Portugal Survival Guide

Written By Lara Silva

Everything you need to know before traveling to Portugal

Planning to travel to Portugal? As the oldest country in Europe, Portugal has a culturally rich history, beautiful beaches, as well as top-notch wine and cuisine. Increasingly, millions of tourists travel to Portugal throughout the year. If you’re planning your visit, here is everything you need to know about traveling to Portugal – your very own survival guide to the country. From essential phrases to etiquette and weather, we have got you covered!

What language is spoken in Portugal?

You guessed it – Portuguese. 250 million people speak it around the world. As a tourist, no one is expecting you to speak Portuguese. A third of people in Portugal can speak English fluently. The cities of Porto, Coimbra, Braga, and Lisbon have the best English speakers. 

However, if you are visiting local restaurants in smaller cities and are speaking to older people, knowing some Portuguese comes in handy. The locals will appreciate it.

What are some essential phrases to know to visit Portugal?

Obrigado/Obrigada (Thank you)

If you identify as a man, use “obrigado”. If you identify as a woman, use “obrigada”. The Portuguese language is very gendered.

Por favor (Please)

You will find yourself asking, “arranja-me uma imperial, por favor?”. Meaning, can I get a beer, please?

Bom dia (Good morning)

Mornings start late for the Portuguese and go on until lunchtime, around 1 pm.

Boa tarde (Good afternoon)

You can say “boa tarde” from around 1 pm to dinner time – around 8 pm. 

Boa noite (Good evening)

Use the greeting “boa noite” from dinner time onwards. 

Não falo Português (I don’t speak Portuguese)

If no one understands, you can say it in English. This is the one English phrase every Portuguese person knows.

Portuguese etiquette rules to look out for

The Portuguese take their etiquette quite seriously. Greetings are important. If you are meeting a Portuguese friend, it is customary to give two kisses on the cheek from left to right. These are called “beijinhos”. Men do not usually greet other men this way, only if they are family members. Rather, they shake hands or hug. 

In big cities, strangers do not greet each other in passing. In smaller villages, this is customary. Use “bom dia”, “boa tarde” or “boa noite”, depending on the time of day. 

If you are invited into someone’s home for a meal, always bring something. You should ask beforehand if you should bring dessert or wine. If the host says you don’t need to bring anything, bring something anyway. 

What is the weather like in Portugal?

The Portuguese enjoy moderate weather all year, although it does vary by region. The north is the coldest and rainiest, whilst the south is warmer and drier. The interior is the hottest part of the country. 

Portugal gets a good amount of sun, even in winter (December-February). The winter months are rainy but are quite pleasant in comparison to other European countries. Temperatures in winter range from 36°F on the coldest nights to 68 °F on the warmest days.

Summer (June-August) can get extremely hot in Portugal. The Portuguese flock to the beaches in the south and avoid the interior of the country. Summer temperatures start at 68°F. and can go up to 104°F,  depending on the region. If you are looking for a beach vacation, this is the time to go. 

Fall (September- November) and Spring (March-May) are the seasons with the most moderate temperatures. Early fall and spring are the best times to visit as you avoid the high season prices of summer and avoid the rain. 

In fall, the weather is still quite warm and the country fills with brown and yellow leaves. It is also not too cold. The average lowest temperature in Lisbon in October, the perfect city to visit in the fall, is 59.2°F. By March, spring begins and temperatures can get as hot as 70°F. 

Let’s talk money

What currency does Portugal use?

Portugal’s currency is the euro. The euro currency was introduced in Portugal in 2002, 16 years after Portugal joined the European Union (EU). If you’re from the EU, you do not need to worry about exchange rates. If not, you can exchange cash at the airport, hotels, and “câmbio” shops. 

What are prices in Portugal like?

Portugal is an affordable country. The average price for a hotel room in Portugal is €65 – pretty cheap. A meal at a mid-range restaurant for 2 people costs around €30. In most places, a beer (0.33 liter) shouldn’t cost you more than €1. 

So, how much money should you bring for your trip to Portugal? If you are planning on staying in one city, around €100 a day should cover your accommodation, food, and activities. 

Cash or card?

With the covid-19 pandemic, most establishments began accepting card payments. VISA, Mastercard, and American Express are all usually accepted. However, it is still important to carry cash when traveling to Portugal. Many small local restaurants will only accept cash, especially if you are only buying a coffee. 

To withdraw money, ask around for a “multibanco” – an ATM. You could likely be charged with a withdrawal fee or have to pay a foreign exchange fee. Look for an ATM from your home bank or one where you can pay reduced fees. ATMs in Portugal have a maximum withdrawal limit of €400 a day. 

Pro tip: avoid the yellow and blue Euronet ATMs. Not only are they an eyesore, but they tend to have higher fees. 

Do people tip waiters in Portugal?

Portuguese people only tip waiters when they are happy with the service. We would never discourage anyone from tipping large, but tips over €5 in restaurants are uncommon. Normally, you would leave a few euros. However, waiters often make minimum wage in Portugal so if you can afford to tip higher, they will be grateful.

Emergency services in Portugal

If you are in any kind of emergency, call 112 to contact the emergency services. If necessary, they will connect you to the police, fire department, or medical services.

If you need medical attention, but it is not life-threatening, you can call the 24-hour helpline Saúde 24 at 808 242 424. They will advise you on what to do next.

If you need to see a doctor, this is not free for tourists. It might be wise to purchase travel health insurance before traveling to Portugal. 

To make calls to other Portuguese phone numbers, do not forget the country code: +351.

What adaptor plug is needed for Portugal?

There’s nothing worse than arriving at your hotel with your phone on 1% and realizing you need a travel adaptor. Come prepared! The power plugs and sockets are of type F. This socket also works with plugs C and E.

The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. You can plug in your appliances in Portugal if the voltage in your country is between 220 – 240. If the frequency in your country is different than the one in Portugal, you should not try to plug in appliances. This could be dangerous. 

Ready for take-off

Pack your bags! In no time you will be sipping some Port wine and eating a “pastel de nata”. You’re all set to visit the country awarded Europe’s Leading Destination in 2020. Although often overlooked by tourists for other European countries like Italy and France, you are sure to fall in love with Portugal. Can’t remember how to ask for an “imperial” (beer)? Keep this survival guide to Portugal with you, it will come in handy! 

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