Doing Business in Portugal
The Portuguese economy has undergone a major transformation since the Revolution of 1974. 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 recent upheaval, with a curious mixture of old-school conservatism and new-age innovation characterising the business world.
Portugal is currently ranked 25th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's 2017 Ease of Doing Business rankings, placing first for trading across borders and excelling in the criteria of enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
Business culture in Portugal
Although the situation is changing every day, business culture in Portugal retains vestiges of paternalism, and of strict hierarchical, 'top-down' approaches to management and leadership.
In Portugal, the strongest business relationships are those built on the trust of individuals – and as a result, nepotism has (in the past) been seen as an advantageous hiring policy. Be sure to allow time for personal connections to develop between oneself and Portuguese business associates – familiarity can go a long way toward ensuring success.
Business etiquette in Portugal also displays an interesting mix of formality and easygoingness – with conduct being at once formal and conservative, yet also warm and relaxed. Use titles ('Señhor' and 'Señhora') 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 be sure to treat any card received with respect.
Business meetings in Portugal must be made by appointment – and should not ordinarily be scheduled for times when they might conflict with important family or religious holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.). Expats will be expected to be punctual, although the hosts might not show the same courtesy in return. Since the official language of business in the country is Portuguese, it is a good idea to provide translations of all important documents, and/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 'do as they're told', rather than to contribute to the decision-making processes.
The dress code in Portugal is strictly smart and formal – with a strong importance placed on 'looking good'. It is not an unfair statement to say that a person’s status in the business world will be gauged by the way in which they present themselves– go for dark colours, with stylish cuts.
Attitude to foreigners in Portugal
Although traces of nepotism are revealed every 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.
Doing business in Portugal: Fast facts
Business language: Portuguese, with English as the official 'second language of business'
Hours of business: Hours vary, but are generally from 8.30am to 1pm, and 3pm to 6pm, from Monday to Friday
Dress: Formal and smart
Gifts: Not given at business meetings (could be seen as inappropriate). If invited to an associate's home, expats should take along some good wine and/or flowers and/or sweets. Avoid giving gifts in numbers of 13 (considered unlucky), and bear in mind that lilies and chrysanthemums are usually given at funerals.
Appropriate greetings: Shaking hands is an appropriate greeting. Expats should shake hands with both male and female colleagues at the beginning and end of a meeting.
Gender equality: Women are ostensibly treated as equals in the Portuguese business world, though it is rare to see them occupying the highest corporate positions.
Dos and don'ts of doing 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