The days of European colonialism are long gone. But there are a few countries – France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK – that have kept special relations with some of their former colonies. These places have their own governing systems – but their citizens are European and have the same rights as anyone else in the continent.
Take a 1.5-hour flight from Lisbon and you’ll find Portugal’s two overseas archipelagos: the Azores (in the northwest) and Madeira (in the southwest, close to Morocco). Both are famous for their beautiful landscapes and mild climate. They’re popular destinations due to the balmy weather, opportunities for surfing and diving, charming villages, healthy food and friendly locals.
As expat destinations, they’re not as buzzy as Malta or Cyprus. But we think this adds to their charm. And we’ve got some more reasons why you should consider moving.
The archipelago of the Azores is made up of nine volcanic islands, the biggest among them being Sao Miguel. Ponta Delgada’s the main city and the entire population of the nine islands is about 250,000. The islands are divided into three groups – Eastern, Central and Western. Sao Miguel belongs to the Eastern group, while the second-largest island, Pico, is part of the Central group.
In 1976, the islands became autonomous regions of Portugal with their own government. Almost half of the population of the islands is concentrated in Sao Miguel. The second most inhabited island is Terceira, with around 57,000 people. The rest of the islands mostly contain small villages and farms. The least inhabited island is Corvo, with only 460 people.
Up until 10 years ago, the Azores were pretty isolated. There were only flights from Lisbon, so tourism wasn’t a big part of the economy. Even nowadays, with regular flights from London, Porto and other places, the islands are far from bustling. There aren’t many nightclubs or big hotels, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for relaxation and peace.
Most expat communities are in Sao Miguel and Terceira. Sao Miguel is the most developed region, so house prices there are approximately 40% higher than Terceira. According to Numbeo, the rental cost of a one-bedroom flat in Ponta Delgada will start from €500 per month compared to €350 in Angra do Heroísmo, one of the major towns in Terceira.
Buying property in the Azores is considered a gold mine. The islands have the same weather conditions as other popular expat destinations like Malta, Cyprus or the Canary Islands, but buying a house here is far cheaper. Compared to Malta, the price per square metre in the Azores is five times less.
As an official part of Portugal, buying a property in the Azores is similar to on the mainland. You just need an attorney to prepare the contract, check if the taxes and obligations of the chosen property are paid and arrange to settle the documents with the notary office. Simple.
Madeira, like the Azores, is an archipelago. It has two inhabited islands, Madeira and Porto Santos Island, and groups of small rocky islands with no permanent population – the Desertas Islands and the Savage Islands. Madeira is southwest of Portugal, not far from Morocco, and it was discovered in the 15th century. According to artefacts found on the islands, the Vikings and the Romans reached the territories a few centuries before.
Funchal, the biggest city, is also the capital of the archipelago. It’s Madeira’s most visited place, luring people in with its golden sand beaches, mesmerising flora and vibrant nightlife. It’s famous for being the hometown of one of the world’s football legends, Cristiano Ronaldo. Not to mention its celebration of New Year’s Eve, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks show in the world.
Life on the Madeira Islands is peaceful. The entire population is just over 250,000 people, most of them concentrated on Madeira itself. The Savage and Desertas Islands are mainly rocky foundations, only visited by biologists and other scientists. Every year, more than one million people visit the archipelago, mostly from Portugal, Germany and Scandinavia.
Madeira is famous for its wine. The climate supports the growth of sweet, sugary grapes, making Madeira wine one of the world’s greatest fortified wines. Residents usually drink it alongside the local cuisine of seafood, fresh fruits and veggies.
Life as an expat in Madeira is easy. The islands are considered among the best for retirement because of the climate and good living standards. For those who still want to work, there are opportunities in tourism and farming.
Madeira’s slightly more expensive than the Azores for groceries, transport and leisure activities. However, a meal out in Funchal is cheaper than Ponte Delgada. Buying a property is a bit more expensive, too. But you can find cheaper properties on the outskirts of Funchal or on the other inhabited island – Porto Santo.
The information in this article is correct at the time of publishing (September 2019). It could change depending on the outcome of Brexit.
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