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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in Portugal

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: April 2015

Work Culture

At first glance, the Portuguese workplace is quite traditional and rather formal. When greeting people, you should use titles if they are known, such as Senhor Professor for a university professor; otherwise, use Senhor or Senhora with the person’s surname. Only use a first name when your colleague has invited you to do so. The dress code is the usual suit and tie for men and a dress or trouser suit for women, but the locals will appreciate it if you add a touch of flair. 

At a business meeting, you should shake hands with everyone both before and afterwards. Once these formalities are over, the atmosphere of the meeting itself is usually quite relaxed. There will normally be social conversation at the beginning and at the end of the meeting. It is during these times that your hosts to get to know you a little. As the Portuguese business style is relationship-based rather than transactional, these times are valuable.

The structure of most businesses is strongly hierarchical; decisions are almost always made at the top. Note also that family is very important in Portugal, more important than business relations. The Portuguese, even business people, tend to be traditional and conservative. Respect for elders and senior colleagues is expected in the workplace (and elsewhere.) The Portuguese are considerably more reserved than their Iberian neighbours; they are less physically demonstrative and keep their emotions more under control.

Senior company members will always exchange business cards, while junior ones will only do so sometimes. There are no special niceties to observe when presenting them. Many Portuguese business people speak English, though with smaller firms you may need an interpreter. Attempting to speak Spanish to the Portuguese is best avoided.

The Portuguese have a relaxed attitude to timekeeping, especially the southerners. Nevertheless, they may expect you to be on time, and it is best, at least initially, to err on the side of caution. Lunchtime generally runs from 1:00 to 3:00, and no appointments will be honoured between these times. Lunch is seen as a complete break from work and business is not discussed. Most Portuguese take their holidays August (and some in July), so arranging appointments during these months may not bear fruit.

Finally, networking is an integral part of Portuguese business culture. There are numerous business groups and professional associations in Portugal. For more information, see Business Groups, Associations & Networking.

Labour Market

The economy in Portugal, which had previously been healthy, had a very trying time during the global recession. Unemployment peaked at 17% and GDP shrank quite substantially. Since 2013, however, there has been modest growth and unemployment has declined to 13.5%. Problems do remain however. For example, the youth unemployment rate has reached 35% and is still rising.

As jobs are in short supply, Portuguese citizens are given priority, then other EU citizens, and finally non-EU citizens. This means that there are few positions available for those from outside the EU. Currently, moving to Portugal to look for work may not be worthwhile in such cases.

It is generally better to apply and receive an offer for work while still in your home country. Some sectors do have positions available, such as IT, healthcare, tourism and agriculture, and there is also call centre work for those fluent in Portuguese. Intermediate or better ability at Portuguese will be required for the other positions. There are also opportunities for English teachers.




Moving to Portugal

If you are considering moving to Portugal or are soon to depart, you can find helpful information and advice in the Expat Briefing dedicated Portugal section including; details of immigration and visas, Portuguese forums, Portuguese event listings and service providers in Portugal.


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From your safety to shoppingliving in Portugal can yield great benefits as well as occasional drawbacks.  Find your feet and stay abreast of the latest developments affecting expats in Portugal with relevant news and up-to-date information.


Working in Portugal

Working in Portugal can be rewarding as well as stressful, if you don't plan ahead and fulfill any legal requirements. Find out about visas and passports, owning and operating a company in Portugal, and general Portuguese culture of the labour market.



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