Portuguese Business Etiquette

Bem-vindo a Portugal! (‘‘Welcome to Portugal!” in Portuguese)

The coastal European country Portugal (formally known as Portuguese Republic) is located on the Iberian Peninsula, which also houses Spain and Andorra. This Mediterranean nation has a rich history of colonization and, as such, there are people with Portuguese roots all over the world.

Portugal currently has its hands in many industries, most notably: private investments, technology, and the exportation of cork.

Before you embark on a business trip to Portugal, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Portuguese business etiquette.

The Lowdown 

  • The capital of Portugal is Lisbon, which is also the country’s largest city.
  • The official language of Portugal is Portuguese, and about 96% of the population identifies ethnically as Portuguese.
  • Portugal is a unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic.
  • Portugal has a long history of exploration, trade, and colonization of other nations. Famous Portuguese explorers (who you may have learned about in school) include Prince Henry the NavigatorVasco de Gama, and Pedro Álvares Cabral, who discovered Brazil.
  • Family is the center of life in Portugal.
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Portugal is focused on fighting poverty and using corporate resources to improve the community.

Dressing Sharp 

  • You should dress to impress in the Portuguese business setting (be clean and well-groomed). You will be judged on your appearance and clothing.
  • Men should wear a sport coat, slacks, shirt, and tie. Short sleeves are considered too casual for the workplace.
  • Women should wear a pantsuit or a jacket-skirt combination.
  • Very rarely do Portuguese workers “dress down” in the workplace.

Make or Break Meetings 

  • Upon initial meeting, greet the Portuguese party with a handshake, eye contact, and a friendly but polite greeting.
  • Appropriate titles should be used (later, the Portuguese party may tell you to address them less formally).
  • Punctuality is expected, but is not adhered to as rigidly as in other countries. The Portuguese party may be up to twenty minutes late for engagements, which is not unusual.

Dining Decorum 

  • It is acceptable to arrive 15 minutes late for a dinner engagement and up to an hour late for a party.
  • Abide by formal, Continental table manners, and do not appear overly boisterous.
  • At the beginning of the meal, the host will say “bom apetite.” After this, you may begin the meal.
  • Do not eat with your hands or rest your elbows on the table.
  • Do not put the napkin on your lap as you may be accustomed to doing in the US.
  • When you are finished eating, place your utensils face up, parallel on your plate.

Giving and Getting Gifts 

  • Gifts are common in the Portuguese business world; however, the gifts should not be overly expensive (otherwise it may seem like a bribe).
  • Rejecting a gift will likely offend the giver.
  • Christmas is an especially popular time to distribute gifts, especially from bosses to workers.
  • Acceptable gifts include: a trinket from your home country, candy, chocolates, cognac, whisky, or decorative books.
  • It’s not usually wise to give flowers as a gift.
  • Gifts are typically opened upon receipt.

Down to Business 

  • Portuguese business follows a hierarchical structure, so all decision-making power will reside with top-level managers or executives.
  • The Portuguese will get to know you before they decide if you are someone they trust. If they decide they trust you, they will negotiate with you.
  • Most times the Portuguese party will be looking for a long-term business relationship.
  • Negotiations are taken slowly, so have patience.
  • Contracts will not be broken, even if it is a spoken contract.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Portugal, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! 

Adeus! ("Goodbye! in Portuguese)