The time when I thought I wasn’t allowed to build anything on the property


In general, anybody can buy a property in Madeira. This also holds for buying land. But, there are some oddities all of us that are buying land in Madeira have to consider.

For instance, you might be allowed to buy a land in general in Madeira, but for some specific properties you are not allowed to build anything on the land. The reason is a law that is meant as some sort of a regulation: they don’t want Madeira to turn into a huge rock with nothing but houses on it. Fair enough. But this is not the same thing as in Austria for instance, where nobody can buy land in a specific protected area or nobody is allowed to build anything in a specific area. In Madeira it might be the case that I am allowed to build on a piece of land that you are not allowed to build on. And this is what I think seems a little bit strange to foreigners – but when you know the reasons it totally makes sense.

For some properties you are only allowed to build on them in case it is going to be your first house in Portugal (yes Portugal, not Madeira). In my case I am allowed to build on my plot only because I do not own any other house in Portugal. I learned that in a meeting in the Câmara Municipal, but more on that later in the post. To be honest, I am still not completely sure whether this means that I am not allowed to buy any other house in Portugal now. Or if it means that when I buy another house, I might lose my first house, haha. I have to say though that I don’t really care – I have my dream plot on my dream location. In case my boyfriend decides to buy something, he can still do so and this way I would have another property, indirectly.

Now let me come to the main topic of this post. In case you are really allowed to buy and build on a property, there might still be some curiosities to consider.

Protected areas in Madeira

There are many different regulations and laws all over the island and there are plots that can be purchased but only used as agricultural land. Therefore it is always recommended to check these things before buying! In my case, the land is located in some sort of a protected area. I say some sort here because, compared to Austria, it is something in between what we call an area where construction is allowed and a protected area.

I always knew that there had to be some constraints on the construction on the land I was interested in. I knew, because there was absolutely nothing around and it seemed to be just the perfect spot for building a house. This, my friends, is always a good indicator that something has to be wrong. For the more fearful (or pessimistic) of us, this is where a slight inner fear begins to rise.

The first thing I learned was that it is in general agricultural land (however, nobody was using it as such). We still tried to find out who the owners were and then later, tried to convince them to sell. Many months later we knew almost all of the owners and almost all of them agreed to sell. I was so happy – but still feared there might be something terribly wrong – and I would end up using the land as a lemon tree farm instead of a place to live. From one of the locals we learned that the land next to the one I was interested in is not suited for construction. You know, the land I own is located on the edge of a cliff, there is nothing really between the land and the ocean. More and more it seemed that you indeed could not build anything on the plot. Anxiety kicked in.

There are several building zones in Madeira

What I would recommend anybody in this situation to do is to get the coordinates of the land (you can do so using google maps) and head directly to the local Câmara Municipal (townhall). This is what I did not do, because I thought I needed some sort of agreement that I was going to buy the land first. Also, at some point I believed that this was something my lawyer would check for me when I decide to purchase the land. As the buying process without an estate agent really is time consuming and sometimes leads to falling into despair, please do not make the same mistake and go check these things alone as soon as you can!

Checking whether you are allowed to build is something that can be done very easily. Like most (official) things in Madeira, the process seems so complicated but in the end it is just a chat with some local. When I finally learned who the person or office in charge of these things was, we tried to get an appointment. Fortunately, I have a very good local friend who knows everybody and anybody on the island. She is also the one who called the respective office to set up an appointment.

Our zone was not the best one

So we ended up having our meeting with somebody in the Câmara Municipal in Calheta (this particular somebody in Calheta is most probably the person in charge of approving your future construction plan so be nice). I was surprised that not everybody speaks English in Calheta, so be prepared to either speak Portuguese or bring a local friend, lawyer or translator. As always, everybody was very nice and it did not take us long to understand that on the map he was showing us one color meant no construction allowed, another meant all is fine and yet another meant there are some restrictions. Our land was in the zone with the restrictions – also the land next to ours, so I told the local afterwards that he was allowed to build on it after all. His land, however, was still not suited for construction. Being that his land was very narrow and that the area it was located in was the one with the restrictions, he had to keep half of the land as it was, which for him meant (together with the restriction of keeping 3 meters distance to the neighbors) he could not build anything besides a pole.

For me the restriction on the construction means that I have to keep half of the plot as it is and on the other half I can build a house. Also, the total area of my house is not allowed to exceed 200m2.

After this meeting I felt relieved. Certainly, for somebody, the restrictions would mean that they are not going to buy the land. Some people wish to have a bigger house, or want to change more than just half of the land they own. Luckily, for me these things were no problems at all.

Lessons learned

Be prepared that the rules and regulations change depending on where your plot is located on the island. I have only had experience with the rules in Calheta. Also, you should really try to find out about the possible restrictions as soon as you can. Sometimes also an architect can help you with this issue, or you really consult a lawyer. Let me also note that most of these things can be checked by yourself using the internet. Just go to the webside of your Câmara Municipal, for Calheta I would consult this homepage. This is all advice I have – if you have more specific questions please ask (also as a comment below if it might be of interest to others as well).

One last story: I have heard many different strange stories about not being allowed to build – one of them involved not being allowed to build because there already was a ruin on one side of the plot. The land was in an area where you are only allowed to put a house on the plot if it is your first house in Portugal. Well, the ruin counted as a house. This problem was later solved by tearing down the ruin. Lotsa love, Hana.


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