As the capital city of Portugal, Lisbon is a beautiful city, perhaps one of the nicest in all of Europe, and it does receive a lot of visitors every year. But just how widely spoken is English there? Can visitors get by there without needing any Portuguese?
As a very popular tourist destination and international hub, English is quite widely spoken in the central areas of Lisbon, and even to a reasonable level in the less central areas. Tourists can vacation there fine speaking only English, and it is even possible to live there long term without needing to speak Portuguese.
In other words, yes, Lisbon is one of the few parts of Portugal where you can bank on English being widely spoken, which makes it even more attractive for holiday-makers and potential expats.
Let’s look at the prevalence of English in Lisbon in more detail.
English Is Commonly Spoken In Lisbon
Lisbon receives around 6 million tourists each year, many of them English speakers, so as a city, it is well equipped to handle English.
English is widely spoken in Lisbon, with most people in the center being able to speak it to some extent, because of the high number of tourists that go there. Outside the center, English prevalence is a bit less, but still decent.
English is widely spoken in all the areas it’s needed, such as:
- 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
- Metro station (signs in English as well as Portuguese)
- 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.
Can You Holiday In Lisbon Speaking Only English?
If you’re planning a short term trip to Lisbon, the good news is you don’t need to worry at all about speaking English there. The universal feedback is that there’s no language issue there.
English is widely spoken in Lisbon, and tourists can do whatever they need to do without needing to speak Portuguese. International visitors never report having a problem there on vacations, and you can speak English throughout their stay without any issue.
Therefore, Lisbon stands out as having a high rates of English speakers versus the rest of Portugal, which has quite a low rate of English proficiency overall. It’s one of the those locations, along with the Algarve and possibly Porto, that receives enough English speaking tourists that it’s spoken there more widely than the country as a whole.
This means that for vacations, you’re totally fine. However, no matter where you’re going, it’s always better to still learn a few basic phrases. We’ll cover this in a later section.
Can You Live In Lisbon Speaking Only English?
Just visiting there for one or two weeks is one thing, but what about staying there longer term? Perhaps you want to buy a home there, or get put there on a work placement. Can you move to Lisbon permanently and still get by only speaking English, without needing any Portuguese?
Lisbon is one of the few European cities where the answer is actually yes:
English is so widely spoken in Lisbon that it is actually possible to live there long term and only speak English. There are accounts of expat residents there who have not had to learn Portuguese, and can do everything they need only speaking English.
Here is one such account:
“Good English is spoken widely in Lisbon, pretty much everyone under thirty and of the whole population half or more. Those without good English often speak enough to get by.
I have lived here six years without difficulty and have no Portuguese.”
Anecdotal account from expat in Lisbon
Therefore you CAN live in Lisbon without learning Portuguese if you want, but as with any foreign city, it is probably better long term to learn at least a little bit of Portuguese to show some kind of assimilation and help with occasional language barriers that may arise even in international cities like Lisbon.
If you’re living there permanently, there’s also daily “stuff” that’ll come up, such as visa and other paperwork, dealing with “the system”, taxes, banking, setting up accounts etc, where having some Portuguese will help, at least to know what you’re reading and signing. We cover this in our Lisbon post.
But the good news is there’s usually no pressure to learn Portuguese, because you can get by and settle in fine using English for as long as you want really. I’d personally prefer to move to this kind of city, where you can take your time and get accustomed to everything first, without feeling pressured to learn a new language right away because English isn’t widely spoken. Moving somewhere like Lisbon, you can be more relaxed and take things slower, and get stuff done just speaking English.
As regards working in Lisbon, again you could get by only speaking English if you had a nice job lined up there with an international company that conducts it’s business in English. Or you could set up an expat focused business and be fine only with English. Anything else, such as working for a local company, you’ll probably need Portuguese, as you won’t be dealing exclusively with English speakers, even though it is common there.
See our full article on living in Lisbon for more on living and working there with or without Portuguese.
Learning Some Basic Portuguese Phrases
Regardless of the length of your stay Lisbon, and even if you can get by technically only speaking English, it’s still a good idea to learn some basic Portuguese phrases. Locals always appreciate an effort, and long term you will still run into some people who don’t speak much English.
See the video and table below for some simple everyday phrases to get started at least with short trips. Longer term, you can always learn digitally or take classes there – see our main post on Lisbon where we cover some options.
But here’s some starter 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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