Lisbon x San Francisco x New York: Comparison of Living Costs

8 de February, 2022

Lisbon x San Francisco x New York: Comparison of Living Costs

We have chosen two major American cities to compare the cost of living with Lisbon: San Francisco, CA and New York, NY.
Reading: 8 min

The last few years have been marked by a great increase in global mobility. The rapid digital transformation, with greater access to information, faster internet, the possibility to work or study remotely, as well as an improvement in communications and transport, has made the desire to live in another country, temporarily or even permanently, increasingly common. For those who live in big cities and are used to a high cost of living, the idea may be even more tempting. Especially if it is possible to maintain the salaries of the country of origin, and spend less in the chosen destination. And why not?
Based on the Numbeo website, a kind of Wikipedia of prices around the world, it is possible to assess how much your salary could be worth if you decide to live in Portugal. And even though it may seem low for your country’s standards, it will certainly be enough and even worth more in Portuguese lands, ensuring a good quality of life.

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With how much money can I live well in Portugal? This is a question that will depend a lot on the city you will choose to live in, your lifestyle and the number of people in your family. Portugal has one of the lowest minimum wages in Europe (705€), and also because of this, living in the country is not that expensive.
Generally speaking, it is said that a couple can live comfortably in Lisbon on 1,500 to 2,000 euros per month. A good part of this amount will be spent on housing, so the choice of where to live will make all the difference in the budget. Tourist places and big metropolises like Lisbon and Porto are more expensive regions. On the other hand, it is possible to spend less, even living in areas close to these cities. Therefore, it is always good to plan based on your needs and the city you choose to call home.

Comparing the cost of living: Lisbon x San Francisco x New York

To arrive at more realistic figures, we chose two important American cities to compare prices with the Portuguese capital: San Francisco, CA and New York, NY. According to the website numbeo.com, a person earning $3,017 a month in San Francisco could maintain the same standard of living with just $1,250 in Lisbon. That, assuming the cost of rent in both cities. This calculation assumes net earnings, that is, after income tax. In New York, on the other hand, a salary of around $3,000 would be necessary to maintain the standard of living achieved in Lisbon with less than half of this value.
It should be noted that Lisbon is the city with the highest cost of living in Portugal. It is possible to live in other cities and spend less. Porto, the second most important city in the country, has a cost of living 11% lower than Lisbon. Braga, another example, has a cost of living 19% lower than the capital. Those who prefer to live in less densely populated areas will pay even less and still enjoy the quality of life offered in Portugal.

How much does a villa in Lisbon cost?

Housing is one of the items that weighs the most on the budget, so it must be analysed individually. According to Numbeo, the monthly rent for a 3-bedroom flat in downtown New York City is valued at $6,500. In San Francisco, the value is similar: $6,850. In Lisbon, the same type of property can be rented for $1,850, about 70% less.
If the option is not to rent but to buy a property, the flats located in downtown Lisbon cost on average 63% less than in the two American cities. The value of the square meter in Lisbon is valued at $5,330, against $15,340 in New York, and $13,152 in San Francisco.

Education costs in Lisbon

Education is something that is highly valued when choosing a new city to live in. In Portugal, education costs much less than in American cities. Tuition fees in public schools for children up to 5 years old can cost up to 81% less in Lisbon than in San Francisco and New York. It is worth noting that education up to the 12th grade is compulsory and offered free of charge in the country. And many of the public schools stand out in national rankings, with scores similar to those of public schools.
In the case of university education, this difference in values may be even greater. It is worth noting that Portuguese universities, even public ones, are not free. Even so, undergraduate courses in Portugal have attractive prices for foreigners. The average cost of a degree at the University of Lisbon is $980 per year for local students and around $7,900 for international students. It is worth remembering that foreigners who live legally in Portugal for 5 years may apply for citizenship and enjoy cheaper tuition fees at these institutions.
Despite still being one of the poorest countries in Europe, Portugal has obtained excellent results in international evaluations of education such as PISA, aimed at students up to 15 years old, being the only country of the continent that improves its performance every year. In addition, 7 Portuguese universities are in the list of the 1,300 best universities on the planet according to the QS World University Ranking. The University of Porto is among the 300 best in the world.

Is healthcare in Portugal cheaper than in the United States?

Yes, for sure!
In the United States, health care is a very expensive item, generally speaking. The country does not have a single healthcare system, but rather a variety of independent programmes, autonomously regulated by the 50 federal units and sponsored by the market. Popular health insurances such as Medicaid and ACA (Affordable Care Act) do not cover the entire population and their services leave much to be desired. According to Health Markets, the average monthly cost of private health insurance in California is $430, and generally does not cover all expenses. Insurance in New York is among the most expensive in the country, with monthly premiums of around $700 and high deductibles.

How much does healthcare cost in Portugal?

In Lisbon, private health insurance costs around $100, depending on the age of the patient and the type of coverage desired. Generally speaking, these insurances require their users to pay a percentage of the expenses for consultations and hospitalization. Something around 20% of the total expense. A consultation with a specialist doctor costs on average $80.
Portugal also offers quality public medical care through the National Health System. The system is universal, but not totally free. There are moderate fees to prevent overuse, but they are small. For a general medicine consultation, for example, the fee is $5. Moreover, many citizens are exempt from this payment, such as the unemployed, pregnant women, blood donors, transplant patients, children under 17 years old, among others. In Portugal, 93% of those enrolled in the SNS have a family doctor. The government also has medicine subsidy programs, in which the State pays part of the amount and the user pays the rest. There are 4 co-payment scales, varying from 90% to 15% of the value of the medicine.
According to the most recent Euro Health Consumer Index, Portugal is in 13th place in the ranking of European health systems. It is important to note that foreigners who live legally in Portugal can also benefit from the public health system.

Food costs in Lisbon

Food is also cheaper in the European city; whether it is groceries bought at the supermarket or meals taken in restaurants. Meals in Lisbon restaurants cost, on average, 50% less than in New York and 46% less than in San Francisco.
Even maintaining vices can be more economical in the Portuguese capital, with cigarettes and beer at more attractive prices. Average price of a half-litre of ordinary beer in Lisbon? Only $2.50, against $7 in San Francisco and $8 in New York. Marlboro cigarettes? In Lisbon, $5.75, against $15 charged in NY and $11.34 in San Francisco.

Transport and fuel prices in Lisbon

There are few items that cost more in Lisbon. A litre of petrol currently costs $1.90 in the Portuguese capital, 60% more than in San Francisco and 136% more than in New York. The value of a car is also higher in Portugal: a model equivalent to a Golf 1.4 90kw costs on average $29,300 in Lisbon, against $25,000 in NY and $24,000 thousand in San Francisco.
Nevertheless, the underground ticket in Lisbon costs $1.70, which is less than in New York ($2.75) and San Francisco ($2.50). It is worth noting that public transport in Portugal is of high quality, being widely used by citizens from all social classes, including those who have their own vehicle.


There’s no quality of life without good leisure options, and there’s no shortage of them in Lisbon. Besides being able to enjoy its cultural wealth, with its centuries-old monuments, churches of singular beauty, and sunny beaches, the Portuguese capital also has good options in theater, music, festivals… And with an affordable cost as you can see, taking as a basis the value of a movie ticket: in Lisbon it costs around $8, against $17 in NY and $15 in San Francisco.

What is the average salary in Lisbon?

On average, salaries in San Francisco and New York are four to five times higher than in Lisbon. While the average salary in the Portuguese capital is $1,200, in New York that figure is close to $6,000, while in San Francisco it’s almost $8,000. Have you ever thought of spending a salary like that in a Portuguese city? It’s no wonder that many Americans have been looking to Portugal to live. The country has already been considered the best destination in the world for remote work, according to travel website Momondo. It is also on the list of the best destinations to enjoy retirement, occupying the 4th position in the “2022 Annual Global Retirement Index”. In addition, Portugal is the 7th country in the world with the best English proficiency, according to the “EF English Proficiency Index” ranking of 2021, which makes life much easier for Americans who do not master the Portuguese language.

ItemPrice difference between Portugal and the USA
Consumer prices (excluding rents)In Lisbon it is 45% lower than in San Francisco and 49% lower than in New York
Consumer prices (with rent)In Lisbon it is 58% lower than in San Francisco and New York.
Rental pricesIn Lisbon it is 71% lower than in San Francisco and 69% lower than in New York
Restaurant pricesIn Lisbon it is 46% lower than in San Francisco and 50% lower than in New York
Grocery pricesIn Lisbon it is 59% lower than in San Francisco and 50% lower than in New York
Average monthly net salary (after tax)In Lisbon it is 85% lower than in San Francisco and 80% lower than in New York.
Average salarySan Francisco: $7,964
New York: $5,937
Lisbon: $1,207

Source: Numbeo (consulted on 03/02/2022)

If living in Portugal is also a desire of yours, talk to Atlantic Bridge consultants. They will be able to help you find viable alternatives to make this dream come true.

Silvia Resende
Silvinha is a journalist at Atlantic Bridge. From Bahia, she arrived in Portugal in 2015 to build a new life with her family. She has a degree in Communication from UFBa, in Brazil, and a Master’s in Communication Sciences from the University of Porto. She has worked as a TV presenter, reporter, event producer, public relations and tour guide in Porto. She loves travelling and discovering the cultural heritage of each place she visits. She is mother of Malu, 8 years old, and thinks that Porto is the ideal place to raise a child.



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