Unless you’re reading our blog for the very first time, you’ll know that we’re delighted with our adopted country of Portugal and especially, the Algarve Region where we’ve been for the last two years, busily putting down some shallow roots. For us, it’s turned out to be an excellent place to live and we love exploring the area as well as playing impromptu tour guides, sharing favorite places with friends passing through. And maybe that’s why it really bothered us when we read an article about the cost of living in the Algarve that specifically mentioned outrageously low prices in Lagos (hamburgers costing €3) and promised that a couple could live on a budget of €1300 a month, more (that would be us) or even less.
But let’s back up a moment to confess that just a few short years ago, back in 2011 and right at the beginning of the germ of an idea that would lead to where we’re living now, I loved to check out the online stories about expats living out their retirement dreams in exotic locations overseas. We’d pass by the pics of palm trees and charming colonial cities and zero right in on our big question: What would it cost to live there? What would paying a rent of $700, $800 or even $1000 per month get us and what could we expect our groceries to cost each month? What was the price of a typical restaurant meal? A taxi? And, could we afford to pay the monthly air conditioning bill?
This is where traveling slow and living like locals as we made our way around and through several countries came in useful. From the beginning of our travels, we’ve kept detailed expense records of our daily costs and could tell you in a few minutes what we spent in each country. Having an idea what a realistic cost of living would be for us as well as what we could and couldn’t live without was extremely useful so that we could make some well-informed decisions based upon our practical knowledge. We visited many places where expats had written glowingly of their experiences and found, kind of like the nursery tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, that many places were too hot or too humid, some of the ‘springtime temps’ were too cold, some too rural and yes, some too expensive. Many places had little to offer in the way of things to do, some were too grimy, downright ugly or the air was polluted with diesel fumes, burning garbage and dust. In some places we had to be especially vigilant about protecting our possessions (we learned our lesson the hard way when a computer and camera were stolen in Ecuador) and there were places we didn’t feel safe. Lastly, some lacked medical services that we want in place as we age. Perhaps one of our most unanticipated lessons that we learned, on a memorable month-long visit to Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua, was that our vision of paradise on a tropical island fell far short of the nirvana we’d imagined.
While we know that cost of living is an important consideration when you’re thinking of moving overseas, there are a lot of other things to think through, too. We’re mindful of our spending but bare bones living isn’t how we want to live. We want to download the new best seller onto our Kindles, watch Netflix, buy a pair of shoes or something for our apartment and go out to eat with friends without counting the pennies. And, contrary to what an online article we read said, €1300 ($1530 USD) a month probably won’t be enough to live in most places in the Algarve. (But, for those on a budget, don’t let us discourage you because there are some great places to check out north of us and along the Silver Coast which are less expensive.)
We compiled our expenses from July through November this year and then averaged our monthly costs to give you a better idea of what we spend each month living in Lagos.
RENT – €800/$939 USD
Rentals are difficult to find in Lagos so we were beyond happy when we found a fully furnished, modern, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the outskirts of Lagos. The apartment is a 5-minute walk to the beach and a 30-minute walk to the heart of historic Lagos. It has a large kitchen with granite countertops, a dishwasher and washing machine, a balcony with a sea view and access to a rooftop terrace. There’s a communal pool, a storage room and an underground parking space as well as plenty of secure parking behind a gate. (Note: Our lease ends in April and we’re hoping to find a house somewhere near Lagos so this figure will probably change.)
GROCERIES – €365/$430
We both like to cook and we eat the majority of our meals at home. We buy very little processed or ready-to-heat foods and eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, fish, chicken and lean hamburger. We usually slow cook pork and beef cuts as we’ve found them to be tough.
HOUSEHOLD – €160/$189
This includes all the miscellaneous non-grocery items that usually get lumped in with the grocery bill like cleaning products and laundry soap, toiletries (shampoo, toothpaste), paper towels and toilet paper. It also covers household items such as a printer stand, pens and pencils, garbage bags, plastic storage bins and kitchen towels.
UTILITIES – €215/$253
We’ve lumped in three separate costs under utilities. Our PHONE/CABLE TELEVISION/INTERNET is bundled at €60/$69 for a landline, one mobile phone and basic cable. Our WATER bill recently increased and runs about €25/$29 and our ANNUAL ELECTRICITY averages out to €130/$153 per month. We changed our average cost from monthly to annual for our electricity bill to give you a better idea of what we’re paying for an average. From December through March, we heat the living room of our apartment and from May through October, we cool the apartment using fans and the old-fashioned method of opening our windows during the night rather than using the included A/C in the living and bedrooms. Sewer and garbage is included in our rent.
TRANSPORTATION – €170/$200
We bought a 2012, 4-door Skoda our first winter here for €7500/$8830 which has a manual transmission. Following a tip from a friend, we found a mechanic who charges us local prices rather than the higher prices we’d been paying at a far more conveniently placed auto shop. Gas in Portugal is outrageous no matter how you look at it. We pay roughly €1.50/$1.77 per liter or a heart-stopping €6/$7.06 per gallon. A set of four new tires and an alignment cost us €279/$329 which is included in our monthly average. Also included in this average is our monthly car insurance at €28/$33 and the road tax (similar to license place fees) which is €13/$15.
MEALS OUT – €138/$162
Meeting friends for a late lunch is one of our favorite things to do here in Lagos and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area to while away an afternoon. An average meal for the two of us costs €25-40/$30-47 including a drink and small tip. For wine drinkers it can be a real bargain because sometimes a bottle of water costs more than a glass of wine!
CLOTHING – €99/$117
HEALTH INSURANCE – €92/$108 for both of us
We carry a Portuguese private insurance for which we pay an additional copay per doctor or dentist visit. As residents, we also qualify for the public healthcare, the Portuguese Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS) which charges a very small copay. We did not include our medical costs or prescriptions as figures can vary greatly from person to person.
LANGUAGE LESSONS/GYM – €107/$126
ONLINE PURCHASES – €113/$133
This includes Netflix, movie rentals and book purchases from Amazon for our E-readers
MISCELLANEOUS – €102/$121
This includes all sorts of incidentals like haircuts and random purchases that don’t fit into any other category.
THE GRAND TOTAL – €2361/$2780
For us, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in Lagos, Portugal doesn’t get much better. We have everything we need at our fingertips but, more importantly, we have (just about!) everything we want. And …WE’RE LIVING IN FREAKING EUROPE! Obviously, our priorities and expenses are going to be different from another couple’s spending but there’s no reason to exaggerate about how affordable the Algarve Region of Portugal is. (And articles saying that a couple can live here comfortably for €1300/month only set people up for failure.) There are always going to be less expensive places to live around the world but, for a country brimming over with history, culture, stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, a mild climate, great food, good medical care and friendly people – we figure we probably don’t need to find a better place for us than right where we are!
By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash
Note: We’re going to take some time away from writing for the next few weeks, so this will be our last post for 2017. Wishing you all a very happy holiday season and we’ll catch up with you sometime in January.