It is easy to quickly gain a sense of how life is in Portugal for families. Visit any local restaurant on a summer evening and you’ll see children dining with the adults. They’re often there until way past a British “bed time!” Many people hark back to those times when children went out alone to play with their friends, heading back only as darkness fell. In many parts of Portugal, it can still feel like that. It’s therefore unsurprising that many people consider Portugal an interesting place to move with their families.
Obviously nowhere is a true utopia. Portuguese teenagers still have smartphones, Starbucks and Instagram. However, it’s fair to say that you can offer your whole family something distinctly different from life “back home” by considering a life in Portugal.
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In this article, we consider the practicalities of Portugal for families. We then go on to explore some destinations that are particularly suited to family life.
How is life in Portugal for families?
Portugal is a very family-focussed place. We’ve already touched on how children fit in. It doesn’t end there.
Visit any Portuguese shopping mall at the weekend, and you’ll soon see huge family groups out together. They often span three or more generations! There’s a definite cultural difference, especially when compared to the often-fragmented family life seen in the UK.
When it comes to raising children, the climate also provides a helping hand. With an incredibly long summer and generally mild weather all year round, outdoor living is the norm, rather than the exception. There’s simply not much of the year when crowding around a games console seems like the best option!
A word on education
Portugal provides open state education to all residents. Children attend school until the age of 18. In the final years, students can choose to continue with academic studies, often with the intention of moving into higher education. Alternatively, there’s the option of taking a more vocational path.
In common with the UK, Portuguese state schools vary in quality. Budgets are sometimes tight, and there can be an element of luck in which schools are accessible (and have available places) in which location.
If you have the budget, there are plenty of private options. These range from small independent schools to international institutions with established reputations, high standards and high fees. That said, in many parts of Portugal there are options for private education that are more affordable than you might expect.
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Which route to take will depend on the individual child. Age is a factor. It’s generally reasonable to say that younger children find it easier to integrate themselves into Portuguese school life. There’s more to think about in terms of language and cultural differences with older children. Either way, there are plenty of options, especially in and around the locations suggested below.
Portugal’s increasingly vibrant and cosmopolitan capital attracts overseas residents from across the world. Perhaps most famously, pop star Madonna moved there with her son in 2017. He attended the Benfica football academy.
Portugal’s increasingly vibrant and cosmopolitan capital attracts overseas residents from across the world. Perhaps most famously, pop star Madonna moved there with her son in 2017.
With a population of around 500,000 people, Lisbon is a relatively small city, but it’s still a city. If you’re looking for more of a small-town existence, complete with kids playing football in the street, one of the other options here could be preferable. However, Lisbon offers an ideal blend of Portuguese culture and metropolitan life.
This is perfect for modern young families, especially including those with parents pursuing careers in one of Lisbon’s ever-growing roster of startups and tech companies. There are several international schools in the city itself, including the British School of Lisbon. There are also many more options heading out towards Cascais, covered next.
Cascais, a refined beach resort town just 40 minutes from Lisbon, has long been a hub for international residents.
Cascais is the destination of choice for overseas families taking jobs with Lisbon’s biggest businesses. There are numerous international schools dotted over the surrounding region. As well as several teaching a British curriculum, there are also German and Swedish schools in the area. A sizeable network of school busses operates, ferrying children to and from all of these schools daily.
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For busy parents, there’s also an established support network. Many parents use of online forums to discuss schooling options – both public and private – prior to arrival in the area.
Cascais is a very simple place to settle, and is in an enviable location. It offers beach-life alongside having the convenience of a major city just a short train-ride away. This is Portugal for those families that feel they want access to a bit of everything.
Cascais hugs the coast. The most desirable property sits alongside the long strip of beaches just off the Marginal. This is the stunning coastal road that runs all the way to Lisbon. However, there are much more affordable options elsewhere.
All of Portugal’s Algarve has a rather different pace to Lisbon and Cascais. Things are slower in the south of the country, but there’s still no shortage of amenities.
Lagos is a popular tourist destination, but also home to many year-round overseas residents. Faro airport is less than an hour away, and the town offers an historic centre, a sparkling modern marina, and a wide range of different beaches.
There are several international school around Lagos, including one campus of the long-established Nobel Algarve in the town itself.
There are several international school around Lagos, including one campus of the long-established Nobel Algarve in the town itself. There’s also a wide range of local state schools. There are plenty of overseas residents in the area, so these schools are used to accommodating children from different nations.
Lagos covers quite a sprawling area and provides many options. The area behind the huge Meia Praia beach is popular with families, and home to many new developments of modern homes.
Vilamoura isn’t exactly the authentic Algarve. It’s a purpose-built resort and a popular part of the tourist trail. However it’s an interesting part of Portugal for families.
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First off, it seriously ticks the convenience box. It’s only 30 minutes from the airport, so very handy for trips to the UK, or even weekly commuting. The purpose-built nature of the place also means it has every amenity one could want – from golf courses to cycle routes to marina facilities.
Vilamoura also has its own international school, teaching 800 children between the ages of 2 and 18.
Vilamoura offers a wide choice of property, from town-centre apartments to gleaming golf villas.
We finish off north of Lisbon, in a very different part of Portugal. Leiria is equidistant between Lisbon and Porto, and just inland from the centre of Portugal’s beautiful silver coast.
This small city is something of a hub, both for those who live in the resort towns along the coast, and also those who have chosen life in one of the many beautiful villages to the east. Nearby Marinha Grande, just 15 minutes drive away, has its own international school.
Life in this part of Portugal is much more “authentic.” In Cascais and Vilamoura, there are people who (rightly or wrongly) conduct their lives mostly in English. They mix with other foreign residents and have social lives based around their private international schools. Life somewhere like Leiria will definitely be more rewarding for those who wish to truly integrate and enjoy a more authentic Portuguese life.
There’s a huge amount that justifies the positive reputation of Portugal for families. There’s also no one lifestyle you have to choose for yours. You can join the international set on the edge of Lisbon, or opt for something much more like that simpler life of the past. You can find out more about the culture and customs of Portugal here.
No matter where you choose to buy in Portugal, one way you can save a few euros is by negotiating for a lower price on your property.
Read our guide, How to Negotiate Abroad, for essential tips on how get a better house for your money.