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Workers in Portugal taking second job or emigrating as digital nomads push up costs

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What do you do when your hometown becomes a hotbed for wealthy expats outmuscling you in an increasingly desperate housing market?

For Portugal’s skint residents, the answer is increasingly becoming to take a second job or leave the country altogether. 

In February, some 250,000 Portuguese residents said they had been working at least two jobs in 2023, according to data from Statistics PortugalThe figure, which represents around 5% of working-age adults, is a record stretching back to 2011 and the depths of an economic crisis in the Eurozone when the country needed a bailout. 

The latest landmark is likely to be a reflection of rising income pressure on Portugal’s citizens and follows figures suggesting nearly a third of Gen Zers and millennials are choosing to leave the country.

‘Overemployment’ or desperation?

The idea of “overemployment” took on new significance during the COVID-19 pandemic, as remote workers took advantage of falling surveillance from their managers to up their workload, and pay.

But while that conversation in the U.S. has been framed around career liberation and income growth, in Portugal the growing shift to dual income is more likely to come from a place of desperation. 

According to Statistics Portugal, more than half of those working two jobs have a university degree, though the biggest increase came from those with the fewest qualifications, Le Monde reported

Portugal has undergone an effective recruitment drive of high-income foreign nationals in recent years, offering schemes like digital nomad visas for workers making good money to locate themselves in the country.

In terms of bringing younger, high-earning workers to its shores, the strategy has been a resounding success. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and remote work trends that followed led to an explosion in digital nomads, and they flocked to Portugal, namely its main cities of Lisbon and Porto.

The destination gets top marks from workers, with around 16,000 digital nomads reporting to be living in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon last year, according to Nomad List and reported by Politico.

The country was ranked as the favorite location for digital nomads in 2023, according to a survey by renting marketplace Flatio.

Digital nomads leaving sour taste

However, these schemes have inevitably started to rub natives the wrong way. 

A growing share of workers earning much higher than the median wage in Portugal has had an effect in the aggregate on everything from grocery prices to housing costs.

In hubs like Lisbon and Porto, accommodation has become particularly unaffordable, causing policymakers to step in.

While the country closed part of its golden visa program, which previously allowed foreigners to take up residency in Portugal if they bought real estate, the effects of the scheme are likely still precipitating through the country’s housing market. 

Indeed, data from November showed house prices in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon rose 30% over the last five years, outpacing Milan, Madrid, and Berlin.

Meanwhile, a growing share of high-income digital workers have helped push up rent across the city, well above what the typical Lisbon or Porto native would have expected to pay in the past based on their salaries.

In addition to their higher salary, foreign workers have also been able to take advantage of tax breaks, such as the non-habitual residence (NHR) scheme, which caused a big divergence in take-home pay between residents and non-residents. The country moved to close this loophole last year.

If workers aren’t holding down two jobs, they instead appear to be choosing to flee the country to new pastures.

In January, Portugal’s Emigration Observatory found that 30% of Portugal’s 15-39 year-olds had left the country, The Portugal News reported. 

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