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22. june 2021 · 2 minute

Can I live in Portugal without speaking Portuguese?

Do you want to live in Portugal for a few months, but you don’t want to waste years of your life learning Portuguese? Can this even be done? Yes, and relatively easily, but you have to keep in mind a few cultural differences, and there may be a few moments when you want to ask a local friend to help you with paperwork. Here’s how to get a mid-term rental for a few months living in Portugal without speaking Portuguese.

Where to live without speaking Portuguese?

Your best bet for living in Portugal without speaking Portuguese is larger cities like Lisbon, Faro, and Porto. Not only do these places have a good community of Americans and British people, but they are often very international and multicultural. Larger cities will have cafes with staff that speaks English, jobs that look for native English speakers (like teaching the language or working for multinational companies), and much of its services and even education opportunities will be in English as well.

It is really in these communities that you will enjoy an authentic borderless experience. This reality is by no means true of places outside of the cities. Smaller communities and towns do not have such a multicultural presence, so the need for English is not as pressing. These are the places like the rural Minho, Trás-os-Montes, or the Alentejo, which spans Lisbon and the Algarve. It is best to visit these regions when you already live somewhere else in Portugal or have Portuguese proficiency to live here.

The age gap

It is essential to mention that while many people from the older generation may not understand or struggle to speak English, the younger population will be somewhat fluent due to more significant exposure to the internet and the differences in public education between the generations. If you know that you’ll be mostly hanging out with younger people, you may not notice much of a difference wherever you go, but this may be an issue for older people.

Knowing some Portuguese

Counterintuitively, knowing a little bit of Portuguese can help a long way towards comfortably living without knowing much Portuguese at all. People, in general, like it when you at least seem like you want to put in some effort, especially the older generation. Here are a few words that will help you navigate an effortless conversation:

Obrigado = thank you (do not use the Spanish gracias as it may anger some people)
Por favor = please (a polite way to get people’s attention)
Bom dia = good morning (before lunch)
Boa tarde = good afternoon
Boa noite = good evening
Não percebi = I didn’t understand
Não falo português = I do not speak Portuguese
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