If you’ve spent any length of time browsing property listings in Portugal, you’ve probably noticed a wide selection of land for sale. Large plots of land, often with one or more ruins for renovation, are easy to find. Sometimes the prices seem incredibly tempting too. So, is buying land in Portugal and building a house to your dream specification a good option? This article explores the practicalities.

Obviously there are some clear plus points: If you choose to build a home of your own, you can – quite literally – create precisely the home you want for you and your family. You won’t have to make any sacrifices with the layout, or fit your life around other people’s functional or design decisions.

That said, buying land in Portugal and managing the whole building process is clearly a lot of work. A lot more work than buying an existing home and arranging a removal van.

So let’s begin by looking at costs.

Buying land in Portugal: the costs

While it is easy to find an average “square metre” cost for land in a specific region, myriad factors feed into the eventual price. Portugal’s large cities, for example, are in huge demand. Desirable beach-front plots in the Algarve obviously come with a substantial price premium.

Land in rural areas can cost as little as €200 per m2.

Land in rural areas can cost as little as €200 per m2.

Then, at the other end of the scale, you have more rural areas where land is cheap and huge plots are common. In these areas, you could build an enormous home whilst still leaving room for the orange and olive groves. However, you may find you face a lengthy wait to get electricity connected. You could also be miles away from airports and other amenities.

Land in Portugal can cost from less than €200 per square metre in rural areas, right up to over €2000 per square metre in the most prestigious places. Unsurprisingly, the most expensive areas are clustered around the cities and popular coastal regions. The cheapest areas are in central and northern Portugal, usually east of the coast and nearer to the Spanish border.

The key types of land in Portugal

If you’re interested in the potential of a piece of land in Portugal, the first thing to do is visit the town hall (camara). You’ll need to take a look at the licenca de utilizacao. This will show how the land is categorised. You’ll want to avoid land deemed as “protected.”

Make sure that you protect your money against the volatility of changing exchange rates – between agreeing a sale and paying, the price could change by thousands of pounds. Find out what you need to do in the Property Buyer’s Guide to Currency.

Land marked as “agro forest” is probably best avoided too; Due to frequent forest fires in Portugal during the hot summer months, the authorities are reluctant to allow people to build in affected areas. The likelihood is that any remaining land will be categories as “rustic,” “urban” or “commercial.” In recent years, Portugal has been very proactive about regeneration. As such, it’s worth seeking up to date advice on whether there may be any special initiatives that could help you – practically or financially.

Planning permission and other red tape

If you’re going to build your own home in Portugal, you may as well make your peace with Portugal’s bureaucracy. Things can take time, and having access to the right trusted professionals can make all the difference.

As per our article on legal matters in Portugal, it makes sense to choose an independent solicitor and architect to advise on your project. It’s quite likely the estate agent will recommend people, but it’s best to maintain some separation here and ensure that anyone working for you is working exclusively for you.

Your architect’s first job will be to draw up a Projecto de Arquitectura, which is submitted to the town hall for approval. This is then followed by a Projecto de Especialiada, which is a much more technical document, and covers connections for utilities and other fundamental details such as sewage and drainage.

The right lawyer will make all the difference. Finding one on recommendation who has helped other people with the same process is ideal.

It’s wise to accept that sign-offs for these documents can take considerable time. The right professional partners can certainly help. However, some wheels do just turn slowly, so it’s best to be patient and celebrate each small step of progress.

We can provide recommendations on tried and trusted lawyers who have helped hundreds of our readers to purchase safely. Simply fill in our enquiry form to let us know what you’re looking for.

The red tape doesn’t end with the planning process. Once a project is authorised, you must obtain a Licença de Obras (building license). Then, on completion, you will need everything checked over by the town hall. Once they grant a habitation license, you will be able to move into the property. Note, however, that you also need to register your home with the tax authorities and land registry.

The right lawyer will make all the difference. Finding one on recommendation who has helped other people with the same process is ideal.

Essential utilities

If you find a piece of land in Portugal that looks like too much of a bargain, there’s a fair chance you will find it doesn’t have utilities connected.

Gas is rarely something to worry about, as bottled gas in the norm outside of urban areas. However, connecting electricity can prove a lengthy and costly process. Ascertaining how far away the nearest electricity pole is from the boundary of the property should be a priority. One online estimate suggests budgeting around €1000 per pole to bring an electricity connection to your land.

Water and drainage is something else to think about. In a very rural area, this could mean a borehole (well) and a septic tank. If these items are already in place, you’re looking at a very different proposition to land where you’ll need to budget for them and arrange installation.

It’s worth noting that the utility connections will certainly create more paperwork and have an impact on your habitation licence. For electricity for example, you may well find that you can get connected, but that the engineers will return to fit a meter and activate the supply once you have a habitation license.

Where to look for land in Portugal

Most estate agents in Portugal will have some land on their books. You will also likely find options that aren’t posted online if you ask while you’re “on the ground.” To get a good flavour of some of the options available, both Kyero and Pure Portugal have a wide range of listings. The latter is particularly strong on options for restoring ruins or getting set up for “off grid” living.

Land in Portugal with existing plans

When you search for land in Portugal, you’ll probably come across plenty of plots with existing development plans. In some cases, planning permission may have already been sought.

Usually accompanied by appealing “artist’s impressions,” these options can – on the face of it – seem like an ideal half-way point between buying land and buying a completed home. Proceed with caution, however, especially in confirming that the permission for development is still current. It’s perfectly reasonable to ponder exactly why the previous owner went to the trouble of hiring an architect and then decided not to proceed!

For more advice on moving to Portugal this year, be sure to come to get your free tickets to Your Overseas Home in Harrogate on 5th October, the show aimed at serious buyers.

The other potential issue is that by choosing land like this, the “path of least resistance” is to stick with the existing lawyer and architect. This potentially means you have simplicity and don’t have to repeat work, but it also means you don’t have the independence of choice. This doesn’t mean these projects are to be avoided – just make sure you do your due diligence thoroughly, use trusted people, and don’t rush into anything.

Buying land in Portugal could be the first step in owning a true dream home. If you have the right sense of adventure and a healthy dose of patience, you could thoroughly enjoy the process.

Download your free Portugal Buying Guide

The Portugal Buying Guide is designed to support you through each stage of buying property in Portugal, providing relevant, up-to-date information and tips from Portugal property experts and expats who have been through the process themselves. It helps you to:


  Understand Brexit
  Find your property
  Ask the right questions
  Avoid losing money
  Avoid the legal pitfalls
  Move in successfully

Download your free guide to buying abroad

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