Survival Guide to Business in Portugal

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Survival Tips for doing business in Portugal

Portugal is ranked 29 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings. (

The Ease of Doing Business Index ranks countries against each other, where number 1 (New Zealand) has the most business-friendly regulations. While position 29 is not a bad score for Portugal on this index, with doing business we always deal with people. People make the business. This is a true sentence used in many business presentations, but in Portugal, this is really put into effect.

As a Dutch girl growing up with the newest technology to make business going faster and easier, Portugal goes back to letters and personal visits. In Portugal you need to show your face in order to do business while in the Netherlands you shoot someone an e-mail. Here are some tips to get ahead of the game.

  1. Don´t rely on e-mail communication

My e-mail respond time is usually less than half a day. For Home Key I exchange a lot of emails with Northern Europeans. It looks like we all feel very comfortable with emailing back and forth about various subjects. Also, more and more clients contact me via Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger, what I love! Now, exchanging emails with the Portuguese is not so efficient. If you have an urgent question, don´t send an e-mail but pick up the phone and call the person. There is no point in sending an e-mail when you are in the need of a quick response. Your e-mail is not immediately seen, read, or cared for.

  1. Use your phone to call

Apart from Facebook, WhatsApp, taking pictures, navigating and playing games, your phone also has the call function. If your call is not answered, don´t give up and keep trying. Don´t assume he will call you back, because returning calls is not one of the strongest qualities of the Portuguese. Sometimes I try for days to get a hold of someone and it makes me understand how a debt collector must feel.

  1. Confirm the appointment

When persistence wins and an appointment is made for a meeting, it does not mean this is a fixed appointment. Both parties still need to confirm the appointment before the actual appointment will take place. For example:

The appointment is made on a Monday for the coming Friday at 10 am, this appointment still needs to be confirmed on the Thursday before. If you don´t do this and you will show up on the appointed time and place on Friday, you most likely will be stood up.

  1. We have the clock, they have the time

Don´t panic when your date is late. If you confirmed the appointment with him the day or morning before, it is almost guaranteed he will show up. It is allowed to call the person 5 minutes after the appointed time if he is still not there. Assuming he picks up the phone, you will ask: Ainda demora muito? (Do you still take long?)

  1. The secret of doing business in Portugal

Already many times I had the feeling that I just showed up somewhere at the right time at the right place. Something like destiny? You need to go out there, show your face, network. This is important in any business and country, but especially the Portuguese like to do business in person. Go to their office or house to do your business. After you have met the Portuguese in person, they are more likely to respond (faster) to your e-mails and phone calls.

To arrange work or build your network you go to the local coffee places.  Also keep in mind that ´marketing´ is a very expensive and useless word in Portugal.

  1. Business Lunches

A start of a partnership or a negotiation that has more to it than a simple transaction is done over lunch. Where I previously felt very uncomfortable doing business with my mouth full and a waiter interrupting numerous times, it is now normal to me. The Portuguese seem to feel more at ease when you are both working your jaws and not working your mouth to impress each other with fancy words and stiff nods. In the end, we are all people, and the Portuguese like to do business with a person and not with a phone or a computer.

Good luck and enjoy your challenges!

Please feel free to comment about your experiences in Portugal. Do you recognize any of these situations as described above or did you have a completely different experience? I would like to read your stories!

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