These are the seven main challenges of a digital nomad who wants to invest in real estate in Portugal and tips to overcome them

Arco da Rua Augusta in the historic centre of Lisbon - an area in which many digital nomads start out exploring and diving into Lisbon life deeper

The Situation

Various locations in Portugal rank amongst the best worldwide for digital nomads whilst providing high quality of living and proving an excellent investment in the past.

Although digital nomads are increasingly integrated in everyday life and not only enjoy, but also contribute to the well-being of urban spaces and local economies they rarely find themselves on the owner’s side of real estate investments. Instead, they are usually renters who often lack ways of making long-term investments to accumulated wealth. 

Despite being well-educated and working, their lifestyle often prevents them from ‘getting on the housing ladder’, which puts them at a disadvantage compared to their more domestic counterparts or previous generations.

Aside from the general challenges that await any buyer or investor in real estate, there are some additional hurdles that are specific to digital nomads and that they should be aware of. Depending on the individual situation those can be easy or hard to overcome. 

Overall, there are five challenges specific to any digital nomad who intends to invest in real estate in Portugal or elsewhere. In addition, you should not lose sight of the two more general issues relevant to any foreigner buying in Portugal, the most important being visa and moving without buying.

Challenge 1: Geographics

Anything real estate is local, whereas the digital nomad, by definition, is anything but local. Ranging from reaching out to a broker in a different time zone, over visiting the potential investment, understanding the micro location, making contracts to refurbishing and meeting potential tenants.

Tips

  • Use your time in the respective location to visit a broad range of apartments. Over time your skills of relating between the real estate listing and what is to expect in reality will improve. An in-person visit will still be very important, but you will be able to screen and pre-select much better based on photos, 360º-walkthroughs and videos.  
  • Also, try to make some connections while you are on the ground. Meeting a consultant, a sales broker or an architect in person and discuss a potential investment will be a good basis for collaboration in times you are not around and need to rely on someone. 

Challenge 2: Language

Whereas in places like Portugal and especially within the real estate sector most people will assist you in fluent English, you may encounter problems nevertheless. The common step of double-checking what a local advisor (who may, at times, act in their own interest rather than in yours) told you becomes tricky.

Also, many steps in the investment process are subject to legal requirements. Your respective consultant, broker or architect will always be able to explain anything you need to know. However, it can become tricky when you want to verify primary sources, search for details online or use the original laws. 

Tips

  • Ask for bilingual contracts where possible. The Portuguese version will still be the legally binding, though.
  • Access original information and primary sources wherever possible. Ask for the precise Portuguese term and spelling of a topic that you are going dive in deeper. You can enter it in your search engine and then understand by using your browsers translation function or an online translator like DeepL.
  • Where information is crucial you might want to make use of translated, a translation service that lets you upload your text and choose between different qualities of translations of any language. 
  • When you have no way of verifying, consider getting a second opinion at least. This will reduce your risk of relying too much on a single person.

Challenge 3: Exchange Rates

When making any kind of investment you will always aim for a good relation of risks and returns. That means the more risk you take the more money you should earn. 

However, the equity (your own money) you invest may be in the currency in which your work gets paid, while the investment, any associated costs and your returns (rent, sales proceeds) maybe in another currency. With changing exchange rates these in- and outflows may vary significantly. The effect can be positive or negative and even increased in case of a mortgage.

Tips

  • See past volatilities of the two currencies in question. While past exchange rates cannot project future ones, they will give you an idea of the possible upside potential and downside risks.
  • Plan ahead: What are you going to do when an investment becomes too unattractive over time? Will you keep it and hope for an improved situation in the future or sell to cut your losses? Will you rather realise an unexpected gain by selling ahead of time or sit still and enjoy your growing wealth? Ideally, those decisions are made long-term and with respect to you respective phase of life. 
  • See if your mortgage bank offers protection against exchange rate changes. Some products tailored to foreign investors may protect you from unforeseen costs against small fees. 

Challenge 4: Digital Nomad Glasses 

When you do not spend all-year round in the same location, there is a higher possibility that you live disconnected from locals, their everyday lives and therewith from local dynamics. Places you go will vary less and you will be more likely to surround yourself with like-minded people.

While this might be exactly the setting you selected to invest in, keep in mind that real estate markets are largely impacted by a country’s politics and economy. A small change in those high-level areas (e.g. change of interest rates for mortgages) may easily overwrite a different development on the low-level (e.g. AirBnB rates in central locations) in the setting you are familiar with.

Tips

  • As a digital nomad you will already have developed some routine for connecting when you arrive in a location and disconnecting when you head somewhere else. Try to incorporate checking on local everyday life and the real estate market when arriving or even regularly. This can be through newsletters for foreigners (e.g. Essential Business, The Portugal News) or simply headline screening in Google News (remember to set location and interests). 
  • When you already have invested and you work with a local advisor, ask them to let you know when there are important news in politics or legislation that would affect you investment. This could be a property manager, a local friend or a good accountant.

Challenge 5: Reaction time 

Despite real estate being a long-term investment and an area where things usually do not change by the hour, you may be forced to react quicker than expected. A competitive bidder forces you to decide if you want to bid higher, the painter has a question, an urgent repair has to be made, a potential tenant wants to visit the apartment etc.

Tips

  • Have someone you trust on the ground. This can be an advisor you trust, a professional property manager or even a friend or an engaged neighbour who you trust and could compensate for their time. 
  • Plan ahead: When making your investment or before leaving the city at the latest work with an advisor to work out your personal investment strategy:
    • Are you going to be hands-on on all topics or are you going to save time and trouble chunking off as much as possible to local servicers?
    • What situations are likely to occur over the years when owing an apartment, e.g. tenant change, refurbishment, repairs etc?
    • Are you OK with coordinating different specialists on different topics or will you need a single-point of contact due to time-constraints?

Challenge 6: Visa

The end of the Golden Visa programme for real estate investment in 2023 limits the access ways for non-EU nationals to stay in Portugal permanently. Plans change and while you might not want to seek permanent residency for the time being you might want to be aware of your future options. 

Tips

  • Be clear and stay updated on visa regulations as, for instance, Portugal Digital Nomads Visa or the D7 Visa (‘Retirement Visa’).
  • Research your potential residence alternatives that suit your life and lifestyle, e.g. resident visa, short-term tourist visa, temporary stay visa or even a job-seeker visa. 

Challenge 7: Moving without buying

Surely the possibility of moving into your own apartment or kicking-off your first stay in a new country with a great investment seems intriguing. However, investing with limited knowledge of a location and only brief experience in living there stipulates an avoidable risk.

Tips

  • Consider moving without buying. See your time as a renter as a way to flexibly chose different neighbourhoods, find your preferred living situation and collect experience in the local real estate market. 
  • This will help you to make more informed decision on any future investment and you might even remain a happy and flexible tenant whilst buying and renting out to others in the future. 
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