Portugal is known as a rather safe country, with a relatively low crime rate. Quite rightly, this makes it an attractive place to move to, but it’s important to remember that “low crime” doesn’t mean “crime free.”
The good news is that, outside of urban areas, violent crime is fairly rare. In the Algarve, for example, the crimes you usually hear about are burglaries and thefts from cars, many of which are opportunistic. However, there are occasional spates of rather more disturbing crimes.
In recent years, there have been a run of violent robberies at secluded houses in the Algarve, and a number of serious muggings and even a tourist murder in Albufeira. So, it’s unwise to be complacent, and sensible to take all the usual security precautions you would take in any other country. These include locking doors, refraining from flaunting valuable possessions, and avoiding walking through dangerous areas in the dead of night.
Law-abiding expats in Portugal may still find they have more dealings with the police than they would back in the UK, and the main reason for this is frequent police checks on roads.
Quite often, the Portuguese police will set up camp on a roundabout, and pull over a large number of cars. Cynics would say that this is all about revenue generation, so it’s important to ensure you have the correct documentation on you, and that your vehicles are legal. Fines can be significant and are rigorously enforced. One specific area to be wary of is continuing to drive a UK registered car that should have been matriculated.
Expats interacting with police in Portugal would be wise to remember that the attitude towards authority in the country is culturally very different to that in the UK. Authority figures, including police officers, expect respect, and can make life very awkward for those failing to provide it. It’s sensible to at least attempt to communicate in Portuguese as some officers may refuse to speak English, even if they are capable of doing so.
Despite this, life in Portugal is generally laid back, and day-to-day behaviour isn’t micro-managed with small laws in the way that it is in the UK. As ever, there are exceptions for every rule – and here this is the small traffic laws. For example, when there is a solid white line in the road, it must not be crossed – even if it is simply to turn into a drive way or car park. Ignoring this rule invites condemnation from the locals – even if the police don’t spot you!
In general, crime and police activity isn’t something that should concern expats in Portugal. All anyone needs do is stick to two simple rules – use common sense when it comes to crime prevention, and be polite to the police.