Madeira: Why Digital Nomads Should Consider Living Here

July 6, 2023laurenslighthouse

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023

Madeira might not be the first destination you would think of when living out your digital nomad life. Heck, this might be the very first time you’re hearing of Madeira. Maybe the fact that it’s where Cristiano Ronaldo was born is jogging your memory? But apart from that random fact, what makes Madeira, Portugal a destination to be reckoned with for remote working nomads to live in?

We spent a glorious time in Madeira in late summer of 2022, and out of all of the places we’ve travelled to while working, we couldn’t shake off the idea that this corner of the world is a gem to live in as digital content creators. My Portuguese citizenship was always in the back of my mind as we contemplated residing here. But with the ever-growing ease of long-term visa applications for Portugal, not just I but virtually any digital nomad could and should consider living in Madeira.

There’s a lot to unpack as to what grants Madeira the top spot on the list of possible home bases for remote workers. From beautiful year-round weather to affordable high quality foods, insane natural scenery to fulfilling cultural experiences, you’ll try to find reasons not to live here.

Where is Madeira?

First of all, if you’re just hearing about this place, you’re probably wondering where it even is and why it’s so special. Madeira isn’t a country but an archipelago belonging to Portugal. In this archipelago of four islands, the main and largest island of the same name is the place to add to your nomad destination bucket list.

Situated off the northwest coast of Africa in a rift zone of the Atlantic Ocean, Madeira is one of Europe’s few places that has a subtropical climate. In spite of its relative proximity to its more famous Spanish neighbour, the Canary Islands, it offers a very different experience for its visitors. With a laid-back atmosphere, jaw-dropping natural scenery, affordable costs and impeccable local cuisine, you are in for a treat.

What Benefits Are There in Living and Working Remotely in Madeira?

Optimal Climate and Unique Landscapes

Madeira isn’t called the “Hawaii of Europe” for no reason!

There are unique flora and fauna that you will find nowhere else in the world but in Madeira. The richness in lush laurel forests coupled with its unique geology and volcanic history lay the groundwork for a beautiful ecosystem. And in turn, majestic landscapes and colourful environments that are unlike any other.

With its mild, subtropical climate, you’re guaranteed to be able to partake in outdoor activities year-round. It is a haven for hikers, scuba divers, surfers and yogis alike! And this island makes the perfect place for an exciting road trip to venture to every stunning corner, from sea level to 1861m in the sky.

From volcanic sea cliffs to black sand beaches, mountain peaks and cloud inversions to moody forests, hidden waterfalls to deep valleys, the natural scenery is diverse in so many capacities. Add in six centuries of Portuguese history, development and cultivation, you’ve got yourself quite the scenic playground for you to roam in your free time. Hiking is HUGE in Madeira because of the whole spectrum of landscapes you’ll come across, especially with the islands many well constructed veredas (paths) and levedas (irrigation tunnels).

Affordability of Cost of Living

Portugal is already ranked as the cheapest country in Western Europe to live in. With an average monthly budget of €1200 for living expenses, it’s quite affordable, particularly for expats and foreigners choosing to reside here. Madeira is even more affordable to live in compared to mainland Portugal, though the island has seen a substantial increase in housing costs since the start of the pandemic. This isn’t much different from what the rest of the world has experienced, so rental prices in Madeira are still relatively low, especially for Europe.

Comparing to other popular digital nomad destinations in Europe, like Budapest, Hungary and Barcelona, Spain, Madeira definitely sets the bar for more affordable cost of living. Of course, Budapest and Barcelona are large metropolises and have a lot to offer in another sense. But the capital city of Madeira, Funchal, is a hub of its own. Its rich history and cultural heritage are a magnet for travellers who are looking for this vital piece of the European living experience.

Living in Funchal

You can walk just about everywhere in this slice of European paradise, marvelling at the Madeiran architecture densely laid out between the cobblestone roads. You can climb the steep hills or take the iconic cable car up to Monte Palace, secluding yourself in this hideaway’s botanical gardens while peering over the countless terracotta roofs and out to the endless view of the Atlantic Ocean. Funchal has many characteristics of a mainland European city while being more affordable and on a smaller scale.

It’s easy to get away with living here without a car, as everything is in close proximity. You can book a longterm stay in an apartment and be in walking distance of your local grocery shop, dining streets, nightlife, and co-working space like Cowork Funchal.

If needed, Madeira’s public transportation system is reliable and reasonably priced too. On average, you’re looking at about €2 one-way to anywhere in Funchal. And to get to the other side of the island leaving Funchal, the ticket price is about €4! Although, it might be confusing at first as there are three different companies that operate transit around the island. So a little studying of the system beforehand may be necessary!

Dining has the potential of also being on the low side of the cost spectrum. But like any other city in Europe, you can get a meal for €5 or €50 depending on what you’re looking for. Grocery expenses are similar to what you’ll find in mainland Portugal, but the quality of produce is pretty unbeatable. We found some amazing fresh fruits and vegetables in Madeira that tasted way better than what we could find in the rest of Europe, but for a decent price!

Living in Ponta do Sol

You can choose to live in the archipelago’s capital city or you can opt in for something quieter and more secluded. Ponta do Sol might just be your ideal spot for that. It’s a beautiful village with a Mediterranean vibe, and with a name like “tip of the sun”, it’s known for being the sunniest place on the island. It’s also pretty centrally located to all the main must-visit hot spots on the island!

During our time in Madeira, we stayed in Ponta do Sol, high up on the cliffs of Canhas. Our humble yet sizeable walk-out villa overlooked the village and ocean so beautifully that we contemplated a life of retirement here. It was certainly hard to leave our homey ocean view abode when we departed the island! In Canhas, we also felt a lot more centrally located when it came to exploring the island. Whether we wanted to hit up São Lourenço, São Vicente, Porto Moniz or Pico do Arieiro, we were just within an hour ride away.

Vehicle Rentals

Unlike in Funchal, we did prefer having our own car to get around whilst staying in Ponta do Sol. Especially with our accommodations up on the hill instead of in the centre of the parish, it was a little trickier getting around by foot. While our accommodations were very affordable for the space we got, we weren’t in walking distance to get groceries or other necessities. It was about a 10-15 minute drive to get to where we needed to go, and hit up the large Continente supermarket. Nonetheless, the convenience of having our own vehicle outweighed the cost for us. And we made it up by having a cheaper place to stay in and access to more affordable grocery selections!

In reality, renting a car in Madeira was one of the cheapest it has ever been for us in Europe. When we take into account the length of time we spent here and the fact that we were here during high season, it’s definitely on the low side of what we’ve paid for rentals in Europe. Not to mention, Sixt gave us an Audio A6! Pretty snazzy ride to carve through the smooth mountain roads. Another point for Madeira is the fact that there are no toll roads unlike in the rest of Portugal! So the cost of driving is reduced to only the rental and gas. In spite of the winding roads that carve through the mountain sides, it’s actually incredibly easy to drive in Madeira as the roads are so pristine and well maintained!

If a car is not the best option for you, it’s easy to rent a motorbike in Ponta do Sol or Funchal for a fraction of the car rental price! You can even book scooter rentals directly through your co-living space like in Ponta do Sol’s Nomad Village (more on that later)! That is if you’re considering accommodations shared with other like-minded folks.

Quality of Life & Work-Life Balance

With a population of only a quarter of a million people, Madeirans don’t experience the same hustle culture as many other regions throughout Western Europe. Portuguese people already tend to share this intrinsic love of life. My dad is the truest definition of a Portuguese man – extremely hardworking but enjoys the smallest things in life. Especially good food, his garden and a smooth glass of wine!

The people of Madeira aren’t far off in terms of sharing this joy of living with their mainland compatriots. And you can straight up feel it in the air the moment you land in Madeira! It’s also one of the safest places to visit as there is so little crime here. Did I also mention that Portugal is the sixth safest country in the world? You can just imagine how much safer Madeira is compared to mainland Portugal. The laid-back island vibes mixed with full-of-life Portuguese culture are enough reason to consider living here and getting involved with its thriving communities.

Madeirans are known for being some of the friendliest people in the world and are very welcoming of foreigners. Especially when visitors get to know them and partake in their way of life. The island is booming as a digital nomad destination, which can bring in many cost increases especially for housing. It comes with the territory of being an increasingly top place for travellers to flock to. As digital nomads, it’s important for us to remember that and not just take what we can and leave. But instead, we should aim to build up the places we call home, even temporarily, by getting involved with the local community.

This island is a fruitful place to make your base while having the privilege to work anywhere in the world. Most passport holders from around the globe, even non-EU citizens, can stay in Portugal – and by extension Madeira – for up to 90 days in a 180-day period with a tourist visa. It’s quite the length of time to enjoy everything that this island has to offer. From its rich cultural experiences to its unique nature and landscapes, you’ll probably start wondering why you didn’t make your way here earlier!

What Infrastructures and Amenities Does Madeira Have for Digital Nomads?

With the growing increase of remote workers heading to Portugal, the country started getting ahead of the game to facilitate and incentivize digital nomads to reside here. The D7 Visa has existed for some time now and is one of the easiest visas to get in Europe to reside in an EU country with proof of a passive income. The new D8 (Digital Nomad or Temporary-Stay) Visa is a great alternative to the D7. It’s specifically targeted to digital nomads, providing a residence permit for a full 12 months. If you don’t think your 90 days on a short-stay tourist visa is enough, this is the fast track for applying for a more long-term residence in Portugal!

Madeira has also placed plans in motion to incentivize remote workers coming to the island. They’ve set up government-funded programs to attract us nomad types so that we can feel most at home and mingle with like-minded people in this destination. One of the most recent initiatives was piloted in 2021 and is still going strong.

The World’s First Digital Nomad Village

With the regional government of Madeira’s helping hand, Startup Madeira launched the pilot project: Digital Nomads Madeira Islands. This initiative made it possible to create the Digital Nomad Village, the first of its kind. Central Ponta do Sol was selected for this new village. It’s now become a hub for new and upcoming co-living spaces, a completely free co-working space funded by the government, and a virtual space to get connected with other digital nomads as well as the local community.

The best affordable furnished apartments or new co-living accommodations are right at your fingertips when you register to get in touch with the digital nomad village crew. They can also help you in arranging any car or motorbike rentals, or simply give you local info on the island’s public transit system. When it comes to special events, local festivals and even group activities to join in on, you’ll be in the know. And of course, who can say “no” to access to a well equipped co-working space in the middle of this coastal town?

Both Funchal and Ponta do Sol have an amazing set up for digital nomads. One of our favourites though is in the more remote parish of Jardim do Mar at Casa Cecilia. Sitting on the edge of a quiet sea cliff, this family-owned property with 11 rooms creates the cutest Madeiran family vibe. It’s one of the most affordable co-living spaces on the island with a private room starting at €690 per month! With it comes access to the shared workspace, fibre optic Internet, a fully equipped kitchen, weekly cleaning and family dinners, and in-room desks for a private workspace. This Nomadico collection property is in short walking distance to local grocery shops and a short drive away from Ponta do Sol as well!

Strong Internet Connectivity

Internet connection is something you pretty much don’t have to worry about in Western Europe. In Madeira, having Internet issues is highly unlikely. There’s nearly 100% bandwidth coverage across the island and average download and upload speeds of 83 Mbps and 49 Mbps, respectively. Madeira has the highest fixed Internet speeds in all of Portugal. It’s extremely reliable and you’ll quite frankly get pretty spoiled with it.

Most cafés in the larger towns like Funchal will have free wifi to connect to. It goes without saying that at the repertoire of co-working spaces, the wifi is free and easy to access. Even if you’re out and about in the historical part of Funchal, you can connect to a free wifi network by logging into “Município do Funchal”. But if that doesn’t suffice and you need to get a data plan, you can continue using a European data plan if you already have one.

For shorter term stays, we always advocate for getting an e-SIM and our absolute favourite e-SIM platform is Airalo. We managed so well with our Portuguese e-SIM and you can get them at such a reasonable price! $17 for 10GB valid for 30 days is pretty unbeatable. It never failed us. Even when we were hiking to and from the tallest peak on the island Pico Ruivo, we still had service!

Health & Wellness Facilities

Medical Services

Madeira boasts some of the best healthcare services in the world for both residents and visitors. They have top medical facilities with modern hospitals, clinics and medical centres with state-of-the-art technology and equipment. At these institutions, they adhere to high standards of healthcare delivery. Healthcare professionals are highly skilled and many of the medical staff have been trained internationally and are well-versed in the latest medical advancements. Hospitals are well-equipped in order to handle a range of medical emergencies and treatments. With advanced surgical facilities, diagnostic equipment and even specialized departments, it’s easy to find the services you need in Madeira.

These islands have actually built a reputation of being a top medical tourism destination! So a lot of individuals worldwide who are seeking specialized treatments, wellness programs and even cosmetic procedures have been making their way to Madeira for top of the line services.

With cutting-edge treatments for all sorts of diagnoses, access to great primary care, 24/7 medical assistance and emergency services, you can be be sure you’ll be well taken care of here. For residents, Madeira provides a comprehensive health insurance coverage which is fantastic! You can get a wide range of medical services without worrying about the financial burdens. But for those of staying here on tourist visas, it’s important to ensure we have our own health insurance! SafetyWing is our most recommended as they provide amazing well-rounded emergency medical insurance as well as travel insurance. All for $45 a month! It’s the best affordable travel insurance out there for digital nomads.

Fitness Amenities

Fitness has been pretty much bred into the lifestyle of Madeirans. Getting out and feeding your soul with a healthy dose of exercise is important not only to Madeira’s locals but to those who seek to come here as well. Even for a population of 250,000, the island’s residents have built a number of gyms, workout studios and other fitness facilities in the larger southern towns of the island. Funchal of course has the most fitness centres, most of which are in walking distance from the town centre. Yoga, Pilates, Crossfit and other bodyweight workout styles are quite popular within the communities. If you join an online community of a co-living or co-working space, you’ll never find the group activities calendar empty of fitness classes or outings.

We can’t forget that Madeira is a whole playground for outdoorsy folks! It’s got everything in nature to keep you active. The paved levadas and well-trodded veredas are a great starting point to get active outside. The hikes we did in Madeira, including Ponta de São Lourenço and Pico do Arieiro to Pico Ruivo are amongst the most well constructed hiking routes we’ve ever done. And let’s not forget all of the amazing waterfall chasing, swimming, surfing, diving you can do on or around the islands.

Recap of the Digital Nomad Life in Madeira

There you have it! You can’t get much better than Madeira when it comes to finding the perfect place to live in while working remotely. It covers pretty much every base for being liveable, workable and all around a great place for new experiences. You love the mountains? Great, there are so many well constructed and off-the-beaten-path trails that will have you towering over rocky cliffs and overlooking cloud inversions, oceans and dense forests. You enjoy the water? Every inch of shore is laden is clear waters frequented by whales, dolphins and other marine life, and lapping waves that are a surfer’s dream.

Portugal is already deemed as one of the best places to live in as a digital nomad. The islands of Madeira bring even more to the table than their mainland big brother. With high Internet speeds, abundant co-working spaces, and an ever-growing digital nomad community, it’s easy to keep your business and work running, especially with accountability partners in your presence. While also meeting new like-minded people and enjoying the life side to the fullest of your work-life balance! Affordable housing and vehicle rentals, greatly priced and quality foods everywhere you go, rich culture, festivals and nightlife make it an even easier choice.

If you’re already contemplating your next destination to live abroad while working remotely, the choice is easy! You can start with your free 90 days first – check if you’re eligible for this automatic tourist visa. And if you can’t get enough of Madeira after three months, the long-term digital nomad friendly D7 and D8 visas are just a few clicks away!

Comments (2)

  • Supraja Lakshmi N

    July 10, 2023 at 10:38 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your article about Madeira as a digital nomad destination. You have captured the beauty and charm of this island very well, and I appreciate the practical tips and insights you shared. I have been dreaming of visiting Madeira for a long time, and your article has inspired me to make it happen soon. Thank you for sharing your experience and recommendations. I hope you continue to explore and enjoy this amazing place. Cheers!

    1. laurenslighthouse

      July 12, 2023 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you! It was an absolute blast on this island and we would love to go back. So much to be explored! And it’s such a beautiful place to live in.

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