Affairs: Portugal | Monocle

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Portugal –– Immigration

Lisbon calling

Gaia Lutz meets some of the vast diaspora of Brazilians finding security in the Portuguese capital.

On a Thursday evening in Lisbon’s Chiado neighbourhood, a boisterous crowd spills out onto the streets in front of Brisa. It’s the opening night of the gallery’s latest exhibition, a showcase of photographs by Brazilian artist Maritza Caneca.


The attendees are a well-dressed line-up of exiles from the South American nation who, like many more of their compatriots, have been propelled by the economic, security and health crisis back home to seek refuge in the Portuguese capital. “Being an immigrant is not easy anywhere but the adaptation here, due to the language and climate, is easier for us than elsewhere,” says Bebel Moraes, co-founder of Brisa.

Moraes, a fashion editor for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, and her husband, artist Daniel Mattar, had dreamed of focusing on a purely artistic endeavour but it was only in Lisbon that they found the breathing space to take the leap. “It’s hard to live in Brazil with the same simplicity you do here,” says Moraes. As with many Cariocas, the trigger for their move was security: after their house was broken into, they decided to try their luck in Portugal. 


Immigration between Portugal and Brazil is an old tale. A decade ago, Portuguese migration to Brazil reached new highs. Today the story is reversed. There are about 180,000 Brazilians registered as living in Portugal but these numbers don’t include dual-national or illegal citizens. They are by far the country’s largest immigrant community, accounting for about a third of all foreigners.

“Being an immigrant is not easy anywhere but the adaptation in Lisbon, due to the language and climate, is easier for us than elsewhere”

The Portuguese government’s announcement of alterations to its Golden Visa programme has also caused a spike in the number of Brazilians buying property in and around Lisbon in recent months. The programme, which allows real estate investors to acquire residency and citizenship, will no longer be applicable to properties bought in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve. Golden visas have been controversial for contributing to house prices skyrocketing and for providing Brazilians under investigation at home with an escape from the law. Regardless, since the programme’s start, Brazilians have invested about €800m in Portuguese property and rural areas could benefit further.

Domingas Mascarenhas made the move to Lisbon in 2018. Her family has owned Guimas, one of Rio de Janeiro’s best-known bistros for more than 40 years. She was following in her parents’ footsteps to one day helm the restaurant before she was targeted by the city’s endemic violence. Only a few years after the burglary in which her mother was killed, her home was also broken into. That’s when she decided to leave. “I love Rio and am very much a Carioca but I wouldn’t go back to that mess now,” she says. 

Mascarenhas, her husband and two children chose to settle in the coastal suburb of Cascais so as not to compromise on a life by the sea. “My teenage daughter wants to go back to Rio,” says Mascarenhas. “You know how it is: Lisbon can feel like a village but I think that she’ll come around to it.”

But downsizing has its advantages. Duda Ferreira, owner of Lisbon pizzeria Lupita, arrived from São Paulo five years ago. “For me it was about turning the volume down,” says Ferreira, who worked in the city’s restaurant sector for 16 years. “Life in São Paulo doesn’t give you a break.” In Lisbon, Ferreira saw a chance to bring a more sophisticated approach to making pizzas to the capital. Today, not only has his business grown but so has his family. “Since the birth of my daughter, my parents have also decided to come here,” he says. “I can’t think of a better place to be raising a family.”

About the writer: Lutz is monocle’s Lisbon correspondent – and is another Brazilian at home in the Portuguese capital.

Images: Alamy, Getty Images

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