The Portuguese economy has undergone a major transformation in recent decades. Its primarily agricultural infrastructure has given way to a modern, service-based economy in line with the rest of the European Union.
Expats will find that doing business in Portugal reflects this change, with a curious mixture of old-school conservatism and new-age innovation characterising the business world.
Portugal is ranked 39th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business survey, placing first for trading across borders and excelling in the criteria of enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
Portuguese is the primary business language of the country, with English often being used as the 'second language of business'.
Hours of business
Hours vary but are generally from 8.30am to 1pm, and 2pm to 6pm, from Monday to Friday.
Business attire in Portugal is generally formal and conservative.
Gifts are not generally given at business meetings and could even be seen as inappropriate. If invited to an associate's home, expats should take along some good wine, flowers or sweets. Expats should also bear in mind that lilies and chrysanthemums are best avoided as they are usually reserved for funerals.
Shaking hands is an appropriate greeting in Portugal. Expats should shake hands with both male and female colleagues at the beginning and end of a meeting.
Women are ostensibly treated as equals in the Portuguese business world, though it is rare to see them occupying the highest corporate positions.
Business culture in Portugal
Although the situation is changing every day, business culture in Portugal retains vestiges of paternalism and strict hierarchical 'top-down' approaches to management and leadership.
Business etiquette in Portugal displays an interesting mix of formality and easygoingness – with conduct being at once formal and conservative, yet also warm and relaxed. Expats should use the titles 'Senhor' and 'Senhora' until strictly instructed not to do so, and show deference to those in obvious positions of authority. There is no specific accepted conduct for the exchange of business cards, but expats should be sure to treat any card received with respect.
Business meetings in Portugal must be made by appointment and should not be scheduled for times that might conflict with important family or religious holidays. Expats will be expected to be punctual, even if the hosts may not be. Since the official language of business in the country is Portuguese, it is a good idea to provide translations of all important documents or to engage the services of a translator to ensure that everyone is on the same page at business meetings.
Teamwork and collaboration on important decisions is not the norm in Portugal. The accepted management style is more directive, and subordinate employees are more often than not expected to follow instructions rather than contribute to the decision-making process.
In Portugal, the strongest business relationships are those built on the trust of individuals and as a result, nepotism has been seen as an advantageous hiring policy. Expats should be sure to allow time for personal connections to develop with Portuguese business associates, as familiarity can go a long way toward ensuring success.
The dress code in Portugal is strictly smart and formal, with a strong importance placed on looking good. It isn't an unfair statement to say that a person’s status in the business world will be gauged by how they present themselves. Expats are advised to choose clothing in dark colours with stylish cuts.
Attitude to foreigners
Although traces of nepotism are revealed now and then, foreigners and foreign investment are increasingly forming an integral part of the modern Portuguese economy. So long as expats treat associates with respect and warmth, they will have no problem integrating themselves into the Portuguese business world.
Dos and don'ts of business in Portugal
Do respect authority
Do be warm and friendly, and willing to make personal connections
Do look smart and professional at all times
Don’t be impatient, let those in power conduct meetings at their own pace
Don’t be resistant to taking instructions from superiors
Don’t be late, rude or self-aggrandising when attending business meetings