Portugal is a safe country to visit, and some basic common sense will go a long way. There are no internal conflicts, no terrorism-related danger and violent crime is not a serious problem, as it is generally confined to particular neighbourhoods and is rarely a random crime. Also, there is a refreshing lack of boozy stupidity at the weekends, despite the profusion of bars open to all hours in the major cities.
There are, however, some areas of Lisbon and Porto that you might want to avoid, like in any big city, especially at night. Also, you might want to have in mind that pickpockets do tend to target tourists and tourist-frequented areas more frequently. Wear a money belt or keep your documents and money in an inside pocket. Metro and large rail stations, shopping areas, queues and crowded buses are the most usual places for pickpockets. Many are under 18 and take advantage of the non-harsh laws on minors. If you try to run them down, a fight may be necessary to get your items back.
On the subway or on trains try to sit with other people and avoid empty carriages. Non-violent pickpocket is the most common crime so always watch any bags purses, luggage, shopping bags, etc. you may have with you. A voice message reminding that is played in most of the metro and train stations.
Since the disappearance of Madeline McCann, in 2007, many families have become wary of taking their children to Portugal. But this is not a common crime in Portugal, take care of your kids like you would at your own home.
Major cities are well served with medical and emergency facilities and public hospitals are at European standards. The national emergency number is 112.
Bottled/spring water água mineral is recommended as per use but the network's water is perfectly safe.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Portugal's National Healthcare System as long as they carry the free European Health Insurance Card EHIC, obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
The official language of Portugal is Portuguese. Portuguese is today one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers approximately 240 million. It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America, spoken by almost all of Brazil's population. It is also the official language in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor and Macau.
Portuguese is a Romance Language. Although it may be mutually intelligible with Spanish to a wide extent, with about 89% of lexical similarity both in vocabulary and grammar, it is far from identical. Portuguese are proud people and are uneasy when foreigners from non-Spanish speaking countries speak that language when traveling in Portugal. While many words may be spelled almost the same as in Spanish or Italian, the pronunciation differs considerably. This is because Portuguese has several sounds not present in those languages. Spanish is widely understood, but it's not always the best language to use unless you're from a Spanish-speaking country. If you do speak Spanish, it won't take long to get to know some Portuguese phrases. The basic ones are not very different from their Spanish equivalents, and as always, the locals are much more welcoming of those tourists that make the extra effort.
It is also worth mentioning that pronunciation in Portugal differs significantly from that in Brazil. The difference is basically in pronunciation and a few vocabulary differences, which make it tricky even for Brazilians to understand the European Portuguese accent, although not vice versa because Brazilian pop culture soap opera and pop music, for instance is very popular in Portugal. Nevertheless, the current media has made these difficulties in understanding each other's accent irrelevant.
English is spoken in many tourist areas, but it is far from ubiquitous. Portuguese youths are taught the British variety of English in school, and are also exposed to American and British films and television shows with the original English soundtrack and Portuguese subtitles, so while shy, most younger people would have at least a basic grasp of English. To improve your chances of being understood, speak slowly and stick to simple phrases. In fact, you are very likely to find more English spoken in Portugal than in the likes of Spain or France. In the main tourist areas you will almost always find someone who can speak the main European languages. Hotel personnel are required to speak English, even if sketchily. French has almost disappeared as a second language, except possibly among older people. German or Italian speakers are rare. Approximately 32% of Portuguese people can speak and understand English, while 24% can speak and understand French. Despite Spanish being mutually intelligible in a sense that most Portuguese understand it written and/or spoken, only 9% of the Portuguese population can speak it fluently. If you're a Spanish speaker, chances are you'll understand each other very well without an interpreter for the most part.
Portuguese people are of generally excellent humour when they are talking with someone who cannot speak their language. This means that all types of shop owners, sales-folk, and people curious about you will take time to try to carve out any means of communication, often with funny and unexpected results. Helping a foreigner is considered a pleasant and rewarding occasion and experience. If you attempt to speak correct Portuguese, especially if slightly beyond the trivial, with locals, you will be treated with respect and often the locals will apologize for how "difficult" it is to learn Portuguese, or how "hard" the language is, and will almost adopt you. This might encourage travellers to learn the very basics of Portuguese, such as daily greetings and the routine "please-thank you" exchanges.
In Miranda do Douro, a town in the North East, and its vicinity some people speak a regional language called Mirandese, in addition to Portuguese, although rarely in front of people they do not know.
Foreign television programmes are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Portuguese.
See also Portuguese phrasebook and European Portuguese phrasebook.
Portuguese people feel a sincere happiness when helping tourists so don't feel ashamed to ask for help. If you make an effort to speak some Portuguese with the people there, it can go a long way. A large percentage of the younger population speak English and many Portuguese understand basic Spanish. Although Portuguese people will understand some basic Spanish vocabulary, try to use it only in emergencies, since it is generally seen as disrespectful if you are a non-Spanish native yourself. If used be prepared to be hear something like "In Portugal people speak Portuguese, not Spanish" or they will simply reply that they don't understand you even if they do. Most probably they will not say anything and will still help you, but they will not like it inside. This is due to historical rivalry between Spain and Portugal. It is best to speak in English or your native language with the resource of hand signs or at the very least starting a conversation with Portuguese, then switching to English can be a successful technique to obtain this type of help.
Although not strict, when visiting churches or other religious monuments, try to wear appropriate clothes. That means that shoulders and knees should be covered.
Smoking in public enclosed places taxis and transport, shops and malls, cafés and hotels, etc. is not allowed and is subject to a fine, unless in places showing the appropriate blue sign.
It is not unusual for women to sunbathe topless in the beaches of Portugal, and there are several naturist beaches too. Thong bikinis are acceptable throughout the country's beaches.
There are no serious political or social issues to be avoided, although see Reintegration below.
Although a Catholic country almost 90% of Portuguese consider themselves to be Catholic only as much as 19% practice this faith known as Lapsed Catholic. As a result when discussing religion with a Portuguese don't expect much knowledge about church practices or support towards some of their beliefs and opinions e.g. Use of condoms, abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, etc. In Portugal religion is not seen as a valid argument when discussing politics. As such abortion in Portugal was legalized in 2007 and same sex marriage in 2010.
Portugal in general is a gay friendly country, but don't expect the same openness in rural and small places that you get in the bigger cities like Lisbon or Porto. Public display of affection between gay couples can be seen as a curiosity and in some cases as inappropriate depending on the place and the kind of display. Gays and lesbians in Lisbon are respected as the city itself has a big gay scene with lots of bars, night clubs, restaurants, cafes, saunas and beaches. Most of the “gay-friendly” places are located in the quarters of Bairro Alto, Chiado and Princípe Real.
Don't be surprised if you came across women/girls holding hands or holding arms with each other, this is considered normal and a sign of friendship; it doesn't mean they are lesbians.
Since September 2007, the age of consent laws in Portugal states 14 years old, regardless of sexual behaviour, gender and/or sexual orientation. Althought the age of consent is stipulated at 14, the legality of a sexual act with a minor between 14 and 16 is open to legal interpretation since the law states that is illegal to perform a sexual act with an adolescent between 14 and 16 years old "by taking advantage of their inexperience".
Some cities in Portugal still stage bullfighting events. In Portugal it is illegal, contrary to what happens in Spain, to kill the bull during the bullfight. However, it is totally wrong to assume that all Portuguese people support or even faintly like bullfights. Many Portuguese are indifferent to bullfighting or are offended by acts of cruelty. You might also end up offending someone if you make generalizations or insist that bullfighting is part of today's Portuguese culture. The Municipality of Barrancos border town with Spain actively defy the law and law enforcement agents and kill the bull in the arena.
Contrary to what many think Portuguese language does not descend from Spanish.
Tread lightly on the Reintegrationism issue. Galician language is closely related to Portuguese. Both descend from a Romance language of the Middle Ages now referred to as Galician-Portuguese not Spanish. The independence of Portugal since the late Middle Ages has favored the divergence of the Galician language developed under Spanish influence and now spoken in the Spanish province of Galicia and Portuguese developed as a free language. Never the less the two languages maintain an 85% mutual intelligibility. Most Portuguese people are indifferent to the Reintegrationism movement that defends the unity of today Galician and Portuguese as a single language, but for the Galicians and some Spanish and Portuguese this is a hot political topic. Although Portugal will not translate or dub or even put subtitles when Galician is being spoken, the language cannot be officially recognized as Portuguese due to the Spanish government obstacle. Both Portugal specially the north of the country and Galicia, share a close cultural similarity, hence the joint participation for UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, that was approved by UNESCO in 2001. They also entered to get the recognition of Cultural Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005, that did not meet the criteria of the judges from UNESCO. There have been many political debate in Galicia about this issues, specially to get Portuguese tv channels broadcasts and Portuguese as an obligatory discipline in schools. Despite the close historical and cultural heritage, that is cherished by Portuguese and Galician people, we can state that today's Galicians are proud Spanish people or are in many cases more likely to want the independence from Spain rather than to merge with Portugal, even though many active Reintegrationism groups defend a merge . This is a political debate with many different implications and you will have people from both countries to have every kind of different opinions about it, so if you don't want to offend someone you should avoid this issue.
illicit drug use
On 1 July 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized the recreational use of drugs. Note that drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.
Driving while impaired by drugs is a criminal code offense and is treated in the same way as driving under the influence of alcohol, with severe penalties.