November 04, 2010 by
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
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…..in 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.
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!
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
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