The Algarve region at the southern tip of Portugal is a beautiful part of the world, and the place a lot of people decide to settle because of the great weather and food and relaxed lifestyle.
But could an English speaking person actually live in the major Algarve towns/cities and get by only speaking English (without needing any Portuguese)? Would this actually be feasable long term?
Here, we’re talking about the major municipalities within the Algarve, like:
It is possible to live in the Algarve only speaking English, since it is widely spoken there with the large expat and tourist community. It is helpful to have Portuguese when dealing with state paperwork/officialdom, but in most other areas of life, it is possible to get by only speaking English in the Algarve.
In other words, despite English not being massively spoken across Portugal as a whole, the Algarve region is one of the those areas where English is widely enough spoken that you can get by fine there (hence it’s popularity with the British especially).
Let’s look at the issue of living in the Algarve and languages in more detail.
How Widely Spoken Is English in the Algarve?
English is quite widely spoken in the Algarve, since it receives a lot of English speaking tourists every year, and also has a sizeable population of British expats. You will be able to use English in most places you go in the Algarve, especially the main tourist spots.
The Algarve region as a whole receives several million tourists every year, many of them from America and the UK. It also has a very large British expat community, a trend which started in the 1960s. Therefore the area is well equipped to handle English speakers, and it will be spoken pretty much most places you go in the main tourist areas:
- Restaurants (at least 1 or 2 people can speak English. Smaller cafes/eateries, can be a bit less common)
- Tourist attractions
- Tourist information centers
- Train stations
- Most taxi drivers (at least broken English)
- Most buses
- Younger people will also generally speak English as it’s now taught in schools. Some older people above 60 may struggle a bit.
There are even “British enclaves” within some parts of the Algarve, with British shops/restaurants/pubs, that will make it feel to Brits like “Blackpool with sun” (the English will get that gag). In other words, just like you’ve had a British seaside town transplanted onto the South of Portugal, and you can carry on speaking English just like you’re at home.
Therefore the Algarve region stands out along with the capital Lisbon as being a hot-spot where English is widely spoken, even though English proficiency as a whole across the country is pretty low at between one-quarter and one-third of the population.
Therefore, certainly for holidays, you’ve got absolutely no problem going anywhere in the Algarve and only speaking English, since most people will be able to speak at least some English back to you.
You don’t need Portuguese for vacations there, but as always, having a few phrases always comes in handy (see section at the bottom).
You Can Live In The Algarve Only Speaking English (Without Portuguese)
The even better news is that it’s even possible to live in the Algarve long term without speaking any Portuguese, and only speaking English.
This is evidenced by many anecdotal accounts of people living there for years without speaking any Portuguese.
Here’s one person’s account of living there:
“Of course, you can (only speak English, or not speak any Portuguese). There are thousands living in Portugal, speaking only English.
Fifty yards from my house, there’s a Chinese shop. One of the owners has lived here for more than twenty years, she speaks Chinese only.
She can say Hello, Good Morning and Thank You in very broken Portuguese. She seems to live very happily here. Every two or three years, she visits China for one month or so.
Half a mile further along, there’s an English pub cum café owner. I don’t think she speaks any Portuguese, and she has been living here for at least ten years.
There are thousands like them.”
Anecdotal account from Portugal
Therefore, in the Algarve region especially, enough English is spoken that you can even get by in day-to-day long term life as an expat, and not really need Portuguese in most cases.
“Most cases” is an important caveat, because there are still some minor hiccups you’ll run into, where having some Portuguese language skills, or a Portuguese friend who can interpret/translate, can come in very handy in some cases. Such as:
- Dealing with the health system (English not always spoken)
- Dealing with the state bureaucracy (visas, permits, taxes etc)
- Buying or renting property.
- Visiting smaller or interior villages (English not so widely spoken)
- Opening up bank accounts
- Possibly getting loans, mortgages, credit cards (contracts likely only in Portuguese)
- Setting up mobile phone/internet contracts (only in Portuguese)
- Setting up utilities contracts (gas/electric/water).
- Getting your car fixed if you drive
- Getting broken AC fixed (especially in summer)
- Opening up businesses
- Any other daily “stuff” where you need something sorted, but in order to get it sorted, you’ll need to interact with a Portuguese person who may not speak much English. Will happen sooner or later if living there long term.
For all these day-to-day things you will encounter if you move to the Algarve permanently, it’s better to have some Portuguese proficiency under your belt to help out.
However, here are some mitigating influences covered by another blog than lessen some of these problems:
- Many of the banking/website apps in Portugal do have English language options you can switch to.
- When calling some customer service/helpline numbers, there is sometimes a “press 2 for English” option.
- For dealing with bureaucracy/state paperwork, you’re usually allowed to bring in a friend/advocate who does speak Portuguese who can translate/interpret for you.
- In many cases (shops, govt offices, bureaus etc), even if the person you first deal with doesn’t speak English, they can usually call over someone who does.
Therefore you can usually “muddle through” even dealing with the Portuguese system, and many evidently do, but it’s still useful to have a little bit of Portuguese proficiency.
Learning Some Basic Portuguese Phrases
No matter the country you settle in, even if the local language is not strictly required to get through most things in life, it’s always better to learn the language anyway. It helps ingratiate you with the locals, who always appreciate at least a few words or greetings, and also helps broaden your cultural and social circles.
Therefore, even though it won’t be necessary in most parts of the Algarve, it’s still worth learning Portuguese, even if a few words initially just for greetings.
Check out the video and table below for some basic phrases:
|English||European Portuguese||Pronounced As|
|See you soon||Até breve!||atay brey-veh|
|Excuse me||Com licença||com li-sayn-sa|
|Please||Por favor||Poor favoor|
|Thank you||Obrigado/a||Obri-gardo/a (m/f)|
|Good morning||Bom dia||bome dee-a|
|Good afternoon||Boa tarde||Boa tar-dt|
|Good night||Boa noite||Boa-noy-t|
|How are you?||Como você está||como voh-see eshtar|
|Do you speak English?||Fala inglês?||Farla-in-glaish?|
|My name is.......||Meu nome é||mey-oo nohme eh.......|
|The bill, please||A conta, por favor||Ah conta poor favoor|
|How much is it?||Quanto custa?||Kwantoh coosta?|
|I have a reservation||Tenho uma reserva||Tenyo ooma reh-serva|
m/f in the table indicates that the ending of the word changes depending on whether a male or female is saying it
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Useful Resources For People Living in The Algarve
Here are links to some other resources to help with common daily life issues living as an expat/worker in any of the Algarve resorts, or Portugal in general:
- Vlog/blog channels – See here for a good blog on living in the Algarve.
- Learning Portuguese – See here for a good school in Faro which deliver in-person Portuguese classes. See here for another class offered in Tavira in the eastern Algarve.
- Visas – If you are quite wealthy and would like an easier path to living in Portugal, without as much paperwork, check out Portugal’s Golden Visa program. Requires a sizeable investment into Portugal, but offers very generous visa conditions if you can get it. Nomad Capitalist has some good videos on it as well.
- Schools/Kids – See here for a good guide for international schools in The Algarve. Reasonable number of choices spread out across the region.
- Banking – If you’re using a foreign bank card to draw out euros at an ATM in Portugal, you’re likely to get stung with high fees. See our guide on some good multi-currency card options to spend in euros for free, and also withdraw money from ATMs cheaply in Euro-using countries.
- Phones/SIM Cards – Many phones are locked and won’t accept foreign SIM cards. For getting a working local SIM card and number in Spain without spending loads of money, see this article.