Is English Widely Spoken In Portugal?


When you’re traveling to Portugal, you probably ask yourself; is English widely spoken in Portugal? An important question, because this way you know how easy it is to communicate with the locals. 

English is widely spoken in Portugal, especially by younger generations and in areas like Lisbon, Porto, and The Algarve region. Also, in the world EF English proficiency index, Portugal ranks no. 7 best in the world with very high proficiency, which is rare for a southern European country.

Now you know a bit more, let’s dive in deeper. I have visited Portugal for more than 10 years almost yearly, and in the last few years, we spent our winter months in the Portuguese Algarve. So I’m going to share everything you need to know. 

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English Is Widely Spoken In Portugal

As I mentioned earlier, as a country Portugal ranks no. 7 in the world’s largest ranking of countries and regions by English skills. This is as good as countries such as The Netherlands, South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, and Sweden, (see image below) where it’s known that English is widely spoken.

Portugal has climbed up this ranking index over the last couple of years, due to younger generations speaking English more fluently than older generations.

As you prepare for your trip, you might want to know more about Portuguese areas that speak English more fluently.

Areas Where English Is Widely Spoken In Portugal

When you travel to Portugal for a holiday and are planning to visit the tourist-focused areas, English is widely spoken almost everywhere. Portugal attracts many international tourists, so there’s a big incentive for people working in the tourist industry to be able to speak English and other languages. 

So, if you travel to popular areas like Lisbon and its surrounding region, Porto, or the Algarve, you can speak English almost everywhere very easily. Still, when you visit smaller villages, you’ll find that the local people don’t talk as much English as you might expect. 

Other popular areas like the Alentejo region (the area in Portugal, roughly between Lisbon and The Algarve) typically depend on where you’re going in that region if English is widely spoken. You can quickly get around in most tourist-focused places by only speaking English. 

Portugal is also known as a country where many expats and retirees live. And because of this, you’ll find more and more places where English is widely spoken. 

Did you know that almost everyone speaks English in The Algarve, especially in cities like Faro and Albufeira? This is because many retirees from the UK moved to these cities after retirement. But also areas around Lisbon, Setubal, Coimbra, Alentejo – especially the coastal region -, Ericeira, Obidós, Nazare, and many other coastal areas are easy to communicate with only speaking English. 

After we stayed during the winter months in Portugal, I found it very convenient that you could speak English almost everywhere. We stayed in the Algarve region, in the city of Lagos. I could speak English with almost everyone when I visited a supermarket, a bar, and even the fresh farmers market. 

Ok, with some sellers on the Farmers’ market, I needed to communicate in Portuguese, but that makes it fun, right? And honestly, it was very easy, I just pointed out which vegetables I wanted, and they wrote down the price I had to pay! Easy does it! 

So, even when it’s harder to speak English, there are still many ways to communicate without speaking the local or same language. 

Organizations Where It’s Harder To Speak English In Portugal

There are places in Portugal where English isn’t as widely spoken as expected. Places, where it’s harder to speak English in Portugal are often government and healthcare institutions. This may sound a bit weird at first. But if you look at this from the institutions’ point of view, there’s little incentive for them to speak fluently English. Most people they get in contact with are local Portuguese. 

Of course, in the popular tourist areas, you’ll find healthcare centers where you can easily speak English or other languages. In the Algarve region, an international healthcare center is available with doctors who speak English, Dutch, German and other languages.

Let’s hope you are one of the many tourists that don’t need to visit one of these institutions during their trip to Portugal. 

Areas in Portugal Where People Don’t Speak Widely English

Generally, the more North you go or, the more land inwards you go, the fewer people speak English in Portugal. This is just because of the fewer tourists that visit these places. Of course, you’re still able to find people who speak English, especially in restaurants and tourist accommodations, but it isn’t as easy to get around as in other areas of the country. 

The biggest exception here is the city of Porto and its surroundings. Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal. It’s known as the country’s central business and financial district, and because of the many international companies that are located here, and thus many expats, English is very widely spoken in this area. 

I once made a road trip from Lisbon to Porto and visited mainly the coastal villages. It’s a lovely trip I can recommend to everyone! However, once I passed the small town of Aveiro, I couldn’t find many people that were able to speak English. 

So, you can say that when you visit the smaller villages and go more land inward, you’ll probably need to learn some Portuguese to communicate with the locals. I think that’s still a good thing. Speaking the Portuguese language in these areas also keeps the authentic Portuguese culture alive.  

When you travel along the Spanish border, you also find many people who can speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese. And generally, the elderly people are able to speak French as well. Many of them don’t speak English but can speak French as their second language! 

Easy Portuguese Words To Start A Conversation

When traveling through Portugal, it’s always a good idea to speak at least some Portuguese words. Even when you’re visiting places where English is widely spoken, the local people still can appreciate it when you try to speak their language. 

So, to make it a bit easier for you, here are the basics you need to start a conversation in Portuguese; 

Good Morning/ Good day= Bom Dia
Good Afternoon= Boa Tarde
Good Evening = Boa Noite
Everything Ok? = Tudo Bem?
How Are You? = Como Vai
Where Are You From = De onde é que você é
Can I Pay = Posso Pagar
Can I Order = Posso Pedir
Can I Have The Bill, Please? = Dá-me a conta, por favor
Beer = Cerveja
Wine = Vinho
Red Wine = Vinho Tinto
White Wine = Vinho Branco
Bread = Pao
Do You Know Where I can Find .. = Você sabe onde posso encontrar

These words can help you to start a conversation. I find it helpful to use Deepl Translate to quickly translate other things into Portuguese. This free tool offers just a bit more accurate translations than Google Translate. However, using Google translate is very straightforward and works in almost every situation. 

Where To Learn Portuguese

When you stay longer in Portugal or just want to connect with the locals that can’t speak English, you might want to learn to speak Portuguese. Finding a good course isn’t as straightforward as for many other languages. Well-known tools like Babbel, Busuu, and Duolingo offer Portuguese courses, but often these are Brazilian Portuguese courses. Which is a different version of the language and is spoken in, yes, Brazil.

Good alternatives to learning Portuguese are Lusaschool, a language school in Lisbon that also offers online courses. And Centro de linguas de Lagos (language center in Lagos), also offer video classes for learning Portuguese.  

If you are planning to visit Portugal, you might find this article, 20 Must-See Places in The Algarve, interesting to read. 

Léon Kopijn

Léon Kopijn works and lives as a Digital Nomad. He travels the world with the love of his life and writes about inspiring cultures and practical travel tips. Find out more about Léon on his about page!

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