Bench, Manuel Braga park, Coimbra

A friend recently visited me here in Portugal and when I asked her what she liked about the country, I wasn’t surprised when she said, “I feel safe here.”

I do too. When you consider that Portugal currently ranks as the 3rd safest country in the Global Peace Index, perhaps that’s not so surprising. I feel proud and fortunate to life in country as safe as Portugal.

Here, I feel free to explore and enjoy myself and that’s not something I take for granted. Let me give you an example.

Portugal is a safe country to travel and explore

When I visit a new place, I like to get lost. Not on my way to the hotel, or anywhere I need to be by a certain time, of course, but if I’ve got a map in my bag for when I’ve done roaming the streets, I prefer to choose my route based on whatever catches my eye at the time. As a result, I often find myself way off the tourist trail and sometimes in decidedly less salubrious areas.

This happened not so long ago when I visited Vila do Conde, a lovely seaside town just north of Porto which is famous for its lace-making and hosts a big national arts and crafts fair every year.

Most of the town is well-maintained and quite pretty but I’d found myself in a residential area where the views were of cheap patterned sheets flapping about in the breeze, coarse insults scratched into someone’s garage door and makeshift outbuildings of red brick and splattered cement.

Granted, I’ve been in far worse places but this was definitely down-at-heel and in other countries I might have felt on edge. Not so in Portugal. It struck me that even in a place like this, I felt safe.

This overriding sense of security is something I frequently feel grateful for, particularly when I’m walking the dog in the forests near our village or travelling alone. It’s one of the many reasons I’m happy I moved here.

Wooden walkway along River Minho
Wooden walkway along River Minho

Crime is low in Portugal, especially violent crime

One of the things that I immediately noticed and very much appreciated when I first moved to Portugal from Venezuela was the simple freedom to walk down the street without the very real fear that someone might rob or even kidnap me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just in Venezuela that I’ve felt restricted by the threat of crime. When I lived in Tanzania, there was always an underlying threat of assault, especially after dark or away from busy streets, which made it prudent not to take risks.

In my home country, the UK, the media-hyped danger from potential rapists and muggers made me wary of going for walks alone or late at night. 

Street smarts and what to look out for in Portugal

I don’t skip around the streets in blissful ignorance in Portugal; there have been a couple of times when I’ve felt the need to keep a tighter hold of my bag and be more alert in Portuguese cities and I once had an unpleasant encounter while walking in the woods but these instances are exceedingly few and far between.

Pickpocketing is the biggest issue in tourist hotsports such as tram #28 in Lisbon and the metro systems in Lisbon and Porto.

The boom in tourism has resulted in an increase in more innovative scams, too, so it pays to apply the same street smarts you would in any major city. For example, don’t carry all your cash and documents in the same place or flash them around and keep a close eye on your belongings in busy places and on trains.

Safe Communities Portugal is a non-profit organisation that aims to keep people informed of current scams and crime prevention.

This is part of my Personal A to Z of Portugal. If you’ve missed my previous posts, you can find them here.

If you’re thinking of moving to Portugal, or any other country for that matter, you’ll need to do your homework. Start by reading this article Better Life For Half The Price In Portugal And 17 Other Countries.

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10 Comments

  1. Never felt unsafe in Portugal at all but pickpockets are an issue in Lisbon especially in the Baixa.

    1. Yes, I think that’s getting worse in touristy areas. It pays to keep a close eye on your stuff in crowded areas and public transport.

  2. You really ARE a serial ex-pat! Where haven’t you lived? This is a bit like my C for Crime article for Australia. We are both lucky we live in safe places, although I think yours might be even safer than ours.

  3. I don’t want to turn this into a Madeleine discussion but here are some interesting statistics: In the 5 years since that case, 99% of missing children cases in Portugal have been solved. There have been 30 unsolved missing children cases and many have to do with disputes of divorced parents because in some cases one of the parents is also missing. Just to show that the Maddie case is indeed “special”…

    1. Author

      Thanks, João. I don’t want to get into a prolonged discussion about Madeleine either but thanks for bringing a different perspective. I think that when isolated cases get extreme media coverage it can distort the way places are perceived.

  4. Just an observation – your post is on the anniversary of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance?

    1. Author

      Entirely coincidental, I assure you. And a different kettle of fish, I’d say.

      1. Coincidence but unfortunate. Whichever ‘kettle of fish’ it was Madeleine wasn’t safe in Portugal. Also lots of recent press reports in the UK about muggings on the Algarve and didn’t some British tourists die recently! I am being provocative I know – I have never felt unsafe in portugal!

  5. I also felt safe in Portugal after moving there from South Africa. I remember walking around freely, not clutching my bag, or looking warily around me when walking to see if someone was following me. It makes a difference to our life style for sure, but then I think we get too relaxed about security after a while. I feel very secure in Australia as well, as crime is low.

    1. Author

      I’m glad you still feel safe, Sami. I never felt I had to be overly cautious in Australia, either. I do sometimes wonder whether I’m being naive about security here – my neighbours certainly seem more worried than I am about locking things away! I suppose it all depends on what comparisons you’re making.

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