Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Dreaming of becoming a Portugal digital nomad? Portugal has been prized as the ultimate digital nomad destination for years.

Dreaming of becoming a Portugal digital nomad? Well, then, you should read this before you go.

Portugal has been prized as the ultimate digital nomad destination for years. 

As a digital nomad myself, I was one of the few to visit Portugal. Naturally, given all the online hype, I had high expectations. 

Now, I want to share my insights after spending more than a month in Portugal, the unparalleled digital nomad destination in Europe.

In my mind, I was doing everything right. I went there off-season (February and March), spent one month in Algarve, then a few days in Lisbon and then Madeira.

If there was some hidden paradise for digital nomads in Portugal, I was planning to find it and then have that destination as a backup when things get too cold or uncool in the rest of Europe.

Does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Is Algarve a place for digital nomads?

I booked an Airbnb for a month in the Algarve region without stepping foot in Portugal.

My plan was to escape the cold European winter, and I went there in mid-February and stayed up until mid-March. 

Obviously, I didn’t plan my winter escape too far ahead, and I was just searching Airbnb in January. It then hit me that most cool and affordable apartments were already booked. 

I don’t have too many demands. When I’m looking for an apartment, I just need a kitchen, living room and a bedroom, and it’s important that it’s clean. I also travel with my boyfriend, so I need to make sure it’s big enough for two people. 

I had a bit of a shock when I discovered that an average apartment (nothing too fancy) wasn’t going to be under 1,500 EUR per month.

This was hard to grasp since this was truly off-season; people were going to the Algarve for holidays in February, and booking an Airbnb for a month is usually pretty cheap compared to daily fees. 

I just figured that the Algarve is one of the Southern points in continental Europe, and all digital nomads were hanging out there during winter. And that could be the reason for the high prices. 

Long story short, a month after booking the place, I got to the Algarve and liked the place and its location. 

However, it came as a big shock to discover that the Southern coastline of Portugal is lined up with towns and villages full of high-rises and villas for English and German retirees. Most of these places were empty during winter, and their windows were closed. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

What I liked about Algarve in winter?

I liked the low traffic in the area and the chill vibe of all these places during the low season, but I cannot imagine the craziness that happened during summertime when everyone comes there for the holidays. 

The weather is mild, and during the day you can wear a T-shirt and sandals. 

It’s a fantastic location for surfing and other water sports. 

My boyfriend and I bought wetsuits and tried bodyboarding for the first time, and we loved it. 

Since our apartment was only a couple of minutes from the beach (this was my only desire when booking the place), it was a dream to be able to wake up in the morning and have our coffee on the beach. 

We could also go for longer walks on top of the shoreline cliffs in the afternoon, which was the absolute best therapy. 

The weather was a bit cloudy and windy in February, but then March was an absolute dream.

I don’t like cold, but I also run away from the scorching summer heat. If this sounds like you, then March is the month to visit the Algarve

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

However, I am not the only one to notice this weather change. So many of the apartments had higher rates starting with March. 

I also loved being able to drive around and discover all corners of Algarve. Check out all these cool places to see in the Algarve.

What I didn’t like about the Algarve in winter?

Since not a lot of people were in the area, not a lot of restaurants were open. The food was average at best in most of them. The prices were above what you’d pay in Northern Germany, which was not expected. 

Most digital nomads were staying in Lagos, which was a bit too tacky and dirty for my taste.

Faro, the largest city on the coastline in Algarve, was also cute but pretty worn out, dirty and expensive. 

I think that choosing the right location in Algarve plays a massive role. 

If you’re thinking of the Algarve coastal cliffs, then you have to find a place from the middle of the coastline and up to the West. The eastern part is more similar to Spain and has better architecture, but the beaches are average. 

Unless you’re staying in a larger city and just work and spend your afternoon at the beach, you’ll need a car to move around. 

Car rental companies are trying to rip you off, and prices are high, even if the demand is low in the winter. In summer, it’s probably a whole other story.

There are some public buses that go between the towns, but the schedules change every year, and the tickets aren’t cheap. 

I also like spontaneous small afternoon trips, so getting a bus isn’t the best option for me. 

I rented a car to get around, and it’s what everyone does.

I used RentalCars to choose the best option for my 3-week car rental. Check out this blog about car rentals in Portugal to see if this is the best option for you too.  

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Prices in Algarve

Overall, the Algarve is like a special destination for the rich European retirees, and all prices reflect that. 

This is where retired English fly for a week in winter to play golf, Germans build their holiday villa, and rich Nordics escape for the winter. 

Most places are now built to serve those needs, and locals don’t have much to say about it. 

Nature in the Algarve is truly stunning, and the entire community is profiting from the natural richness. The services aren’t as great as expected in Western Europe, but prices match that level. 

Luckily, I cooked my meals at home and rarely went out to eat. 

To give you some idea about prices in Portugal, let’s talk about the highway tolls. 

This might affect you less if you only want to stay in one place, but if you want to rent a car and explore the country, then you need to know about it. 

The two highways in Portugal each have their separate taxing system. 

The highway that crosses the Algarve region, from East to West, has specific points where it taxes you as you go, and you need a small device on your car. The car rental will tell you all about it. Just to give an idea about the costs, to drive from one side to the other, it will be around 7 EUR. 

The highway that goes from the middle of the Algarve up North, if, let’s say, you want to drive to Lisbon, also has a pay-as-you-go system. The system has pay booths at every exit. 

At the end of the highway, when entering Lisbon, you will have to pay for the distance you’ve covered. In March 2023, driving from Algarve to Lisbon was about 22 EUR one way. So if you want to drive both ways, that’s 44 EUR, which is quite a fee. 

Locals were mostly taking the national road, which is toll-free, but it takes about 5 hours instead of the 3 hours it takes to drive on the highway. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Lisbon

Once the most hyped-up up-and-coming digital nomad location, it is now an over-crowded city, not exactly clean, full of overpriced Airbnb and private apartments. 

At the time of my visit, the cheapest apartment I could find was about one hour away from the centre on foot and was 163 EUR for 3 nights. You might say it’s cheap, but it wasn’t in the best condition. However, I chose it because it was on the cheap side.

Overall, the centre of Lisbon felt like a huge tourist trap, with weird individuals offering us illegal drugs every 2 minutes. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

I found it hard to understand where locals go anymore, as all eateries and entertainment places were built for tourists. There was not a lot of authenticity, and it was one of my least favourite European capitals

There were corners that felt more like Portugal, but Lisbon is a big city, and you need to know where to go and what to do to feel less like in a tourist trap. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Madeira

Portugal is also famous for its two popular islands – Madeira and Azores. 

After seeing lots of pictures from Madeira, I decided to visit this magical place, and I’m so glad I did. 

If you’re already in Lisbon, Madeira is only a couple of hours away, and they’re daily flights. 

Madeira is still Portugal, but it truly feels like a different country. The landscape is completely different (duh, it’s an island), the climate is tropical, and the locals are more used to foreigners. 

It’s not to say that Madeira isn’t touristy, but it is far from it. 

Its beauty has attracted people from all over the world, and it’s full of real estate. The high-rises are all cramped up to offer a tiny view of the ocean to each apartment. 

But my feeling was that it’s an international island, hosting people from all over the world, and the prices were through the roof. 

Of course, there are some digital nomad communities, and they are in the smaller villages. But there’s still a chance to find a place as a digital nomad at a more affordable price if you’re further away from the main cities. 

But each is fighting to get a bit of space to build a new apartment building, and I can’t blame them.

This paradise island looks like a tropical Norway, and it’s famous for its everlasting spring. If paradise does exist, then this is it. And it’s crowded. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

The Portugal digital nomad reality

Portugal has been working for a decade to attract more tourists. 

They have digital nomad visas and foreigner visa systems that make it very easy to come and get a residency there. 

They also alleviate taxing for foreigners for up to a decade and offer many fiscale facilities. If you’re someone with money, Portugal seems like a dream. 

But then all the small companies are trying to rip you off because they know how everyone comes to Portugal to not pay taxes. So they are the ones taxing you. 

Locals can’t afford many of the restaurants in the top location in Algarve. There’s an entire industry creator to cater specifically to wealthy digital nomads and retirees. 

I felt a bit like a prey in a fish tank, and that didn’t sit well with me. 

I was naive to believe Portugal was a dream location, with tropical winters and cheap Airbnbs. 

The word has been on the streets for many decades, as Brits have been coming to Algarve since the ‘70s for their winter holidays.

Would I go again? Probably yes. 

But I would have to spend a considerable amount of time researching Airbnbs that are worth the money. 

Would I choose Portugal as the dream location for digital nomads looking for a cheap or at least affordable winter destination? Probably not. 

If you’re looking to stay in Portugal for under 2,000 EUR per month, then you will struggle a bit.

And it will not be the luxurious lifestyle you’re dreaming of. If you’re travelling alone and don’t have a partner to split all those costs with, then Portugal will not be cheap. 

Portugal Digital Nomad: The Expensive Truth Behind the Dream

Maybe there are apartments built specifically for digital nomads and special communities that might help you find the right place for you, as I’ve found in Madeira, but it still takes some effort on your side. 

The bottom line is that Portugal’s digital nomad dream is more of a marketing campaign to attract more money into the country. 

It’s a matter of personal choices and lifestyle, but I don’t feel that it’s worth the money they’re asking, and the services are mediocre. 

After visiting almost all European countries, I feel that Portugal scores big on the marketing side and poorly on the services.

Their biggest bet is the nature side, which wasn’t built by them but was given, and they’re now cashing out on that. 

This Portugal digital nomad review is not meant to deter anyone from booking their next digital nomad destination but to provide a more realistic view of this super-hyped nomad destination. 

I was slightly disappointed when I discovered all these places, especially Lisbon.

But this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go back to Portugal, only that I would know how to choose this time better. One of the most important things is that I would book a place far more in advance to make sure I get a better deal. And don’t expect a cheap destination, because Portugal is not that. 

Iulia Vasile

Iulia is a travel expert, blogger, engineer, freelance copywriter, and a curiosity-driven personality. She sees travel as the ultimate tool for self-improvement and personal growth, and that's the main topic of her blog, Juliasomething.com.

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