I am going to use the word ‘foreigner’ here, though I always think it an uncomplimentary term, I don’t know why, but it basically means anyone who is not a native to where they are living or intend to live. In Portuguese it is ‘estrangeiro’, but there are some even weirder dictionary definitions – alien, outsider, stranger, greenhorn, outlander, and my favourite – incomer. In the Isle of Man, anyone from the mainland is a ‘come-over’, I know, because I was one once!

So, any ‘foreigner’ lucky enough to be thinking of buying a home anywhere in Portugal might be confused by some of the terms they come across when gazing through the windows of a real estate office.

‘Quinta’ is a term rarely heard of outside of Portugal, and I (as an ‘estrangeiro’) thought it meant the same as ‘fazenda’ (farm), but there is a subtle difference, a quinta being primarily a rural property, especially those with historic manors and palaces in continental Portugal. The term is also used as a name for agricultural estates, such as wineries, vineyards, and olive groves. These were let out for rent of one-fifth of its produce – fifth is quintus in Latin – hence they became known as quintas.

Another term a potential home buyer will come across is ‘T1, T2, V2’ etc. T' is usually used for an apartment, 'V' for a house or villa. The number indicates the number of bedrooms (e.g. T2 = 2 bedroom apartment; V4 = 4 bedroom house).

Casa / villa / moradia – all terms that mean ‘house’, and if it is semi-detached or in a terrace or row, it will be referred to as ‘germinada’, and a detached house or bungalow will be ‘isolada’.

An apartment will be referred to as an ‘apartamento’, and if it is a ground floor apartment will be referred to as ‘rés-do-chão’, and the first floor will be ‘1o andar’ or ‘primeiro andar’.

Other useful terms are to do with the water supply – ‘água de rede’ means the dwelling has mains water, ‘furo’ means it has a borehole, and ‘poço’ means it has a well for water, with ‘cisterna’ meaning water tank - where water is stored if the property has a borehole feed for water.

Other confusing terms are to do with outbuildings – ‘pocilgas’ means pig sheds or low-agricultural use buildings, but ‘armazem’ means warehouse or storage shed.

You might need to know about bathrooms (casa de banho), showers (chuveiro do banheiro), baths (banhos) and toilets (banheiros), maybe how many bedrooms (quartos de dormir) a house might have.

And outside, the garden (jardim) might have a pool (piscina), or a garage (garagem) – and no doubt there are more terms that will be important, but thankfully most real estate offices in Portugal have English speakers on their staff, who would be more than glad to help.

One of the things you will certainly need before buying here is a Portuguese tax (fiscal) number - número de contribuinte - which can be obtained at the local tax office (Finanças). You will need to provide proof of your identity, present address and as well as information on the state of your finances. This fiscal number will also be needed to open a Portuguese bank account and for connecting water, electricity, telephone, etc, after your house purchase is complete.

I am not in the business of buying or selling property, and I know there are millions more questions that I cannot answer, but hopefully the above information could be a starting point in your search for your ideal home!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan