Making Friends and Building Community in Portugal

Portugal has consistently ranked as having a high quality of life and one of the safest and most affordable countries. It’s no wonder thousands are flocking to its shores each year. Portugal boasts one of the easiest countries to apply for a long-term visa—but inquiring minds want to know how easy it is for foreigners to find friends and build community in this beautiful country.

Finding Your Community

Some people find it easy to approach strangers, while others may find it challenging to put themselves out there or decode cultural nuances. Finding community is integral to maintaining a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle abroad. A solid community will help you assimilate, combat loneliness, and gather resources quickly. Having a mixture of acquaintances and friends to help transition into your new way of life, properly experience the culture, and keep you connected to your own. Here are some ideas for meeting people in Portugal and almost anywhere you go.

Join online groups and communities

Online communities like Meetup, Internations, NomadX, and Facebook Groups offer opportunities to connect with people that have similar interests to you. For example, you can search for (or create your own) group(s) to engage in activities ranging from reading, language learning, and film directing to hiking, dancing, and martial arts. You can start by joining different platforms and searching for a country, city, or town of interest, plus something meaningful to you. If you are an American searching for other Americans to connect with, you can search for groups in that country or city. If you would like to interact with people of the same sex, nationality, or culture, you can also search for groups geared towards that. Another way to search for groups online is to use keywords like “ex-pat in” + “city” or by interest, like “salsa lessons” +” city.”

Indulge in a hobby (or several)

If you enjoyed a particular hobby back in your home country, consider indulging in that activity in your new home. Whether you are into dancing, playing sports, visiting museums and galleries, or sailing, keeping up with your hobbies is a fantastic way to stay true to yourself and connect with people with similar goals and interests. When you are ready, search for fitness or book clubs, dance studios, sports teams, or any activity you would be keen to continue or try out.

Popular dance genres: Bachata, Ballet, Brazilian Zouk, Forró, Kizomba, Salsa, Samba, and Tango.
Popular sports: Floorball, Fútbol, Netball, Basketball, Tennis, and Golf.

Attend networking events

Attending events is a great way to reconnect with people from all parts of the world, whether they are tourists, digital nomads (slomads), or ex-pats(or immigrants, if you prefer) like yourself. If you have moved with your family, it could provide you with opportunities to meet other couples, parents (including pet parents), or caretakers. If you like to stick to business, there will be plenty of professionals for you to add to your network.

Another way to build community is to be helpful to those around you. You can help other newcomers find items or resources they need or network while supporting their endeavors. So listen as much as you speak and feel pride in the great strides you have all taken to change your world. Some places to meet other ex-pats and digital nomads are Ferroviário, the Village Underground, LX Factory, and Somersby OutJazz (usually from May to September).

Meet Locals

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many locals moving to their second homes in neighboring towns or villages or down south to the Algarve. Ex-pats are also increasingly searching for homes outside Porto and Lisbon, two of the most populated cities in Portugal. No matter where you decide to stay, take advantage of new opportunities, such as attending community events, offering your patronage to local businesses, and getting to know your neighbors.

The further you get away from the city center, the better your chances of meeting Portuguese locals. If you land in Lisbon, you will undoubtedly hear less English as you venture out to areas like Arroios or the suburbs, like Oeiras or Almada, or even across the Río Tejo (Tejo River) to Setúbal. Be prepared to converse with salespeople, shopkeepers, and people you come across often. If you make eye contact with someone, it is common to offer a greeting like Bom Dia (good morning or good day), Boa Tarde (good afternoon), or Boa Noite (good evening or good night).

Go on a Date

Finding “your person” or a potential partner is another way to spend your time. You can use the opportunities to experience emotional and physical intimacy, explore new locations, and share experiences or expenses. Take time to learn about local dating customs but remain open to meeting people from different cultures and walks of life. Some people connect with people from their culture, while others vibe with other foreigners or Portuguese locals. It shows that you will never know when and where you can meet your match. You can use the time and connections to practice Portuguese and make new friends.

Build a Community

Learn the language

Due to Portugal becoming an ex-pat paradise and a vacation destination, you will hear a variety of languages, such as Spanish, French, German, Italian, Hindu, Arabic, and more. Although you will find English widely spoken in touristic and ex-pat-oriented neighborhoods, you will hear less and less English spoken outside the city center in Lisbon.

If your goal is to apply for citizenship in Portugal, one of the requirements is to achieve at least an A2-level comprehension of the language. Nevertheless, learning European Portuguese for daily tasks such as making local friends, handling your affairs at government offices, mailing and receiving packages, grocery shopping, and more. It will also instill faith within the local community that you are willing to assimilate into and not colonize the country they hold dear.

Give back to your new community

If you explore different neighborhoods, you will find plenty of opportunities to get involved with your local communities or communities in need. You can volunteer to feed or clothe the homeless, contribute to local charities, or support charitable establishments like the Coraçōes com Coroa, a café located just outside the Biblioteca de Belém whose mission is to promote gender equality and fight poverty and exclusion. A good portion of the proceeds will help the café reinvest in disadvantaged communities.

Giving back to the community does not have to be only monetary. You can show your support by being a law-abiding citizen. That means recycling, obeying traffic and safety laws, and looking out for your neighbors. Portugal consistently falls on the list of the safest countries in the world, which strongly comes from cultivating solid, prideful, and generous communities.

Be Understanding

Portugal is infamous for its frustrating and confusing bureaucratic system—and it negatively impacts citizens and residents alike. While you may hear locals complain about sudden changes, disorganization, or even corruption, be mindful that you may benefit from the system in ways the general public (and often-times other immigrants of lower socioeconomic standing or certain nationalities cannot). That may include tax benefits, additional assistance or time, and access to higher-quality housing, restaurants, and amenities. There may be some misinformation and resentment as a result. Do your best to keep an open mind, stay informed, and express gratitude. Remember, as draining as it can be to wade through the bureaucracy of a foreign institution, it is a small price to pay to move abroad with relative ease, experience a beautiful culture, and be surrounded by breathtaking landscapes.

Takeaways

Portugal is a literal paradise for millions of people, making it easy to see why the Portuguese are so proud. With the influx of tourism and immigration, you will find more crowds, especially in the major cities, but with that comes more opportunities to connect with people from all walks of life. As you branch out, remember to be open-minded and try new (and old) things. Go out for a café (coffee), vinho (wine), cerveja (beer), or whatever your drink of choice is. Locals also spend a lengthy amount of time enjoying pesticos (the Portuguese version of tapas or small snacks) while they have a chat. Be open to new acquaintances, and most importantly, be you!

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