I’ve lived in the Algarve for over 2 years now. After a while, you start noticing the special things that make living in the Algarve so unique. When you speak to a lot of the expats (and locals), you realize that they experience a lot of the same challenges and joys. Moving to the Algarve from the UK, United States, or anywhere else, can be a challenge but for most an experience of a lifetime!

What is it like living in the Algarve?

If you are reading this, you are probably looking for more sunshine in your life or a change in lifestyle. Even though Portugal is part of Europe, know that this is Southern Europe, which means that life goes at a slower pace.

Life in the Algarve is not for everybody. Seasonality is a big part of life in the Algarve and brings diversity throughout the year. In the offseason, it can be a little too quiet and feel desolate. Most expats living in the Algarve are enjoying their pension. But there is also a group of younger people. They are mostly looking for a different way of living: more in touch with nature and looking to escape the hustle and bustle back home.

Do you, or did you live in the Algarve? If so, this list of things you learn when moving to the Algarve will sound familiar. If I am missing something, please let me know in the comments.

Having 300 days of sunshine is awesome

Barragem da Bravura water reservoir in the Algarve

The Algarve prides itself on having the most sunshine in Europe. Sun, of course, is the main reason to move to the Algarve. In my experience, people are a lot happier when the sun is shining. So, get ready to see and meet a lot of happy people!

What caught my attention is the number of days with clear blue skies. Often times, not a cloud in the sky and very little rain. I hear you thinking: “Hardly any rain? Wow!” But, also know that the Algarve is a very dry area. We welcome any rain to fill up the reservoirs (barragens) for our drinking water, irrigation, and to put out forest fires.

Sunsets and sunrises in the Algarve are insane

Sunset in the Algarve

Because the sun is out so much, you can see the sunset almost daily. The colors have some of the most beautiful hues you will ever see, like a renaissance painting. My best guess is the colors are so beautiful because of the humidity in the sky. This strengthens the orange and red colors and sometimes even colors the sky pink.

Tip: sunsets are always popular, but the sunrises are equally beautiful. The benefit is there are hardly people around, so it is a calming experience.

2 months of the year, life as you know it, is gone

July and August: tourist mania! Your once-lovely home is now ruled by tourists. They don’t care people actually live here. Around May/ June, the Algarve starts to prepare for the peak season. Suddenly, you have to pay for parking, there are rules where to swim, and hundreds of parasols are being installed on the beaches. It all feels quite weird. But, these months are extremely important for the economy in the Algarve because this is the time most people make their money. So, keep ’em coming!

Good to know if you are moving to the Algarve is that a lot of long-term rentals are only for 10 months of the year. Why? Well, homeowners can ask ridiculous prices per night in July and August. This also means that in those 10 months, you can get a nice place for a good price.

Water from the Atlantic is freezing cold

Coastline in the Algarve with cliffs

I have to be honest: this is one of the bigger drawbacks of the Algarve. In the summer, when you are on the beach baking in the scorching sun, you want to jump in the ocean for a welcome cool-down. Think again. The water is incredibly cold. You will have people playing in the water, but usually only with their legs in there. You can swim, but not for too long. This is the reason that the majority of rental homes and resorts have (heated) swimming pools.

In August, water temperatures get a lot better and in September it is actually quite nice to go for a swim. The plus side is that in winter the water doesn’t get too cold. Great news for surfers! You always have to wear a wetsuit, but not a super thick one.

Safety feels really good

Portugal consistently ranks in the top 5 safest countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index. Without any large cities with higher crime rates, the Algarve might be the safest place in the world! How does this translate to daily life? Well, you don’t have to worry about safety. At all! You can leave stuff in your car, forget to lock your door, and nothing happens. You can walk the streets late at night, go to the beach in the dark, no problem at all.

Of course, use common sense. And in the high season, stay alert of your belongings. Burglars and thieves also go on vacation!

Speaking basic Portuguese is a lifesaver

When moving to any country, you must learn the local language. It’s a sign of respect for the local community. Also, all official documents are in Portuguese, like utility bills, and insurance papers.

Most people say that you don’t need Portuguese in the Algarve as everybody knows English. In my experience, that is not true. Yes, at the bars and restaurants they speak English. But when you need someone to work on your house, the delivery guy, or whoever, not everybody speaks English. Learn basic Portuguese, at least A2 level. Also, the Portuguese are thankful if you try. Most expats in the Algarve don’t learn Portuguese at all, so they will be happy if you do!

Sweets will be your biggest sin

Folar de Loule sweet delight in the Algarve

Pastel de Nata, Folhado de Loulé, Folhar de Olhão, and the list of pastries goes on and on. Portuguese people love them. And the temptation is everywhere. On about every corner there is a coffee shop or bakery that sells them. Supermarkets, restaurants, there is no place to hide. Luckily, out in nature, you exercise a lot more and there are quite a lot of good dentists in the Algarve.

How to be a great fire-starter

When you move to the most southern point of Europe, you kind of expect warm weather year-round. For 8 months out of the year, this is true. The other 4 months, not so much. It can be great in those months, but not like you are wearing shorts and flip flops. What makes it more challenging is the insulation in the houses. In the summer, the hollow walls keep your house chilled and you don’t need air conditioning. But, it the winter, it works the same way and your house is colder inside than it is outside!

Most houses in the Algarve have a wood burner. So, no central heating? No, literally a wood burner (if you are lucky). You have to order the chopped wood. Pine cones are incredible fire starters. You can actually gather them in a nearby forest It’s best to do this in summer, so they are dry come wintertime.

What breathing clean air tastes like

The Algarve has some of the cleanest air in Europe. There are no large cities and just 2 main roads going from West to East. There’s no heavy industry, no busy flight routes, and lots of forests. When you breathe in the air, it’s incredibly pure. When you live in a city, you will definitely notice the difference.

Westcoast of the Algarve

Nobody knows how to take a roundabout

Portugal has a lot of roundabouts. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. The thing is there is no clear explanation which lane you should be in. Often times, the roundabout has 2 lanes, even though the connecting road is one lane. To make things more complicated there are a lot of drivers from the UK and Spain. Spanish people tend to keep the right lane. And English people normally drive on the left side of the road, which makes it more challenging. And then the Portuguese are not that interested in using their turn signal. In other words, it’s a bit of a free for all. I usually go slow and do an extra check left and right before I turn.

From what I understand, this is the rule: stay in the inside lane. You only go to the outside lane if your turn is next.

Wages are really, really low

The cost of living is quite ok in the Algarve. Usually, a basic pension is enough for a good living. If you are younger and still have to work, brace yourself! Wages are much lower than for example in the North of Europe. Yes, you need less money to live, but that’s mostly because you need less comfort and material things because of the outdoor lifestyle. Basic living expenses are about the same.

The reward structure is also quite flat. This means that your salary does not go up that much if you go from an entry-level position to a management position. The Portuguese culture also values that the more hours you work, the better you are at your job. Plus, the longer you work with a company, the more you should earn. Some numbers? The basic monthly salary is around €700 net. A management salary is a little over €1000. You will usually get a 13th and 14th month but be sure to check beforehand.

Don’t come to the Algarve expecting to make a good living right away. It’s quite a hard-knock life. Will this ever change? Let’s hope so. Luckily, the difference in income, you make up for with the improved quality of life.

Most of the Algarve is still a hidden gem

Small village in the countryside of the Algarve

Let’s end on a positive note! The Algarve is a popular vacation destination, but there is a huge difference when you compare it to the coast of Spain. Sure, you will find a couple of tourist towns like Albufeira and Portimão. But still, it’s not like you will find Benidorm-like skyscrapers here. Actually, most of the Algarve is far from touristic.

Rule of thumb: the more East and the more West you go, the quieter and more rural it gets. Interestingly enough, many people that live in the Algarve or have visited many times, have no idea what the rest of the Algarve is like. In the Algarve, people consider an hour’s drive to be a long drive.

What kind of hidden gems can you expect? Well, idyllic towns in the countryside with castles, vineyards and orange plantations. Even in summer, you can find basically empty, jaw-dropping beaches. There are nature parks with hiking trails that lead you through pine forest, cork tree fields, and along dramatic coastal cliffs. What about mouthwatering food in traditional restaurants? And weekly markets with fruit and vegetables straight from the land?

Seagulls and storks also love the Algarve

Storks in the Algarve

In the Algarve, most towns are near the ocean. Fishing is an important part of life and there are many restaurants because of tourism. In come the seagulls, as seagulls go where they can best find food. They provide a great soundtrack to the Algarvian way of life, but they can also shitbomb your car or steal your fish burger.

Another abundant bird is quite a special one: the stork. Storks from Northwestern Europe have a migration route to the Sahara via the Algarve. If the winter is mild enough, they will even stick around the whole year. At the start of the year, the storks occupy their nest all over the Algarve. The Algarve is perfect for storks because of the many riverbeds, sheltered hillsides, and lots of old chimneys where they build their nest. Where I’m from, I am not used to seeing them in these numbers so it’s quite special. If you can, observe them for a while as they make cool clacking sounds.

How to battle the mold

Mold in your house is your most common enemy. Tip: when you rent or buy a house, check the quality of the paint near the ground. Usually, a good indicator if the house has a lot of mold or not. During the winter months, a lot of moist and damp comes from the ground up. It can also get quite misty in the Algarve.

Most house walls hardly have any insulation and ventilation. And not having central heating will keep it moldy. Mold easily forms in your shower and near bedroom windows. A tip is to figure out the weak spots and dry them or clean them daily. When the mold becomes too much, paint your wall with good paint. Open up your windows as much as you can and buying a dehumidifier helps.

You will become an expert at when to do your laundry. And the wrong timing will fill all your rooms with super slow drying clothes.

 

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Final thoughts

The Algarve is an amazing place. Yes, it can get busy in the summer months. But, most of the year it is quiet. Unfortunately, during ‘winter’, many restaurants and shops close. Most apartments and houses are empty and have their shutters down, transforming some areas into ghost towns. But luckily, not all places are like that. Towns like Loulé, Olhão, and Lagos are best experienced in the off-season.

But above all, the Algarve is nature at its best. It has an incredible variety of beaches, the famous cliffs, stunning hiking and biking trails, fresh food, and clean air. And most of the year, you will have it almost completely to yourself. So, what do you think? Is moving to the Algarve something for you?

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15 Things you learn when moving to the Algarve

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