Written by Lily Ross

With its golden beaches, surfing coastline, rich culture, tiled architecture, and delicious pastel de nata, Portugal has become one of the most popular British holiday destinations.

A recent article published by The Telegraph[1] described ‘22 reasons why everyone is going to Portugal right now’ emphasizing how the affordability and notorious safety of the country make it even more appealing. Alongside the surge in tourism, the past decade has seen significant growth in the number of British expats to Portugal. Last year, The Independent[2] noted an unprecedented increase in the number of British young professionals moving to Lisbon, and there are approximately 49,000 British nationals living in Portugal today.

Although Portugal is known as one of the safest countries, they operate strict laws and sanctions to promote legal behaviour. Below are 4 Portuguese laws[3] to be aware of:

  1. Whilst the beaches may be a beautiful place to relax, surf, or swim, it is illegal to urinate in the sea. The offence is punishable by fine or sanction, although we’re not sure how the authorities police this!
  2. Gambling is only legal in government licensed establishments. Any games of chance (even Bingo!) are illegal in unlicensed premises and are punishable by fine or imprisonment, so always check that gambling establishments are legally licensed.
  3. It is common to be approached by drug dealers in Lisbon, yet as with other countries, personal possession of drugs is punishable by fine or sanction, and the selling or trafficking of drugs is a criminal offence that holds severe penalties.
  4. Fines for not paying on public transport are hefty, and it is common for buses to be stopped at night to ensure that everyone on board has a valid ticket.

As part of their efforts to encourage lawful conduct, Portuguese authorities give long sentences and the country has a particularly high prisoner rate. Prisons are often overcrowded and in 2016 the occupancy level of Portuguese prison was 109%; in some prisons this was as high as 170%[4]. Overcrowded conditions coupled with the extreme heat and lack of air conditioning make incarceration in Portugal incredibly tough.

Alongside the harsh physical conditions, British citizens detained in Portuguese prisons experience severe isolation, worsened by the fact that they often cannot speak the language. Through our provision of language learning tools, English books, newspapers and newsletters, Prisoners Abroad seeks to alleviate this increased isolation and are currently supporting 11 British citizens incarcerated in Portugal. LD recently noted that ‘the best thing I have received by far is the Spanish and Portuguese dictionaries; fantastic. I can now communicate basic sentences in both languages.’

For more info on things to be aware of when visiting Portugal, see the FCO guidelines

Read about Kenisha’s experience imprisoned in Western Europe. 

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/portugal/articles/portugal-best-things-to-see-and-do/

[2] https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/europe/lisbon-emigration-tourism-millennials-freelancers-digital-nomad-portugal-airbnb-a7967376.html

[3] https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-ideas/weird-and-wacky/bizarre-laws-that-could-land-you-in-hot-water-overseas/news-story/9085901e9ef363b11e12d01a94ea7dde

[4] http://www.prisonphotoproject.international/en/prisons.html


Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.