From sunbathing in the middle of winter to speaking English with the natives, entrepreneurs flock to Portugal for perks that rank it among the best countries on earth for foreigners seeking friendly shores. In the most recent InterNations ranking, Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, ranked third as the best city for expatriates. (Valencia and Alicante, also on the Iberian Peninsula, ranked first and second.)
InterNations surveyed more than 20,000 expats in more than 180 nations, drilling down on details that attract newcomers, including affordable healthcare, leisure options and affordable housing. Portugal’s current economics are such that citizens can enjoy an extraordinary quality of life on a budget. (A basket of goods and services that cost $1 in the U.S. would cost 57 cents in Portugal, according to 2020 World Bank data.)
Other aspects of the country – safety, affordability, and a stable government – add to the attraction. While the vibrant cities of Porto and Lisbon have long appealed to expatriates and foreign entrepreneurs, Portugal’s new visa options are now reinvigorating other towns.
Located in Southwestern Europe on the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal borders Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. Natural beauty permeates the country. Rivers, valleys, forests, and mountains comprise the northern landscape, and rolling plains undulate across the south.
The sun shines 300 days a year in Lisbon, and a picturesque historic center entices citizens to stroll along its cobbled streets. But Lisbon offers more that’s bright and beautiful: For entrepreneurs, the Portuguese government bolsters innovation and foreign investment by catering to their needs.
Lisbon welcomes businesses through co-working hubs, good internet connections, and an English-speaking workforce. This scenario isn’t an accident. Following the Great Recession of 2007-2008, Portugal’s entrepreneurs and government leaders reconstructed an environment supportive of economic growth.
One of Portugal’s many attractive business niches is real estate. According to a study by PwC and Urban Land Institute, Lisbon sits in the top 10 of the best European cities to invest in real estate. This statistic comes as no surprise to Luis Horta e Costa, a longtime real estate and startup expert active. He is the co-founder of Square View (squareview.pt), a real estate property developer and asset manager based in Lisbon.
The number of foreign citizens living in Portugal accounts for about 7 percent of the population in 2021, according to the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service. Luis Horta e Costa says that these new citizens, in addition to the natives, crave something distinctive in housing design.
“We are always trying to make something different,” he says. “It’s a need that goes with our character and with our beliefs.” And while everything isn’t rosy in Portuguese real estate – “The impact that we are seeing in the construction cost is not good,” he notes – it remains strong.
Luis Horta e Costa gives some specific advice to real estate developers: Since Portuguese construction companies are not big enough to face the demand, they can win through relationship building.
“We are in their hands now, so networking and trust is always important,” he says.
The Portuguese government’s Golden Visa Program helped make Portugal a hotspot for those who want fast European residency through real estate investments. For entrepreneurs, the Tech Visa and Startup Visa are enticing. They encourage freelancers and short-term employees to enter the country and live there temporarily while, should they choose, pursuing a path toward residency.
The Tech Visa targets companies already active in the global market that can attract tech workers to Portugal. The Tech Visa also allows qualified workers foreign to the European Union easy access to jobs created by Portuguese companies.
The Startup Visa, a residence visa for entrepreneurs, attracts investment and talent to Portugal by granting entrepreneurial immigrants a residence visa or residence permit. As members of Portugal’s economic matrix, entrepreneurs invest and create employment within the country. They also benefit from the Startup Portugal Program’s incentives and support.
According to the EU Startup Monitor, Lisbon is one of the biggest hubs for European startups, along with London, Berlin, Paris and Copenhagen. A Hubs in Europe report by Startup Europe counted 32 technology scale-ups in Lisbon. New firms that have raised capital of at least $1 million, scale-ups comprise 47 percent of the city’s businesses. Pipedrive, Salsify, and Cloudflare are among the digital firms that have opened offices in Lisbon.
Lisbon is home to an array of incubators and accelerators, including Startup Lisboa. A non-profit founded in 2012, Startup Lisboa supports companies’ early years by providing them with office space and support structure. Fabrica de Startups, which helps launch entrepreneurs through its proprietary methodology, is also active in Lisbon.
“Starting businesses is quite easy in Portugal,” Portuguese economist Ricardo Reis, a professor of economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, told Grow magazine. “You can open a business in one hour with a relatively limited amount of paperwork.”
Luckily, networking in business is also easy to do in Portugal: Friendliness is among the many Portuguese personality traits expatriates embrace. According to a 2022 InterNations survey, 82 percent of expatriates describe the Portuguese as generally friendly. So, the clear message for would-be emigrants is “Welcome!” (Or, as the Portuguese say, “Bem-vindo!”)