Living in Spain or Portugal? Find out which is better to live in

9 de May, 2023

Living in Spain or Portugal? Find out which is better to live in

Living in Spain or Portugal? Both the Portuguese and the Hispanic countries have advantages and disadvantages. They also have things in common: incredible landscapes and wonderful cuisine! See here the comparison between them!
Reading: 11 min

Living in Spain or Portugal, that is the question! This is a doubt that many foreigners who are starting to research to define their move planning have. Both the Portuguese and the Hispanic countries have advantages and disadvantages. However, they have things in common: both have incredible landscapes and wonderful cuisine!

If you are in doubt about whether to live in Spain or Portugal, keep reading this article because I am going to talk about each one, compare the cost of living, salary, job opportunities, and other points that will help you in your decision.

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Living in Spain or Portugal?

If you are planning to live in Spain or Portugal, the best thing to do is to do a lot of research about them. Defining the cities of interest can also help you weigh the positive and negative points when making your choice.

Although they are neighboring countries, they are quite different in some aspects and very similar in others.

Size of each country

Let’s start with the territorial and population size. Portugal is very small, covering only 92,212 square kilometers and with a population of 10.34 million, according to the 2021 Portuguese Census. To have an idea, it is a little bit smaller than the state of Pernambuco in Brazil.

Spain is 505.99 square kilometers in size and has 47.61 million inhabitants, according to the 2021 Spanish census. Therefore, in terms of territory, Spain is five times larger than Portugal and with a population four times larger.

What is it like to live in Portugal?

Living in Portugal is to have the certainty of a quieter, safer life, without chaotic traffic (in the Brazilian’s view) and to have a slower routine. It means learning to work to live and not live to work, that is, living in Portugal means having quality of life. And I can say from experience that it really is all of this!

In addition, we were colonized by the Portuguese and as a consequence, our cultures tend to be closer. Of course there are cultural differences between Brazil and Portugal and it is far from being equal, but we have many traits in common and perhaps the biggest example is the Portuguese language.

Everyone has their own way of speaking, with their own accent and their own specific words and slang, but the important thing is that we understand each other very well.

What is it like to live in Spain?

To live in Spain is to immerse yourself in a different and extremely rich culture. You admire Flamenco, love or hate bullfighting and other Spanish traditions. It’s going out for tapas and drinking a tinto de verano. It’s taking a siesta after lunch and feeling refreshed for the next workday.

There is also a lot of security in small towns, but you have to be a little more alert in larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona.

Public transportation takes you everywhere and you have a more active life, but without leaving the quality of life behind.

Where are the best job opportunities?

With the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and the Ukraine War, I would say that there is no difference when it comes to finding the best job opportunities in the two countries. When choosing to live in Spain or Portugal, you need to know that the market in both countries has been stepping on the brakes due to the global economic crisis.

According to Portugal’s National Institute of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Portugal closed the fourth quarter of 2022 with the percentage of 6.5%. This is above the 6.1% that the government itself had predicted for the year. So, it can be said that unemployment in the country has remained relatively stable and has even been decreasing, since in 2021 the percentage was 6.6%.

In Spain, which had not yet recovered 100% from the crisis that hit Europe in 2008, the situation worsened. The country closed the year 2022 with an unemployment rate of 12.87%, with more than 3 million people unemployed, according to the National Statistics Institute (INE).

Despite the unemployment rate in both countries, opportunities do exist, especially for highly qualified professionals. It may be more difficult to find a job at this time, but adapting your résumé to the European model and keeping an eye out for vacancies on job sites in Portugal or on job sites in Spain may yield an opportunity.

Minimum and average wages

When it comes to minimum and average wages, Spain comes out ahead of Portugal. See the table based on INE data from both countries.

CountryMinimum wageAverage salary

Best country to save money

The question is to save money by living in Spain or Portugal? So, let me tell you that Portugal is definitely not a country to get rich, but I don’t think Spain is either. Both value quality of life and neither culture lives by work. Comparing the two, it would be better to opt for Spain.

However, if you really want to save money, it would be better to aim for countries like England and Germany, where salaries are much higher.

Which has the better climate, Spain or Portugal?

Both countries have a mild climate compared to all of Europe. However, knowing both countries, I would say that Portugal comes out ahead for having more pleasant temperatures both in summer and winter.

Portugal is a small country, but don’t be fooled, because the climate can vary greatly from region to region. In the Algarve, southern Portugal, there are 300 days of sunshine a year and a very pleasant climate, even in winter. In the central region, Lisbon and surroundings, the temperature is milder, although the summer is very hot.

In Porto and the entire northern region, the climate is pleasant in the summer (sometimes with very hot days), but the winter is extremely rainy and cold, but we rarely have negative temperatures. Want to see snow in Portugal? Only by going to Serra da Estrela.

Renting a house to live in Spain or Portugal
Even though we have colder climates than Brazil, Portugal and Spain are the mildest countries in Europe.

In Spain, the climate is 8 or 80, you know? I usually say that it is hot and dry in the summer, very cold in the winter, and with negative temperatures in many cities, being more susceptible to snow.

In January 2021, we followed in the news the great snowfall that hit Madrid and the region, with temperatures of -11º.

Best for studying

Both countries have excellent public and private schools and universities that offer excellent quality in education.

Public education in Portugal is free of charge at the school level, with parents paying only for school meals and school materials (except for books, which are free). The amount of this payment is made according to socioeconomic levels, divided into A, B and C, and varies according to the study cycle. Class hours are from 9am to 3:30pm. In addition, the teaching of English and a third language are compulsory.

The educational system in Spain is also free in public schools, with parents paying for school materials and meals. Parents who cannot afford it are exempt from these payments.

Class hours are from 9 am to 4 pm with a 2-hour lunch break. In Spain, in addition to public schools, there are “concerted” schools, where part of the tuition is subsidized by the government and part by the parents. The teaching of English and another language is also compulsory in the Iberian country.

In Spain, language is a differential

Although the public schools are very similar and of very good quality, I believe that it will be more beneficial for children and teenagers to be enrolled in Spain, because in this way they will acquire fluency in Spanish. Besides, of course, learning to speak English and one more language, be it German, French or Italian. Therefore, the young student in Spain graduates speaking at least 3 languages in total.

And you really learn! Living in Spain or Portugal helps a lot for those who want to learn new languages.

Both countries have excellent higher education

The higher education in both countries is excellent. Both have outstanding universities and in both countries the public universities are paid. However, the Portuguese country can stand out in this aspect because, for Brazilians, it is possible to study in Portugal using ENEM as an application. Furthermore, because it is the same language, there is no need for a sworn translation of several documents and diplomas.

Which country has the best cost of living?

The cost of living in Portugal has always been a little lower, however, the high rental values in the country have been a reason for much criticism and have made the monthly budget more expensive.

And when we compare with renting in Spain, specifically between Lisbon and Madrid, we realize that the values of the Spanish capital are lower. Today, because of the rising cost of living in Portugal, prices are on par with Spain.

To find out which has the best cost of living, whether it is Portugal or Spain, I put together a comparative table, based on Numbeo, with the main expenses considering the two capitals, Lisbon and Madrid.

Meal at a simple restaurant12€12€
Meal for two, medium restaurant, three courses50€50€
McMeal at McDonalds (or equivalent combo meal)7,25€8€
Local Beer (draft)2,50€3,50€
Milk – 1 liter0,92€0,91€
Rice – 1kg1,31€1,27€
Eggs – dozen2,72€2,41€
Chicken fillet – 1kg6,80€7,33€
Banana – 1kg1,28€1,91€
Potato – 1kg1,29€1,26€
Water – 1.5 liter0,77€0,70€
Transportation – monthly pass40€54,60€
Gasoline – 1 liter1,90€1,86€
Internet (fiber, ADSL)36,83€33,10€
Cinema – international release7,50€9€
1 bedroom apartment in the city center1.226€1.008€
3 bedroom apartment in the city center2.355€1.758€
*Costs researched in March 2023.

According to the Numbeo website, the difference in percentage between and Lisbon and Madrid are:

Consumer prices including rent4.1% higher in Lisbon
Rental Prices21.2% higher in Lisbon
Restaurant prices4.2% higher in Madrid
Supermarket Price5.2% lower in Lisbon
Purchasing power46.9% lower in Lisbon
*Costs researched in March 2023.

Which country has more security?

Whether you live in Spain or Portugal, you will be well served by security. Both countries have good security . However, Spain is a much larger and more populous country. The big cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona, are notorious for theft. There are many pickpockets and you have to be more careful. Other than that, the country is very peaceful and the locals say they feel safe walking around the streets, even at night.

Portugal is an extremely safe country. According to the 2022 Global Peace Index ranking, the Portuguese country ranks sixth among the safest countries in the world. Spain, on the other hand, ranks 29th. So, all things considered, Portugal is safer.

Health in Spain and Portugal

Both countries have a well-functioning public health system. However, between Portugal and Spain, when it comes to health, Spain comes out ahead.

The Iberian country has been a world leader for almost 30 years in organ donation and transplantation, exports health technology to the whole world, and has a very high level of medical care and training.

The points in favor of public health in Spain consequently reflect on the Spanish population, which was considered the healthiest in the world by the 2020 Bloomberg Healthiest Country ranking.

Bureaucracy: difficulty to get visa and residency

Whether you choose to live in Spain or Portugal, there is no escaping the bureaucracy regarding the residence visa, unless you have European citizenship.

Both countries have several types of residence visas that can be applied for and the difficulty is the same, because each visa has a prerequisite and a specific documentation to be presented when applying for it.

The types of visas for Portugal are:

  • Work;
  • Study;
  • Temporary Stay (for short term courses);
  • Entrepreneur;
  • Investor;
  • Retired or fixed income;
  • Highly qualified professionals.

The visas for Spain, on the other hand, are:

Legalization and acquisition of nationality

Whether in Portugal or Spain to legally reside, it is necessary to obtain a residence visa still in the country of origin. Both are part of the Schengen Area and allow tourists to stay in European territory for a maximum period of 90 days.

However, both countries have loopholes in the law to regularize foreigners. You see, there is a difference between irregular and illegal in Portugal.

As for the acquisition of nationality, Spain deserves the highlight. Foreigners from Ibero-American countries can apply for citizenship by residence time after two years living legally in the country.

In Portugal, the same citizenship can be requested after 5 years of legal residence. Both are done through the naturalization process.

Portuguese or Spanish gastronomy?

Both love a bread and wine to accompany their meals. Seafood dishes are also strong for both. And both have a wonderful and faultless gastronomy. But the Portuguese will have to excuse me, but between the two, I’m going to go with the Spanish gastronomy.

Let’s play a game and create a podium of typical foods from Spain vs. typical foods from Portugal?

  • Paella (seafood or the typical Valencian with meats) or a Bacalhau (whatever the cuisine). I’ll stick with the Paella.
  • Gazpacho or sprout soup? I’ll take the gazpacho.
  • Tapas or nail in bread? Okay, Portugal wins on that one. Nail in bread is better.
  • Cocido madrileño or Cozido à portuguesa? Without a doubt, the madrileño.
  • Casadielles or pastel de nata? Well, it is impossible to compete with the Portuguese when the subject is sweet. So, the pastel de nata will always come out ahead.

In my podium result, Spain is the winner in the gastronomy category!

What are the similarities between Portugal and Spain?

The similarities are many, as you have been able to see throughout the article. In summary there are similarities in:

  • Quality Education System whether in Portugal or Spain;
  • Mild climate in both when compared to other European countries;
  • Security in both countries is a common point;
  • Putting money together will be difficult in both;
  • Whether in Portugal or Spain, finding work easily is a more complicated task than one might think;
  • Both countries have a wide variety of residence visas and must be applied for while still in Brazil.

What are the main differences between Portugal and Spain?

Living in Spain or Portugal will be an immersion in a different culture in either country. However, there are some differences between them that are worth considering.

In summary, the differences between Portugal and Spain are:

  • The minimum and average wage in Spain is higher when compared to Portugal;
  • In Portugal it is possible to obtain the Equal Rights and Duties Statute and thus enjoy the same rights as a Portuguese citizen;
  • Spanish citizenship by residence time can be requested after 2 years (for citizens of Ibero-American countries) living legally, while in Portugal it can only be requested after 5 years.


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