Finding Work in Portugal

We may earn commission from companies mentioned on this blog, however our praise cannot be bought!

The sure-fire way to get short shrift as a new member of any of the expat forums is to make your first post read something like this:

“Hi, I’ve been to Albufaira couple of times and think I want to move to Portugal. Can ne1 tell me how to find work in Portugal. I am a secretary and my hubbie is a plasterer. We dnt speak any Portugese but are happy to lern.” (sic.)

You see this kind of post a lot, and the people posting them do tend to get savaged a little bit! The fact is, the employment situation is the main reason why expats who fancy a life in the sunshine can’t just pack their things and get on the next Easyjet flight.

In this, the second of my series of articles about the costs and realities of moving to Portugal, I explore the situation with regards to finding employment in Portugal……

Work in Portugal

If you only spoke Portuguese, Russian or Mandarin, would you expect to be able to arrive in England or the USA and quickly find a job in your chosen field? Of course not! So let’s start off there.

If you cannot speak Portuguese, your employment prospects are not exactly zero, but they ARE crap. Let’s be honest about that. Although I’m not looking for a job, I have done a lot of

Working in Portugal - the commute for some Lisbon residents
Working in Portugal – the commute for some Lisbon residents

research in terms of the kind of jobs I COULD do and all I have really seen in a year in Portugal is very low paid seasonal bar and restaurant work and jobs selling property which are invariably commission only.

So, if you happen to be 18 years old, with a free room in your parents villa, fancying a summer of sand, sangria and Sagres, you might find what you are looking for. Fancy a permanent move? Not so much.

When I say “very low paid,” I do MEAN very, especially by British or American standards. Legal minimum wage here is 450 euros per month BEFORE tax and social security, and a lot of workers are on this wage. Note that I said “legal” minimum wage. If you don’t speak Portuguese and are after casual catering work, being offered €12 plus tips for a 6/7 hour cash-in-hand shift is quite possible – I’ve spoken to youngsters getting this much.

If you can speak good Portuguese, obviously you have more options and the combination of fluency in Portuguese and English is quite desirable. The wages are still scarily low compared to “back home” though. 8500 euros is the average annual Portuguese wage. Obviously people do earn a lot more than this, but it depends on the field you are in—and consider as well the fact that the highly paid jobs are not down here in the sunny Algarve, but more likely in the main cities of Lisbon and Porto.

Before I descend too far into doom and gloom though, all is not necessarily lost. If you are of an entrepreneurial persuasion there’s no real reason why a good business idea cannot succeed in Portugal, although the language barrier could affect both the ease of setting up and your ability to attract local customers as well as fellow expats. The tax and social security implications are also very important here, and beyond the scope of this article.

Starting a business is an option though, and you are likely to find SOME of the start-up costs lower than back home, especially if you are thinking of renting a cafe or bar.

Finally, be sure to remember that in the case of ANY service business, you will be competing with local companies and therefore have to pitch your pricing realistically. Also, some trade qualifications won’t be valid here, so don’t assume you can come here and be an electrician or plumber, without retaking your exams… Portuguese.

So, there’s the slightly off-silver lining in what seems to be a sizeable cloud. There are however a couple of other options open to you that could rescue your Portuguese dream:

Working Remotely from Abroad

Depending on what you do for a living, your existing employer may be convinced to let you become a remote worker. You will need a progressive, modern-thinking boss for this to be an option, but there are benefits to your company as well as to you. Remote access technologies, Skype and cheap broadband mean that other than our physical presence, there is little you can’t do sitting in your living room in Portugal that you can do in the office.

Try to sell your boss on a higher level of productivity, less interruptions, higher morale, more time for actual work, less time commuting and a reduction in office costs. If you currently work in the UK there isn’t even a time difference to worry about.

Old-school bosses, jealous fellow employees and having a job which requires your physical presence can all serve to prevent this from being an option, but it’s worth considering. The Internet has made a “global workforce,” a reality, and if you are a valued employee working for a forward thinking employer, they may be more open to suggestions than you would expect.

If you are interested in this option and for some tips to help convince your employer, have a read of “The Four Hour Work Week,” by Tim Ferriss.

Working Online

Whatever you do, don’t just open Google and type “make money online.” 99% of the things that come up will be scams. There are, however, some online work options that are a reality, as long as you accept that nothing is instant and all require you to put in hard graft.

If you can write and have experience you can sign up to online content providers such as Brighthub and Demand Media. Using the latter, you can genuinely make a full time income, if your writing skills are up-to-par and you have sufficient knowledge of some of the topics.

Online work providers such as Elance and ODesk are possibilities too. These marketplaces allow you to bid for contracts to provide a huge range of services: secretarial work, virtual assistance, proof reading, customer service – the list is endless.

Sounds good doesn’t it? If you have the relevant skills, it can be – but there is a “but,” as there always is. You are competing for these jobs with providers in India and the Philippines who are bidding to work for $2 per hour. There are however, people out there happy to pay fairly for your skills, you just have to put a lot of time into finding them, and accept you may have to do some low paid tasks to build up strong feedback to allow you to get a look in with the decent employers.

If you can do IT work and / or web design, you should be able to find work to do remotely, especially if you already have clients from “back home.” IT brings me tidily onto IT skills in general, which are essential for any online working opportunity – if you can’t get quickly and proficiently around a computer, online working is probably not for you!

I’ve recently started a project called which may well help if you’re in the market for remote working options.

Working in Portugal - the trade off
Working in Portugal – the trade off

Well, there you have it. A summing up of your work options if you wish to pursue the dream of a life in Portugal. How realistic it is really depends on your skills and how far you are willing to take a risk. Working for yourself brings with it no sick pay, holiday pay , pension, free training or any of the other trappings of “working for the man” – so it’s not for everyone. Similarly, working remotely can bring with it a feeling of isolation and being out of the loop.

Nothing’s perfect or simple, but one or a combination of these options may bring you sufficient income to live in the sun. We left behind a lot of security and ready cash in order to live here – and no amount of money would drag us back.

If you missed the previous part of this series, you can find it here: Cost of living in Portugal.

If you are serious about moving to Portugal, then I am equally serious in recommending our essential book!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

The book is also available in the USA and Canada via this link.

Image credits: JSome1 and Tourshelp

Share This Post

30 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Thanks for the well written post, just what I’ve always suspected.

    When I hear of grown up adults say that they are going to fund a move to portugal or spain by working in a bar/restaurant/cafe etc I cringe. Not only are there massive language barriers but also you are competing with locals who want those jobs. And as you say the pay is a pittance.

  2. An excellent post, as usual. I also go on the forums and sometimes chortle when i see people saying that their 18 year old sons want 6 euros an hour for odd jobbing. if only eh.

  3. Yeah!! I’m nodding my head furiously, informed-ly, and thankfully that i have a business i can effectively do anywhere. On the moon! I’m a translator working in a former Portuguese colony. It’s been six years- time to mvoe on- to the place i’m naturally most curious about, Portugal! (All that cohabitation with people who at first glance seem to be ‘like me’ but then say something off the charts, like sneezing means you’re hungry… i know, what?!)
    I went to Portugal earlier this year for the first time, fell in love with the palce, vowed to go back. I’m going this month! Can’t beleive it’s almost here! Your advice seems to be invaluable, i’ll keep coming back here. I speak Portuguese- but this will be the first time i’ve spent an extensive amount of time there, rented an apartment etc. Willing student!
    Keep writing…

  4. Interesting post.

    For my business, a big problem would be the lack of ‘seamlessness’ of skype – or at least my understanding of skype is that the person on the other end has to also use skype,and know when you intend to use it.

    What I would need would be a way of telephoning clients in the UK without them realising I am abroad and not calling from an office in Croydon. The solution would also need to not end up costing the earth.

    Something like skype, but ‘seamless’.

    Any ideas?

  5. Hi Steve,

    Skype is actually more “seamless” than you think!

    There are various extra services offered which fill in the gaps, for example:

    1. I pay, I think, €60 per year to have an incoming Skype number. This is a London 020 number which anyone can call that makes my Skype ring. My Skype is on all the time my computer is on. If it is off, it diverts to voicemail. I can even divert my incoming Skype calls to my Portuguese mobile.

    The 020 number means clients calling from London are just calling a London number, with no additional costs involved.

    2. I also pay under €5 per month to have unlimited outgoing calls to all UK landlines. When I call, it shows my 020 London number in the caller ID. I can also call UK mobiles for around 10p per minute.

    Other than a VERY occasional crackly call (perhaps 1 in 50 calls at worst,) it is seamless for me, and also for my wife who uses it every day, including joining international conference calls regularly.

    Would that work for you?

  6. Hi Mandy,

    Thank you for visiting the blog and for your kind comments. I hope you enjoy your trip here and that the weather stays nice and sunny as it is now for you.

    Best wishes

  7. Wow!

    Cheers for that! I’ll have to seriously look into Skype. That could open up a whole world of possibilities!

  8. Hi there,
    What is work like for teachers? Im a qualified primary school teacher.

  9. Great post, I’ve been reading your blog for a while because… Let’s face it, I’m another person who wants to move to Portugal. I speak portuguese, english and spanish (I’m from Southamerica) that helps but it wont be easy at all, specially for the job issue and obviusly the permissions that I will need to stay… I visited Portugal 3 times since I moved to Europe (and I have more visits to do soon) but each time I go there I know that I want to stay… Time will tell!!
    Thanks for writing so honestly and shared your experience. All the best!! 🙂

  10. Hi Claire, So sorry to be so long to reply, I have been rather busy. Teacher jobs are the one thing you DO occasionally see in the English language newspapers, in fact I think I saw an ad in either the Algarve Resident or the Portugal News quite recently. There are a number of international school across the country so that would be where to start.

    Best wishes,


  11. Hi Carolina,

    I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. Thanks for visiting!

    Best wishes,


  12. “All the need for women’s, mens and also children’s ugg uggs has become incredible, significantly in excess of the targets” says Dana Beament, who owns Developed Australian-based uggs company cheap uggs boots. “Folks are buying ugg boot thus speedily that individuals are battling to obtain inventory to maintain the orders. At the moment we have been taking back again requests the ones remain prepared to hang on to a few months for his or her legitimate Aussie [url=]ugg boots on sale[/url] diploma ugg booties”.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  13. Hi,

    Most of the English expats that I know are TEFL teachers (teachers of English as a second language). Most language schools require you to have a university degree and a certificate or diploma to teaching English (CELTA, DELTA or equivalents). Earnings can be better than average.

    I’ve been living and working as a teacher in North Portugal for 25 years!

  14. Hi Frances,

    Teaching English is definitely a great way to find work in Portugal and, as you say, one that many ex-pats turn to. It does require a bit of planning in order to obtain the relevant qualifications, but it’s worth spending the time planning ahead if it means you can get secure, long-term work here.

    Best wishes,


  15. Hello Ben and Louise, I have been doing a lot of reading in your blog today, I love that its so real and down to earth and this is exactly the kind of information I need and here is why: I am Veenzuelan living in Madrid, work as a Marketing manager for a relocation company, my boyfriend is British, a Londoner, we did long distance for a while but despite the crisis affecting Spain he managed to find a well paid job in Madrid and moved in with me less than a year ago. His job requires him to travel back and forth to Lisbon to visit clients, this means he goes to Portugal at least once a month.
    He fell in love with Lisbon since day one, specially with the portuguese, he says that Portuguese are very welcoming and helpful, compared with the cultural differences between the english and Spanish, for him the Portuguese are the middle ground.
    A few weeks ago one of his clients approached him and asked him if he would consider relocating to Portugal to work for them.
    They are offering him far better money that he’s making in Madrid (almost double) which for the portuguese market and cost of living expenses is more than a fair ammount of money. But it obviously is not only about the money but the quality of life, having places like Algarve so close, the perfect weather most of the year etc. and its also a great oportunity for his careeer

    Last weekend we both flew to Lisbon, he wanted me to see the city and make sure this is something I also want since he says he won’t take the job unless both of us are sure.
    Here is the thing, neither of us speak Portuguese, for him it won’t be a problem since speaking spanish and english will be good to get him by on this new job. But in my case I will have to quit my job here (which I don’t really love, and the money isn’t perfect either) but I will have to economically depend on him for I don’t know how long until I manage to speak fair Portuguese and are able to get a job.

    I guess what I am trying to ask with this long letter (sorry didn’t realise I needed to let so much out) Do you know anything about the portuguese job market especifically in Lisbon? any tips or agencys that could help?

    Thanks and keep up this blog, it is actually very helpful!

  16. Hi Rveg,

    Thank you for your comments and I am glad that you have found the blog useful.

    It certainly sounds like you have a big decision ahead of you. I don’t know specifics about the job market in Lisbon, but Portugal has obviously been down a fairly rocky road in terms of employment opportunities over recent years, just as Spain has.

    Having said that, I do believe that there are always opportunities in a big city if you look hard enough – it’s just that they might not be suited to what you are doing now/where you want to go with your career. Maybe a good place to start would be by speaking to a few agencies. I found a useful list here:

    Best of luck, whatever decision you eventually make 🙂

    Best wishes, Lou

  17. Hi, I’m a 56 year young female, looking to move to the south of Portugal. Portimao and or Alvor would be the best.
    I do speak the language but do not write it but am ready to learn.
    I also speak French.
    I am willing to work a few times a week. Ideally is full time.
    I have been working with all different kind of people. Customer Service, sales, PR and Public speaking. I do have office experience as well for I did work for myself for years.
    Presently I am a leasing specialist for one of Canada’s leading apartment buildings.
    I am as well an event planner. Presently organizing high school reunion of over 400 students.
    I drive as well and am not afraid of hard work.

    Thank you kindly for taking this moment.
    Please help me!


  18. Hi Elizabeth,

    Work is not that easy to come by in Portugal at the moment, but your varied experience and ability to speak the language certainly put you in a better position than many people who move here.

    There are many property rental agencies and hotels in the Algarve, so perhaps your leasing experience and language skills might suit working with one of those? I would certainly recommend a reconnaissance trip over here to check out the opportunities for yourself before making the move.

    Best wishes,


  19. Hello there,

    My partner and I are considering a move to Lisbon, although we do not speak Portuguese at present. I have a CELTA English teaching qualification and a PGCE for secondary school teaching and therefore hope to find teaching work. From what I’ve seen on this site and others, teaching work is available.

    My partner is a web designer/programmer/front-end developer. We lived in Berlin for 7 years and most of the web agencies there work for international clients and English is normally widely spoken in the office and a valued skill. I was just wondering if there might be similar possibilities in Lisbon (if you happen to know anything about this industry) or if lack of Portuguese language skills, in the first instance, would be a major obstacle to finding work in this area. Obviously language skills would come with time, as they did in Germany.



  20. Hi Steve,

    Good luck with your plans.

    I have to be honest and say lack of Portuguese WILL be an issue for most jobs. Even if you’re dealing with international clients, Portuguese will be the “in house” language.

    How about freelance web work?

    Best wishes,


  21. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the reply. Freelancing is always an option, although perhaps something we are prejudiced against because of the German system. There as a freelancer you have to pay about €300 a month health insurance, and then get a tax accountant to sort out your tax return because it is so complicated – and that isn’t cheap either (even the Germans do this). Do freelancers have to pay their own health insurance or are they covered by the national system (we are both UK citizens)? It would be useful to know, because when work is scarce, there should be some money coming in from me, but would be good to know about any big bills we hadn’t thought about! do you know any expats who get by with freelancing?




  22. Hi Steve,

    You would have to pay social security in the region of €185 per month – more if you earn a lot. And, yes, you would need an accountant, although it’s all quite simple until you cross €10,000 per year and become subject to IVA (VAT).

    There are certainly people who make a living this way, including my wife and I – they key is having some clients to get you started before moving.

    Best wishes,


  23. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the advice. Was also wondering if you happened to know if there are any cheap Portuguese lessons available for foreigners to integrate? I did one of these integration courses in Germany and it worked out at a euro an hour for 600 hours of lessons. that was in 2008. but i’m not sure if it was an EU-wide policy, just German, or whether it has been stopped now anyway.



  24. Hi Steve,

    Various institutions offer free or very cheap Portuguese lessons. Our local library ran some when we first moved here and a nearby school runs evening classes. Obviously it will depend on where you decide to live, but you should be able to find something in your local area to help you get to grips with the language.

    Best wishes,


  25. Thanks for the well written post, I am from India, just what I’ve always suspected.

    When I hear of grown up adults say that they are going to fund a move to portugal or spain by working in a bar/restaurant/cafe etc I cringe. Not only are there massive language barriers but also you are competing with locals who want those jobs. And as you say the pay is a pittance.

Post Comment