Some (Not So) Subtle Differences
After owning a vacation home in southern Spain for 15 years and two properties in Portugal for five, we’ve started to notice and track a variety of not so subtle lifestyle differences between the two countries.
When or if comparing your experiences with ours, please bear in mind that we live in towns and villages – not coastal cities – where our neighbors are natives, and many don’t speak English. We’re comparing typical suburban standing, not urban ubiquities, between the two countries.
For example, shopping centers and supermarkets are closed on Sundays (and holidays) in Spain; they’re open in Portugal. For the most part.
With every purchase made in Portugal, merchants are required by law to ask for your fiscal number (NIF in Portugal, NIE in Spain). It’s your choice whether to give it. But if you do provide the number, merchants report the transaction – and the taxes you paid – to Finanças and you’re automatically credited for these tax payments against your annual income taxes. For whatever reason, we’ve never been asked for a fiscal number in Spain. Perhaps, Portugal’s central accounting system is more sophisticated than Spain’s … or maybe Spain simply doesn’t tabulate taxes paid on purchases to offset one’s annual income tax liability.
Trash in most Spanish towns is picked up daily – seven days per week, including holidays – by garbage trucks with door-to-door service. Residents hang their bags of trash on nearby railings or set them out against convenient spaces nearby. A recycling center is centrally located, although there may be a few bins scattered throughout the area for the purpose. In Portugal, however, people take their garbage to trash and recycling bins conveniently grouped together and located every few blocks. Large items – furniture, major appliances, etc. – are collected in both countries by calling and scheduling the pickup.
IVA is 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.
The Spanish might assume that all Portuguese women — except for children — are married, as there are no “señoritas” in Portugal. Just senhoras.
Speaking of which, there’s no such thing as gender neutrality in Portuguese or Spanish. Everything that’s named must either be masculine or feminine. Except, sometimes, the two countries and their respective languages can’t agree on the gender. Take “Christmas,” for example. The Spanish call it female (la Navidad), while the Portuguese think of it as male (o Natal).
Houses are comparable in cost in both countries.
Nevertheless, property purchase costs (taxes, stamps, legal and notary services, other fees) are far lower in Portugal—especially on a primary residence costing less than €100,000. Depending on location, figure between 10-14% on top of the purchase price in Spain v. perhaps 1% in Portugal. That’s because the transfer tax in Spain on such properties varies between 6% and 13%, while the same tax in Portugal is a meager 0.1%.
Drying laundry is another matter. In Portugal, all sorts of rack contraptions are used to hang drying clothes from windows, terraces, and balconies. It remains a mystery to me where the Spaniards hang theirs.
Spain, even in rural areas, is much louder, longer … and later. Portuguese people tend to hold their peace and tranquility much longer.
The spirit of Spain is expressed in its flamenco; the soul of Portugal in its fado.
Parking your money in traditional, brick-and-mortar banks – even those with online banking – is a losing proposition in both countries. Portugal charges between four and six euros each month (Montepio and Millenium) per account, while Spain charges many accountholders €45 per quarter (€180 per year). All for the privilege of using our money to invest in the bank’s profitability.
Petrol (gasoline, diesel, LPG) has historically been cheaper in Spain than Portugal. Not so anymore. Portugal is giving Spain a run for its money at the fuel pump, although canisters of propane and butane continue to cost far less in Spain.
Electrodomésticos – especially large screen “smart” TVs – are far more expensive in Spain than Portugal. Take, for example, this 43-inch, 2022 LG Smart TV: It’s advertised at a “promotional price” of €449 at “Electrochollo,” a chain of discount appliance stores throughout Spain. The same unit and model at Worten throughout Portugal, however, costs just €299.99. Even the ads are the same. The same holds true for many other major appliances—washing machines, cookers and hobs, frost-free refrigerators and freezers, even computers and peripherals. I guess it has something to do with the market: Spaniards typically earn more than the Portuguese; Portuguese are poorer than Spaniards.
Maybe it’s the electricity—which also is somewhat higher in Spain?
Curiously, despite Portugal’s pharmaceutical subsidies, Spain is far cheaper when it comes to over-the-counter drugs (not prescriptions). “Baby” aspirin (90 or 100 mgs) for the heart, anti-fungal cream, and pills to fight the allergies in the air everywhere here, cost less than ten euros combined in Spain vs. 25 in Portugal.
For those who savor haute cuisine, for the most part Spanish food is better than Portuguese. I know, I know: all those articles raving about how delicious the food – especially fish and other concoctions – are in Portugal. Perhaps that’s true if you don’t know what you’re eating or see pictures of it in supermarket flyers.
Disculpa, Portugal, but Spanish food looks and tastes better. A lot of credit for that goes to its small plated “tapas” served with bread, plastic packages of crackers, and olives (or, sometimes, peanuts) … all included for €2.50-€3.50 per dish. Add another euro for a large pour of tinto and two people can share a variety of food – croquetas, chicken, meat, fish – for less than fifteen euros, including salad and crisps (fries) that come with the “meal.”
But the bread …
Spanish bread cannot compete with its Portuguese cousins. Dry, tasteless, starchy, and bland, the best that can be said about it is “blah.” For its part, Portuguese bread tends to be hard crusted but moist and flavorful inside, luscious when served warm. The same holds true for pastries and desserts: The sheer variety of sweets in Portugal is mind-blowing, loaded with creams, and succulent—a delicious and delightful way to end a meal. Except for its flan, perhaps, the best to be said about pasties in Spanish towns and villages is “blah” … they’re just not finger-licking good.
I’ve often told friends (so it’s no longer funny) that when my time comes, I don’t want funebre faces or empathetic eulogies. Instead, rent a Portuguese pastelaria and enjoy remembering me for my sweet tooth.
Rather than end this epistle on a morbid note, I share this curious beginning of the most commonplace greetings in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages: Why is it that the Portuguese greet us in the singular: bom dia … boa tarde … boa noite, while the Spanish express such pleasantries in the plural: buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches?
Is there something they know that we don’t?
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine, the award-winning thoughtful magazine for people everywhere with Portugal on their minds. He and his partner divide their time between homes in Spanish towns and Portuguese villages—and vice-versa. Read the current issue of Portugal Living Magazine online and subscribe – FREE! – at https://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue/