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Bupa Global

Your wellbeing guide to living as an expat in Portugal

Working in Portugal

An underdeveloped education system, unemployment and extreme levels of government corruption have inhibited recent economic growth, but Portugal’s friendly climate, beautiful beaches and slower pace of living remain attractive factors drawing overseas workers to put down roots.

Portugal’s economy is split between 10% agriculture, 30% industry and 60% services. In addition to the country’s wine and tourism industries, it also exports textiles such as clothing and footwear, machinery, chemicals, cork and paper products. More recently, the country has been seen to specialize in electronics, shipping, rail and aerospace equipment.

Portugal’s official language is Portuguese, although English is widely spoken. Most employees work in Lisbon as the city is Portugal’s cultural, commercial and industrial hub, offering an extensive public transport network, architecture spanning from baroque to postmodern.

EU citizens do not require a work permit or visa to be employed in Portugal but may require a residence permit from the Immigration and Border Control department to give proof of residence when seeking employment. Portugal is also part of the Schengen visa zone, representing 26 EU countries. US citizens travelling to Portugal for tourism or business do not need a VISA.


Portugal offers 2000km of coastline, on which its culture gastronomy and lifestyle are based. The main cities of Lisbon and Porto have fantastic views and unspoilt beaches, although the Algarve is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination, with more than 7 million foreign tourists per year.

Temperatures range from 12C in January to 33C in July. Rainfall is also higher in winter months. The Algarve has a very stable climate, influenced by the Atlantic and Mediterraneas and its proximity to North Africa. Nevertheless, coastal breezes keep temperatures down to a reasonable level.

Cost of living

Portugal’s Cost of living index (excluding rent) ranges from 45.49 in Braga to 50.87 in Lisbon (compared to an NYC comparison of 100% and a London comparison of 94.82%). Although there has been an increase in crime in the past 3 years, general safety levels are very good and residents feel safe to walk alone at night.

Attractions, food and drink

Portugal offers a wide range of outdoor attractions including the country’s fabulous Algarve beaches, natural attractions such as Quinta da Regaleira (Sintra) and Caldeira das Sete Cidades (Ponta Delgada). Meanwhile, the country’s resorts offer an array of beach bars and watersports.

Alentejo is Portugal’s biggest wine region and offers vineyard tours that also offer regional cheeses and smoked hams, while the Duoro wine region, classified as a World Heritage site in 2001 offers specialities such as Port.

Local cuisine offers a wide range of grilled meat and fish dishes including the nation’s famous salt cod (bacalhau) as well as hearty stews and casseroles, all served with rice, potatoes or salad. Tourist areas often offer a three course meal or ‘ementa turistica’. Bread or olives are often offered as a starter when diners are seated and represent a form of cover charge.

Portugal has around 900,000 foreign nationals. Most live in Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve, although some live around the Silver Coast and in other areas. There are many online forums and groups allow expats to contact and guide each other on any issues they may face on making a permanent move.

Business/Working Life

Portugal observes standard business hours of 8.30am – 6pm. There is a statutory maximum 40-hour working week.

Employees are entitled to 13 public holidays. All employees are allowed a minimum of 22 working days holiday.

The key to successful negotiations is respect for Portuguese culture and values.

Portuguese business is hierarchical. Face to face meetings are preferred and written or telephone communications are seen as impersonal. In meetings, it’s customary to shake hands but business cards are exchanged at the end of the meeting, never at the beginning.

Punctuality is not seen as important, particularly in Southern Portugal, so try not to be offended if you’re kept waiting for up to 20 minutes. Emphasis on preparation may be minimal so it can be a good idea to offer to write up meeting minutes to make sure that agreed points are followed and to summarise actions at the end of a meeting.

Verbal and written statements aren’t given the same status as in the UK or Germany so it’s best to await contractual confirmation for key business agreements.

Business dress is usually formal, even in modern or creative industries. Long sleeved shirts are advisable for men and rolling up your sleeves is not acceptable unless your companion does so first. Women’s business dress includes trousers and trouser suits and conservative fashion is preferred.

If invited to a meal, men should wear a tie. In Portuguese society in general, clothes are often used to express status and success and it’s wise to be aware of current fashion trends.

Accommodation/Where to live/Housing

Most expats live in Portugal’s major North Western cities such as Lisbon and Porto. In Lisbon, many multinational corporations are based in Oeiras, so it’s a good idea to consider commuting times when relocating and may be wise to avoid the main tourist areas if you’re looking for more reasonable options.

Getting Around

Both Lisbon and Porto have underground and tram systems. Regional bus services are available in most other locations.

Taxis are reasonably priced, though prices are approximately 20% higher at night, at weekends and on national holidays. Available cabs are marked with an A and metered fares are generally cheaper than flat rates. On weekdays you can expect to pay approximately E2.50 plus E0.80 per kilometre. E6 will usually allow you to cross major towns.

Customs/laws to be aware of

It’s a good idea to have your ID to hand as you must show this if asked by the police or judicial authorities. It should be fine to carry a photocopy of your passport’s data page but you may be asked to present the official document.

Gambling is only legal in licenced premises such as casinos and anyone caught in possession of drugs for personal use may be fined or have belongings seized. Drug selling or trafficking is a criminal offence, with severe penalties.


Portuguese residents (i.e. those who have registered with the Town Hall or immigration authorities and have obtained a Residence Certificate) are entitled to register with a local health centre to receive state healthcare. However, EU State Pension holders receiving their pension from another EEA member state but resident in the country should be covered by the state that pays the pension.

In an emergency, call 112 for the local police, ambulance and fire departments. Visit the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website for the latest advice for British people living in Portugal.


Portugal’s official currency is the Euro. To open a bank account you’ll need to fill in two or three different forms, which can be downloaded and handed to your nearest branch.

EU citizens will need to show a passport or identity card; residency card and proof of residence (a document showing your name and address) and obtain a tax number (NIF) and card (Numero Fiscal de Contribuinte) from the local finance office (financas).

Non-EU citizens will need a passport, proof of home address in their country of origin, tax card and proof of profession or employment contract and company details.

Temporary visitors and new residents may use any foreign card with a Visa sign, for example, Barclaycard, Connect, Switch (Visa), Carte Bleu, Visa Electron, MasterCard and American Express.

A wide range of savings, business, online banking and joint accounts are available. Most banks are open between 8.30am and 3.30pm Monday to Friday. They are not generally open at weekends and may close for lunch in smaller towns.


Portuguese taxes are levied by the country’s federal and regional governments. The country has a progressive income tax, with tax bands ranging from 14.5% up to E7,000 of income to 48% for income over E80,000 with many available tax allowances.

If you have not been resident in Portugal for the last 5 years, it may be beneficial to register at the local tax office for Non-Habitual Resident status, which allows a 20% tax rate for 10 years and no double taxation for pensions for employment and self-employment obtained abroad.


Free education is obligatory for children aged 6-16 of parents legally resident in Portugal. Pre-school isn’t obligatory and availability of places varies depending on demand. Private education is refunded by the State in part or in full when local schools lack capacity.

Secondary education is split into three, offering a higher education, work-oriented and artistic programmes.

[All reported figures were accessed in May 2016 and will be validated in May 2017. We make no claims as to their accuracy as they rely on third party sources.]