Why American Buyers Are Flocking to Portugal Right Now
With its arresting architecture and cultural cachet, the European country is experiencing a record real estate boom
Even before the pandemic, Portugal was in the midst of a dynamic cultural reset, with a flurry of hotels and museums opening up amid the ornate palaces, cobbled streets, and tile-covered buildings that give the country its old-world charm. Then COVID-19 hit, the dollar soared to record highs, and a real estate frenzy ensued, driven in large part by Americans who were now able to work remotely. “Five years ago, U.S. buyers were not in the top five nationalities,” says Miguel Poisson, CEO of Portugal Sotheby’s International Realty, “but nowadays, they are number one.”
Part of the Iberian nation’s allure is the so-called golden visa program. The popular initiative makes it easier for foreigners purchasing second homes to get tax benefits in exchange for investing in real estate at a certain price level. (The minimum qualifying price for a historic property in need of restoration is $375,000, while the threshold is higher for modern structures.) Coupled with the recent trends, the program has resulted in national home prices having their biggest annual jump in three decades, rising 18.7 percent year over year.
But there are still gems to be found in the country’s rich stock of Romanesque, Manueline, and Baroque villas. The easiest place to start a property search is the vibrant capital city of Lisbon, which is bursting with exciting cultural attractions and restaurants, such as chef António Bóia’s JNcQUOI Avenida, housed inside a 100-year-old former theater. “Lisbon is the entrance to Europe,” gushes designer and stylist Carlos Mota, who owns a home in the city. “It’s got great weather, and you can travel anywhere in Europe within two hours.” One of the city’s most magnificent estates currently on the market is the early 16th-century Xabregas Palace, which features restored interiors sheathed in traditional Portuguese tiles called azulejos.
The area west of the capital has been dubbed the Portuguese Riviera and is equally spectacular—with seaside towns such as Cascais, Estoril, and Oeiras all blessed with exquisite beaches. Additionally, Poisson urges prospective buyers to check out the country’s famed “second city” of Porto, which is in the north, as well as the southern coastal region of the Algarve, a magnet for golf enthusiasts. “We also have a small, beautiful heaven called Madeira,” he says, referring to the remote volcanic island about an hour flight from Lisbon. “It’s not very known around the world, but more and more people are coming there to spend a holiday or to live.”
And while the buying process is relatively straightforward and can be as quick as three weeks, be aware that the golden visa has recently become restricted in certain high-density and coastal areas (Madeira excluded), so enlisting a local broker and lawyer is all the more paramount.
A version of this article first appeared in print in our 2023 Spring Issue under the headline “A World Apart.” Subscribe to the magazine.