During the pandemic, California’s population dropped for the first time in history, and is now at just above 39 million. Citing the state’s high cost-of-living, wildfires, water shortages and at times its politics, many Californians have moved elsewhere in the U.S.
Others have decided to relocate internationally.
Americans now are among the fastest-growing groups of Westerners moving to Portugal. Californians make up an increasing share of expats in the nation that has aggressively courted internationals to boost its economy since the global financial crisis.
Now home to a booming tourism industry and regularly ranked as one of the top destinations for remote workers and retirees, Portugal’s biggest cities face some of the same problems as California with increasing rents and a housing crunch. But the nation is also much cheaper for Americans, who on average earn several times more than the typical Portuguese worker.
The Times spoke to Californians who moved to Portugal to ask about their experiences. We also reached out to Portuguese natives about the growing influx of remote workers, retirees and land investors.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Therese Mascardo, 39
Moved from Santa Monica to Lisbon
Portugal is, in so many ways, all of the things I love about California: great weather, beautiful nature, amazing food, but much more affordable and much more charming. There’s a surfing community here that really feels reminiscent of Orange County, where I grew up.
I save so much money living here, it feels criminal. I pay less than half of my rent in L.A. here and I have more space.
There is a strain on the economy with the way rental prices have increased. And that is absolutely related to the influx of foreigners who bring in big wallets and have more spending power than many of the locals do.
I think that there can be some tensions but, overall, Portugal has been one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been.
Michele Abraham, 30
Founder of WebRise.io
Moved from Santa Monica to Porto
At the height of the pandemic in 2021, I quit my job and decided to plan my move to Portugal. By this time, I’d been working in tech for four years, had begun consulting and launched a start-up. There’s a lot of support for entrepreneurship here. California has such an incredible ecosystem for startups, and I wasn’t sure Portugal could compete. But it does.
As a woman and person of color, I definitely felt my gender and race came less into question as a start-up founder in Portugal than in California. The community here is so inclusive and kind and it means the world to me to have the opportunity to live and work here.
Niki Smart, 57
Moved from Los Angeles to Cascais
Relocating to a new country is exhilarating, exhausting, terrifying but also profoundly pleasing. It’s hard since I’m doing it alone and, even though I think it’s fabulous here, I get overwhelmed. It’s a challenge and I’m determined to make it work.
I’m a writer and can work from anywhere, which means I now sit in charming cafes sipping on a galão and enjoying a pastel de nata (the famous Portuguese custard tart). My Portuguese is slowly improving, the people here are kind, and I’ve met lots of lovely people which has really helped me feel less lonely and isolated.
Geographer at the University of Lisbon
In the last ten years, a lot of things have changed in Lisbon. We are talking about gentrification, real estate speculation and residential segregation.
People have been evicted from their houses, sometimes people who have lived there for 15 years, more than half a century, or even more, and they were evicted to go to the outskirts of the city.
We have two main programs that attract foreign investment. We have the “golden visa” and the non-permanent residence. They are one of the causes of real estate speculation, with rent prices and house values skyrocketing in the last 10 years.
It’s very difficult for the average middle class Portuguese person to buy or rent a house in Lisbon.
Paulina Gallardo, 33
Founder of Casa Mexicana
Moved from San Diego and London to Lisbon
We decided to move to Lisbon for better weather and to be closer to the ocean.
After the pandemic hit, we decided to start our own company called Casa Mexicana and are now one of the main importers and suppliers of Mexican products to a lot of our American friends and the expat community, as well as to restaurants and other shops. We host cooking workshops and events and have become a strong part of our community here.
Jamie Dixon, 37
Director of operations for FOMO, a tech start-up
Moved from Malibu to Cascais
I never thought I would ever leave L.A. I am fourth-generation, born and raised there. My parents and grandparents lived three minutes away from me. But for years, my husband and I dreamed about moving to another country and learning a new language.
After getting approved for our D7 visa, I cried my eyes out. I was so scared and so excited.
Here I am almost one year later and I am loving it. Life is super different here than Los Angeles but I cannot imagine moving back (for now).
Petter Barth, 66
Retired purchasing manager
Moved from Agoura Hills to Carvoeiro
As we got closer to retirement, we started toying with the thought of moving abroad to have an easier and less costly life. Reading online about the best places to retire abroad, Portugal came up very high on the list.
We looked at some 30 different properties and finally found a beautiful old farm house in the middle of a vineyard. The vineyard is not ours but it gives us a nice view. Healthcare here is very good.
Will we stay here the rest of our lives? Who knows. It all depends on grandchildren and the rest of our families. We will definitely stay as long as we can.
Isabel da Bandeira, 62
Co-founder of the activist group Aqui Mora Gente and translator
The gentrification process started around 2011, following the financial crisis, and expanded significantly in the following years.
The number of families that were pushed to leave is outstanding, and the families that stayed suffer incredibly with the noise, generated garbage and lack of services (except restaurants and bars).
There’s no doubt that the foreign investment has greatly helped Portugal’s economy and made the cities more beautiful with the renovations to old buildings in Lisbon and elsewhere. In that way the results are mixed and we don’t have anything personal at all against newcomers, especially those who stay to live permanently. But this process has also hurt the long-term residents who don’t recognize parts of their communities anymore or can’t afford to live in them.
Yvette Martinez-Vu, 33
Academic coach and founder of Grad School Femtoring
Moved from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles to Porto
A big reason we moved was due to the high cost of living in California and the exorbitant healthcare prices in the U.S. As someone with a chronic illness with a husband who has a number of military-related disabilities, having access to affordable healthcare is important.
In Portugal, we have found a city that meets our family’s need for safety, a slower pace and a family-friendly environment. As children of immigrants ourselves, we are grateful to have this opportunity to relocate and don’t take this privilege for granted.
Steven Manning, 66
Former sales manager
Moved from Claremont to Portimão
After traveling much of the world on business, I knew that I wanted to live in Europe. My wife and I did not want to lose the great weather we enjoyed in Los Angeles County, so we focused on the Algarve region.
On Tuesday nights we attend a meetup at a bar on the beach. My wife has joined a book club that meets for lunch once a month, and next weekend we will be celebrating our birthdays and arrival in Portugal with over a dozen new friends.
Shawnta Wiley, 49
Owner of an event planning business based in San Diego
Moved from San Diego to Lisbon
I visited in 2019 and fell in love with Portugal. When Congress didn’t extend the unemployment benefits in summer 2020, I realized that I needed to at least try to get a visa and start the process of relocating.
I sold most of my items and packed what I brought into four suitcases, bringing my cat along too. I love it here so much and am incredibly happy.
Nancy Whiteman, 68
Retired (previously sold sold computers to hospitals and physicians)
Moved from Rancho Mirage to Vila Real de Santo António
I wanted to leave the US after the 2016 election but, while my interest in leaving the U.S. was directly related to politics and mental health, my wife’s interest was driven by her love for travel.
Traveling within the European Union is as easy as driving from Pennsylvania to New York or New Jersey. Portugal also makes it fairly easy to move here.
Head of Community at Synesis One
Moved from Southern California to Lisbon
At the start of the pandemic I was in a peculiar phase of my life, and it was not clear where I wanted to go next. I thought about returning to my home state of Texas. I thought about tranquil Ojai. I contemplated Colorado and Arizona.
A year or so later, I got invited to Lisbon. When I got there, I had the sensation of feeling really grounded, especially after wandering the globe the last three years.
I ended up extending my stay at the end of 2021 and started to get the documents ready for the visa process. In March 2022, I went back and secured a place to live, and in April, I completed the first step of the visa application process.
Moved from Los Angeles to Ericeira
As of this writing, we have been living together happily in Ericeira for about six weeks. We love our life here, meeting so many wonderful people from all over the world.
Life is not completely perfect. Though many things are much cheaper here (food and healthcare in particular) the real estate market is super hot. Other things like cars, gasoline and pet supplies are more expensive here than in the U.S. But, overall, we have no complaints.
Rafael Alves, 30
I think that most expats have it easy abroad. They just see our climate, our prices — which are lower than in their developed countries — and our food and decide to move with zero interest in trying to assimilate to our culture, to cast their vote in our political system or to help out economically and socially.
Judith Rosenberg, 65
Author and retired ESL instructor
Moved from San Bruno to Lisbon
I arrived in Lisbon in January 2021, five days before lockdown. Now I am only a couple of hours flight from my two adult children and grandkids who live in the United Kingdom.
Lisbon is a beautiful city and Portugal’s beaches and mountains remind me of California. The language is a challenge, though I am determined to become fluent and proficient.
As an older woman, I feel respected and safe. I just have to watch out for those slippery-when-wet white cobblestones.
Jen Wittman, 47
Owner of Mindful Mavericks
Sebastopol to Lisbon
We had long dreamed of becoming European citizens. Portugal seemed to tick all the boxes — safe, diverse, LGBTQAI+ friendly with a temperate climate, great health care system and affordable housing.
We started the immigration process and moved to Portugal sight unseen. Here we are, a year into living in Portugal, happy as can be. It was the best decision our family ever made.