeds and plans are twice as good. We haven’t received electric or gas bills yet but I’ll keep you posted.
  • Wine – Since Covid, I can only have a small amount of wine (very, very small) every so often. In Spain you can order one glass of wine anywhere. In Portugal, if you order a glass of wine they will ask ‘small or large bottle?’ Huh? You don’t order one glass of wine here. So you have to get the small bottle and take the rest home for the next time when you can have a very, very small glass of wine every so often.
  • Car washes – Finding an automated car wash is like finding a unicorn. All of them are self serve with the pressure wand. You might as well wash it in your driveway. We finally found a couple of them but they’re all closed. I don’t understand why.
  • Getting gas – You pump yourself here. In Spain, they pump for you. In Portugal, you’ll wait a long time before figuring out you’re on your own. And many, many stations only carry gasoline. Diesel isn’t as prominent here. The government encourages alternative fuel and hybrids use gas. I’ve heard complaints while sitting in a cafe about this.
  • Masks – people in our area of Portugal wear masks. Not down on their chins. Not pulled down so you can see their noses. Nope. They just wear them. And they social distance. In Valencia, it seemed 50% of ppl were tired of it and didn’t bother by July. Cases in Portugal are low and the country has air bridges with other countries.
  • Tolls – In Valencia, there were few tolls. We only encountered them when we went somewhere far on the motorway. In Portugal, like other Spanish provinces, they’re everywhere. Some are cash or card. Others are photo and they’ll send you a bill. Many Spanish tolls are tap and go if you don’t have the ‘Go pass’. But in Portugal there is no tap and go. You have to insert your card and wait and then do it again because the machine can’t read it and then do it again. Not super efficient. But the repetition is teaching me Tollbooth Portuguese so there’s always an upside.
  • Online Ordering – Most websites don’t have a .pt exclusive site. They use the .es site and fulfill from a Spanish warehouse. Amazon, for instance, does this. And it’s weird. We thought the selection in Spain was slim compared to the US. But when you’re shipping to Portugal from Amazon.es (because that’s your only choice) not all products are available in Portugal that are available in Spain. So for some things, we will wait until right before we’re going back to Valencia to ship them there. Then we’ll bring them back with us here. RainEx is a for instance – a must have living at the beach. You can’t get all the types here in Portugal. But you can in Valencia. Not sure why. Same with electronics.
  • Portuguese Addresses – This seems to be a relative term. Depending upon what you’re looking at, the city, region or province could be different. Sure, the street address will be the same. The four dash three post code will be the same. But whomever is determining the rest of it is open to interpretation. And it’s confusing, even to locals. This house we are buying has an address, but the sellers had to go to the town hall and get the official one. But I had a FedEx package sent to us from the US and they couldn’t validate it. So we improvised. And our internet provider also struggled with it because the official city could be one of two different cities. So now we just throw everything and the kitchen sink in there and we seem to get our packages just fine. So odd.

We have just scratched the surface – of course. But so far we really like it here. Having internet means I’ll be reaching out to Maria to start my Spanish lessons again. I can join my virtual writer’s group in London via Zoom, and we can continue learning all abut living in Portugal. As usual, I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

19 thoughts on “Portugal v Spain

  • There are two foods here and in Portugal that I cannot eat. Callos, yuk, and bacalao (the salted cod). Bacalao is an important food in both countries. When we were in Portugal last October, Milito’s sister in-law ran all over the place looking for the best price. Apparently, it’s cheaper in Portugal. So our car was packed with many kilos on the trip home. Bacalao literally makes me gag. I just cannot get past that texture and it’s a shame because it is a special dinner during the Christmas holiday. They cook some other fish for me.


  • Love these Spain / Portugal comparisons! I’ve had my heart set on Galicia, but reading about the taxes in Spain (including a new additional wealth tax coming), I’m now starting to consider looking south of the border just into northern Portugal. It doesn’t sound like you had to do much searching there before finding the place, but do you know if any of the Portuguese real estate websites are better than the others?

    A couple of years ago I went on a press trip with a group of Galicians to Ponte de Lima, Portugal and it was fun to hear the Galicians and Portuguese speaking their own languages to each other and communicating perfectly. Then turn to me and speak English – ha! Fun fact, apparently back in the Spanish Civil War days there were contraband routes between the two in the wooded areas where Ourense meets Portugal. All to say that even living there, you are still connected to Galicia a bit.

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    • You’re so right. I will say that culturally Portugal feels more like Galicia that Valencia and Galicia. I’ll ask Jeff to address the real estate question but idealista.com still works but you have to select Portugal as the country or you will only get Spain results. Jeff is putting together a whole purchasing step by step that we’ve gone thru. When we are closed on the house he’ll post it all. The good, bad and ugly. 😳. Its a trip. But we do like it here. I believe the route story. The hills of Ourense into Portugal would be impossible to monitor. Portugal is so mountainous and generally hilly. We were in Ourense last October. It reminded me of the area of Stevens Pass in WA state. The air, rivers, leaves changing. I got homesick on the train.

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      • I didn’t realize about Idealista! Thank you! I have a friend who makes beautiful little one minute videos around Ourense … they will make you homesick too.😉 Looking forward to Jeff’s home buying post. So appreciate how you guys have shared the whole process with all of us!

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        • This is the one about the contraband route. They did a re-enactment thing a few months ago. The same filmmaker who did this has a series of videos made around Ourense called “The Art of Rural Living”. They are sweet little 1 min love letters to the area.

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          • Very interesting. I’d like to learn more. I took a history of Spain course in 2018. I’ll need to do the same for Portugal 🇵🇹 . Cool video. I was surprised I understood a lot of what he was saying. We really thought we would end up there. But its not far from here.

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            • Even after the Civil War… I remember the times before Spain joined the EU: there used to be a border control and there were certain items you were not allowed to bring back into Spain. They might search your car at the check point and confiscate any forbidden items they found (very silly things, really; as a child I never understood why they were not allowed). So people would come up with creative ideas to try and hide their purchases… like telling us kids to pretend to be asleep in the back and lie down on top of the forbidden item 😂

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              • Interesting. There used to be a fruit inspection station between the state of Oregon and California. When we would visit Los Angeles to see relatives they would stop us. Usually we would hide any fruit we had but once we didn’t do it and they found it. My Mom didn’t want it to go to waste so we sat in the car by the side of the road furiously eating all the fruit in the car. I had forgotten about that until your story abt the Portuguese/Spanish border

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  • Hi, Love your posts. I’ve been following since the beginning I also walked Camino in 2013, fell in love with Spain and hoped to move there. Back in US I was diagnosed with a slow debilitating muscular condition soooo I retired way early, returned to Spain 2017 and walked the Meseta. Never found a home in Spain but lived it through your candid posts!
    Thank you for clever writings & experience. Now onto Portugal! p.s. If you noticed a user friendly community of wheelchair users in Portugal please post a comment or photo.
    Live the life you love and you do!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aw. Thanks so much 🙏 I’m sorry to learn if your diagnosis. This year has taught me more than ever not to take health for granted. I wonder if you and I were on the Meseta at the same time (me Mid-June 2017). Will do on the wheel chair access. I’ll look with a different eye now. 📸


      • Yes, I was on the Meseta mid June, I tried to attach a photo from June 17th in Foncebadon but was unable, who knows you might have been there! I started in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, took a ride when needed and eventually had a fabulous Finestera beach week. All the best in your new adventure & home!


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