Portugal Expat Tips for the Perfect Festive Holiday Season

Portugal is a wonderful place to spend the festive season, often with a mixture of tinsel and sunshine. Here are five tips for making the most of this time of year.

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The festive season in Portugal is something you tend to get better at after a few years’ experience as an expat! 

While Christmas in Portugal is very similar to Christmas in the UK in many ways, there are differences too – and not just the obvious one that (in the Algarve, at least) you might even pick up a suntan on the same day as opening your gifts!

Two key things my wife and I quickly learned and adapted to were that Christmas Eve is “the main event” for most families in Portugal, rather than Christmas Day, and that “Boxing Day” doesn’t exist, and is actually the first day back at work for plenty of people.  

Here are a few more tips, based on things we refined over our years in Portugal, to help you make the most of the festive season:

Plan those Seasonal Purchases

If you’ve fully embraced a Portuguese-style Christmas, you’ll have no problem finding everything you need. 

However, many expats like to retain long-running traditions - and this means finding certain items that aren’t readily available – things like gammon joints, chutneys, pickles, mincemeat and marzipan.

These are far easier to find in the Algarve than they were just a few years ago, but some homework and effort is still required to locate them all – so give yourself plenty of time if these are things you simply cannot do without. 

Get the Gifts Organised Early

Unless all of your family and friends moved to Portugal with you, the chances are you need to buy gifts for people back home.

The key to all of this is preparation; If you’re planning a trip back in the run up to Christmas and want to take “local” presents, you’ll need to get everything in advance and look carefully at luggage limits. It’s worth encouraging the people “back home” to be similarly organised, then you can exchange gifts all at once, and take yours back to Portugal with you when you return.

If you’ve not got a pre-Christmas visit planned, then you’ll want to get anything you want to send from Portugal in the post in plenty of time. One option is to send a single parcel to one family member and ask them to distribute your gifts at the other end.

Of course, the other option is just to order everything online, but that’s perhaps a little less rewarding!

Do your Research on Local Events

Seasonal shows and events pop up all over Portugal around Christmas and New Year, but the Portuguese are notoriously bad at promoting them. 

Check the local papers, look out for tourist guides and keep your ear to the ground – or you could miss out on beautiful markets and seasonal performances right on your doorstep.

Consider a City Break

Wherever you are in Portugal, you have a beautiful city right on your doorstep, be it Lisbon or Porto, or even Seville, for those in the Algarve.

Thanks to very low hotel rates in December, a city break to one of these places is an inexpensive treat, and a great opportunity to buy gifts and enjoy some lights and festive cheer.

Embrace Some Local Traditions

It may take a few years before you’re soaking bacalhau (salt cod) in a bucket for two days in advance of the Christmas Eve feast, but there are other Portuguese seasonal traditions it’s easier to jump on board with.

Perhaps consider a Bolo Rei (King’s Cake) in place of a traditional Christmas cake? These can prove rather dry, so are best purchased in a local bakery, rather than a supermarket. Chestnuts from a street-seller are another must, and available across the country. Finally, don’t forget you now live in the land of inexpensive, high-quality port. It would almost be rude not to partake!


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One of the first things you need to do once you arrive in Portugal is find out where your nearest hospital is.
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Education in Portugal

Are you emigrating to Portugal with school-age children?
 

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