Is Portugal Safe to Live? The Statistics vs What It’s Really Like

Before making a move to any country, it is important to be armed with all of the facts. In addition to finding a beautiful country, that has great food, and wonderful people, you will also want to consider your overall safety. Obviously, not all areas of any individual country are going to be the same, but certain data points can give you a good idea as to a country’s overall safety record. So, is Portugal safe to live in?

The good news is that Portugal consistently ranks as one of the safest countries in the world. Its reputation for safety is underpinned by low crime rates, a stable political landscape, and the effectiveness of its governance. In 2023, the Global Peace Index ranked Portugal as the seventh safest country globally, reflecting the nation’s commitment to maintaining a secure environment for its residents and expatriates alike.

In this article, we break down the statistics for crime and safety in Portugal and explain what they actually mean for your experience of living there. If you’re considering a move to Portugal, we hope it will be useful to your research.

The sense of security that people feel living in Portugal is a significant draw for expats seeking a peaceful lifestyle. No one wants to move somewhere they will not feel safe or secure. Portugal is known for its inclusive atmosphere, which was noted by the Social Progress Index, ensuring that residents enjoy rights, freedoms, and guarantees. This inclusive, secure environment allows for a high quality of life, which many find appealing when considering relocation. Whether you are a retiree looking to spend the rest of your life in Portugal, or you are young and eager to have a fun time, you still feel equally safe and supported.

Overall Safety in Portugal

Overall Safety in Portugal

The crime rate of any country is a great way to determine if you will be more or less safe than another country. If you ask most people if they think Portugal has a reputation for being safe, they might not have any opinion on it at all! But Portugal is widely recognized for its low crime rates and stable political landscape.

By taking a look at the Global Peace Index, you will learn that it often ranks as one of the safest nations worldwide. This reputation is supported by effective governance that contributes to a secure environment where both residents and expatriates report a high sense of safety in their daily experiences.

Some of the key indicators of Portugal’s safety are:

  • Crime Rates: Among the lowest globally, with particularly low incidences of violent crime. As a resident in a foreign country, this is immensely important.
  • Political Stability: A consistent feature that fosters a dependable environment. Nowadays, there are more and more countries where this is not the case.
  • Government Expenditure on Security: At 5% of GDP, this figure is one of the lowest yet efficient worldwide.

Notably, Portugal ensures comprehensive social support systems encompassing public housing and healthcare. The country’s approach to maintaining peace involves not only fiscal measures but also robust social policies contributing to the well-being of its population. While some people may call this “socialism”, the reality is that by making sure that people are housed, fed, and cared for, the necessity for crime is reduced.

The climate of safety is reflected in everyday life, where individuals can enjoy public spaces without undue concern for personal security. The country’s approach to law enforcement and social welfare systems appears to be key drivers in sustaining this peaceful environment. In general, you should feel safe anywhere you go.

Crime Rates and Types in Portugal

Portugal’s safety profile showcases a diverse landscape of criminal activity where certain crime rates have shown changes in recent years. The country saw an overall crime increase of 0.9% in 2021 but witnessed a decline in violent and serious crime by 6.9%. These changes seem to be the result of COVID-19 and how many residents were separated during this time.

Violent Crime

Unlike many other countries, Portugal’s violent crime constitutes a small fraction of the total criminal acts. The Annual Internal Security Report (RASI) documented 11,614 incidents classified as violent and serious. Such crimes have seen a downward trend, with a decrease of 6.9% as reported in 2021. Violent crimes prominently include aggravated assault and robbery but they are rare and nowhere as common as in places like the United States.

Petty Crime

Petty crime is more common in Portugal and forms a significant portion of the total crime statistics. Offenses such as pickpocketing, bag snatching, and minor theft are frequent, especially in tourist areas. The statistics point toward robberies, pickpocketing, and petty theft comprising a vast majority of 68% of reported incidents. These types of crimes are very common anywhere some tourists carry a lot of cash and valuables.

  • Location of Petty Crimes: Tourist areas and urban centers.
  • Common Petty Crimes: Pickpocketing, bag snatching, shoplifting.

Scams and Fraud

Electronic crimes have become far more common in recent years and they are certainly found worldwide. Scams and fraud in Portugal are present but less prevalent than petty crimes. Residents and visitors should be cautious with their personal and financial information to avoid falling victim to fraud. Instances of scams often involve innovative approaches and can occasionally target vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly or tourists unfamiliar with local customs. As someone new to the country, you should be more vigilant than others if something is “too good to be true”!

  • Types of Scams:
    • Phishing emailsFraudulent property rentals
    • ATM skimming

These types of crimes are common worldwide, and in an area with a large number of tourists, such as Portugal, they are always going to be prevalent.

  • Prevention Tips:
    • Regularly check bank and credit card statements. Use secure payment methods. Be wary of unsolicited contact.
    • Change your passwords regularly.

Natural Disasters and Weather Considerations

Natural Disasters and Weather Considerations

You can’t go anywhere in the world without the consideration of natural disasters or weather affecting your plans. When considering safety in Portugal, it’s essential to account for the country’s susceptibility to certain natural disasters, particularly earthquakes and forest fires, which can pose risks despite the nation’s general safety.

Earthquakes

Portugal’s location near the boundary between the Eurasian and African tectonic plates makes it susceptible to seismic activity. Notably, Lisbon was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1755. Modern infrastructure, however, is designed with these concerns in mind, adhering to stricter construction regulations to mitigate damage and enhance safety. The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, also experiences earthquakes due to its position along a complex tectonic plate boundary.

The earthquakes that you may experience are very likely to be small, without causing any damage.

Forest Fires

Forest fires have become more prevalent worldwide in recent years, primarily because of global warming. Summers in Portugal, especially in the central and northern regions, can be prone to forest fires. The combination of high temperatures, strong winds, and dry conditions often leads to an increased risk during the fire season.

Healthcare System Quality

Healthcare System Quality

Having a high-quality healthcare system is imperative if you want to have a country that is safe and secure. Happy, healthy people tend to not commit crimes.

Portugal’s healthcare system garners high praise for its quality and affordability, ranking consistently well in global comparisons. It operates on a dual model, consisting of both public (Serviço Nacional de Saúde, SNS) and private sectors. The public sector provides healthcare at low costs and is accessible to all residents, including expatriates who have completed the necessary registration steps. For those arriving in Portugal as a new resident, it is immensely satisfying to walk into a healthcare facility and not have to worry about payment or insurance.

Public Healthcare: Key Aspects

  • Children and Seniors: Services are free for children under 18 and people over 65.
  • Subsidized Costs: The SNS offers subsidized medical care for the general population, ensuring treatment is accessible at a reduced rate and often free.
  • Medication and Urgent Care: Medications administered during hospital stays are free. Urgent care services are usually provided at no cost., which is a far cry from many other countries.

Private Healthcare: Benefits

  • Shorter Wait Times: Private facilities boast shorter waiting times for treatments and consultations. Should you need a joint replacement or any other kind of elective surgery, having private healthcare insurance will help get you to the front of the line.
  • Wider Access to Specialists: Patients often have more immediate access to specialists which can be very important for those with chronic illnesses.

Overall, healthcare quality is supported by well-trained medical professionals and modern facilities. Portugal’s focus on continuous improvement of healthcare services contributes to a higher quality of life for its residents.

Affordability and Accessibility

While the system is not entirely free, the costs are relatively low compared to many countries, and the state bears a significant portion of expenditure. Medication, appointments, and treatments incur a user fee, known as a ‘taxa moderadora,’ which is modest. This fee is substantially lower than insurance and/or deductibles in the United States and is a real benefit to becoming a resident in Portugal.

Once you are registered as a resident, you can access this high-quality healthcare by registering for state healthcare through the SNS, potentially combined with private health insurance for additional coverage and convenience. Whether you buy the additional insurance is up to you, but keep in mind that it is nowhere near as pricey as it is in the States.

Transportation and Road Safety

One of the scariest parts of traveling in a foreign country is getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. It seems like everyone is driving like crazy! It should make you feel good to know that Portugal is recognized for ensuring the safety of its residents and visitors through well-implemented road safety measures. The country’s transportation infrastructure is designed with security in mind so you won’t have to worry.

Public Transportation Safety: Portugal offers a range of reliable public transit options including buses, trains, and trams. They are known for their efficiency and contribute to the country’s high safety reputation. Whether you are a tourist or you are a new resident in Portugal, having access to public transportation is great!

  • Buses: Extensive network covering urban and rural areas
  • Trains: Effective services connecting major cities and towns
  • Trams: Iconic in Lisbon, offering a unique and secure way to explore the city

Road Conditions and Quality: The nation boasts a well-developed road system, with ongoing maintenance to keep travel conditions optimal. These roadways rival any others in Europe and the United States in terms of accessibility and construction.

  • Highways: Modern and extensive, facilitating smooth travel between regions
  • Urban Roads: Regularly updated to meet safety standards and carry ever-growing traffic needs.

Driving Regulations: Drivers in Portugal adhere to stringent laws aimed at reducing traffic incidents and promoting road safety. It is vital that you have a full understanding of the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel of course, and you must adhere to these at all times.

  • Speed limits: Clearly marked and enforced to prevent speeding
  • Alcohol limits: Strict regulations to deter driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Pedestrian Safety: Pedestrians can feel at ease due to measures like:

  • Crosswalks: Well-marked for visibility and use of them is highly encouraged
  • Signals: Timed crossings at busy intersections to ensure safe passage for pedestrians and a regulated flow of traffic

You might find that you see far fewer accidents on the roads of Portugal than you do back home. This is because of the country’s dedication to maintaining a secure environment for both drivers and pedestrians. The continual investment into transportation infrastructure and safety regulations reflects Portugal’s commitment to road safety, making it a safe place to live and travel.

Emergency Services and Police Response

When you need them, the authorities will be there for you. But, you don’t call 911 – you call 112!

Portugal’s law enforcement and emergency services are known for their efficiency and swift response to incidents. The national emergency number in Portugal is 112, which is akin to 911 in the United States. Citizens can call this number to reach the police, fire department, or medical emergency services. Response times are generally good, with emergency personnel aiming to reach incidents within minutes, especially in urban areas.

The police in Portugal maintain low crime rates through a visible presence and community-based policing strategies. Divisions like the Policia de Segurança Pública (PSP) primarily operate in cities, while the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) is more common in rural areas. They also have a specialized tourism police force, known as Policia Turismo, which specifically assists tourists who have had issues with pickpockets, scammers, etc.

  • Types of police forces in Portugal:
    • PSP (urban)
    • GNR (rural)
    • Policia Turismo (tourist assistance)

Services provided by these units are generally regarded as proactive and efficient. Community engagement programs and incident prevention measures are very important to the people of Portugal and are a focus of all these police forces.

You should never fear going to the police to report a crime. In case of witnessing a crime or needing assistance, expatriates and visitors are encouraged to report to the nearest police station or call the emergency number. The authorities treat such matters with seriousness, aligning with Portugal’s commitment to maintaining a peaceful environment for residents and tourists alike.

Cultural, Legal, and Social Considerations

Many European countries have a reputation for being somewhat liberal in terms of cultural and social issues. This is one of the reasons why so many people want to visit and live in Portugal. It is known for its progressive stance on certain cultural and legal aspects, which creates a unique social environment that can affect expatriates and residents alike. Understanding Portugal’s approach to drug laws and social norms is crucial for anyone considering a move to the country.

Drug Laws

Decriminalization: You might not know this, but Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001. This means that while the possession of drugs is still illegal, it is considered an administrative offense rather than a criminal one. If you are visiting Portugal on vacation or planning on making Portugal your permanent home, make sure that you have a full understanding of what is legal and what is not. Having a drug conviction in a foreign country is never going to be fun.

  • Quantities: The law specifies “personal use” amounts, up to which possession is subject to administrative rather than criminal penalties:
    • Marijuana: 25 grams
    • Hashish: 5 grams
    • Cocaine: 2 grams
    • Ecstasy: 1 gram
    • Heroin: 1 gram

Support Systems: Instead of facing trial, individuals found with small quantities of drugs are referred to a “Dissuasion Commission”, which can recommend treatment, fines, or other penalties. In short, a small amount of marijuana will not land you in jail, but just be careful.

Social Norms

Community: Portugal is characterized by tight-knit communities with a high value placed on family life. Social interactions are warm, and personal relationships often play a significant role in business and daily life. These norms seem to be the case whether you are in a rural area or Lisbon.

  • Greetings: Informal yet polite, with handshakes for acquaintances and cheek-kisses for friends. The kisses might seem uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get used to them!
  • Dress Code: Generally casual but stylish; however, appearances matter, especially in business settings. This mode of dressing is somewhat more dressy than what Americans are used to, especially on vacation. But, take a look around and you will see what is generally acceptable.

Public Behavior: There is a strong expectation of respect in public spaces, with loud and disruptive behavior frowned upon. Portuguese social etiquette emphasizes courtesy and being considerate of others. You never want to be seen as the “loud tourist”. Remember, when in Rome…

Expatriate Communities and Support

Portugal’s increasing popularity with expatriates is due to the strong communities and networks that provide a sense of belonging and support. In the major cities such as Lisbon and Porto, as well as in popular expat regions like the Algarve, one can find well-established expat communities of all kinds. Whether you are young or old, active or a nerd, you will find people who enjoy the same things as you.

Resources for Assistance:

  • Expat Centers: Many cities offer special assistance through expat centers where newcomers can get help with administrative processes and integration.
  • Language Classes: While learning Portuguese can be challenging, there are numerous language schools and community groups offering classes to help expatriates communicate effectively. Although there are plenty of English-speaking people in Portugal, you will find that learning the language enhances your life there and can help to improve your overall safety.

Networking and Socialization:

  • Social Groups: One of the most enjoyable aspects of going to a new country is meeting new people and taking part in exciting activities. There are numerous expat groups and clubs that organize regular social events, allowing for personal and professional networking opportunities.
  • Online Forums: By taking part in some of the expat forums, you will find others with whom you can share information, ask questions, and seek advice.

Safety Networks:

  • Most residents report high levels of safety in daily life, and some communities have established neighborhood watch programs to maintain this secure environment. Even the most rural areas have unofficial programs to look out for all its residents.

So, is Portugal safe to live?

As you adapt to the Portuguese way of life, you will find solidarity and shared experiences amongst the Portuguese community and other expats such as yourself. This safe and supportive environment will truly enhance your experience in this beautiful country!

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