What’s It Really Like Living In Lisbon?

In this post, I’d like to share an interview with Kayla, a friend of mine who has been living in Lisbon, Portugal since the beginning of 2019. She’ll share why she chose Lisbon, what she likes about living there, the process of making friends and learning some Portuguese – along with much, much more! I hope you enjoy the interview and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section.

Hi Kayla! Could you start by introducing yourself?

Hello! Olá! My name is Kayla and I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia but have been living in various cities around Europe for almost four years. I am currently living in Lisbon, Portugal and have fallen in love with its charm and people! I work as an online ESL teacher and enjoy photography and going to local music gigs here.

What made you choose Lisbon?

Whilst living in Rome, I had some holidays in August and decided to go solo to Lisbon. I think I knew within the first day that I wanted to live here permanently. Lisbon has this unapologetic charm with vibrant, colourful buildings and a rich history and culture. The food is fresh (although a bit heavy) and the people! My goodness, the people are incredibly kind and helpful – I’ve never known anyone like this. Portugal in general has an excellent quality of life and I knew it was my time. In case anyone’s wondering, I have dual nationality (American and Irish) so don’t need a visa to live or work here.

How did you go about finding a job and an apartment?

I already had a job online, so I needed an apartment. Prices of rent have actually skyrocketed over the past few years in Lisbon, due to ignorant Erasmus students and rich foreigners who are just unaware of what to actually pay for rent. I decided to book a room through Uniplaces for a month (which I Ioathe supporting because they
contribute to high apartment prices) but I didn’t have many options. Then I searched for a room while living there until I found one on a Facebook post. If you’re curious, I pay about €400 for a double room in the centre with two other bedrooms. This is an average price and should not be higher than this.

What is your favourite neighbourhood and why?

Honestly, Lisbon is so diverse that it truly just depends on your preference and what you’re wanting. For example, if you can afford to live in a more expensive area that’s also the oldest and most beautiful, I suggest Alfama. If you want a slightly posher scene, Principe Real is best; it has a plethora of shops & restaurants and a really cute weekend market. If you’re into the grungy scene, Intendente or Anjos are for you.

It’s difficult to choose my favourite, but I do have a favourite praça (square) called Praça das Flores (located in the São Bento neighborhood).

What do you enjoy most about living in Lisbon? Has it lived up to your expectations?

My personality has always coincided with Mediterranean cultures, so I enjoy that it feels so natural for me to be living here. I thrive in cultures with rich history, are close to the beach, have fresh food and lots and lots of sun. Lisbon has definitely exceeded my expectations because of this.

What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced living there?

The only big challenges I’ve faced are mostly bureaucratic. Things like figuring out the tax system here and trying to switch over my drivers license, but these can be tricky in any new country.

How does the cost of living in Lisbon compare to back home, in the United States?

It’s much cheaper here than back home; however, the salaries are awful in Portugal. Supermarkets and most restaurants are cheaper here, but if you go to a craft/artisanal coffee place, you’re probably going to spend about the same as in the US. But a normal coffee (espresso) costs about €0.60 in most places, which is fantastic.

Has it been easy to meet people and make friends? Any tips for meeting new people in a foreign city?

Having once lived in Rome, I would say it’s substantially easier to live and make friends here in Lisbon. I cannot even put into words how easy-going and friendly most Portuguese people are. I think I have over 20+ local Portuguese friends, whereas in Italy, I had less than 10 or so. Obviously, them knowing English so well has a huge impact on this. Some tips would be to join lots of Expat Facebook groups at the beginning and try to organize different events to make new friends. I’ve met a lot of great gal pals through Girl Gone International (an organisation which is available in most big cities).

Have you managed to learn any Portuguese? What are your tips for learning a foreign language?

I am definitely improving my Portuguese. I took lessons when I first arrived and used language apps. I try to attend different language exchange events as well, because these help with conversation. Learning your first foreign language is always the most difficult, but don’t give up and don’t be afraid to make mistakes- it’s only natural. After you learn one, it makes it a little easier to learn another.

If you could change one thing about Portugal, what would it be?

The low wages for sure. The average monthly salary here is usually about €600-800. This is almost disrespectful, but they’re slowly recovering from a brutal economic crisis, back in 2009.

Based on your experiences, which of the Portuguese stereotypes have some truth in them and which are completely false?

To be honest, I don’t really know many Portuguese stereotypes, because I don’t think many exist? However before moving here, someone referred to the people as “melancholic” which is partially accurate and is represented in a music genre called Fado, which is specific to Lisbon.

Have you picked up any Portuguese habits?

Yes, I have embarrassingly noticed that I sometimes speak English with a Portuguese accent and I refer to most nouns as being “little” which is super common here. I love organizing dinners which is also very Portuguese, because they schedule dinners almost two weeks prior.

What’s been your best memory in Lisbon so far?

My favourite memory since moving here was during the summer when I was on the fence about attending a music festival in the north of Portugal. It was very far away (almost in Spain) and I didn’t have a tent and hardly knew anyone going. So, I decided to post on Instagram the week before asking if anyone had a ticket (it had already sold out) and then, someone sold me their ticket and other friend asked if I wanted to ride with them and stay in their tent! I was just amazed at how well everything was orchestrated so last minute and so grateful for the hospitality of Portuguese people. It ended up being such an incredible experience going to this festival and I’m planning to go again next year.

What is one restaurant that you keep going back to?

My two favourites are Casa do Alentejo because they have excellent tapas from the Alentejo region, and Ponto Final because you can eat fresh fish along the river. You have to take the ferry there and I suggest making a reservation.

What local food do you like the most and least?
I adore any grilled fish here (usually dourada or octopus). My least favourite is squid but that’s just me.

Have you travelled much outside of Lisbon to other places in Portugal? What are some of your favourite places you’ve been?

Yes, the Algarve obviously is amazing, Porto, Coimbra, many national parks, Évora and Madeira. I haven’t been to the Azores yet but hoping to go next year.

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Thanks so much for answering my questions, Kayla. It’s clear you’re living a boa vida in Lisbon and really making the most of your time there! For gorgeous photos of Kayla’s life in Portugal and her travels around the world, follow her on Instagram.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out these posts about living and working in Paris, France and Taipei, Taiwan.

Ciao for now

The Curious Sparrow