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The first version of this finding work in Portugal article was published way back in 2010, and turned out to be one of the most popular posts on this website.
When I wrote it, the global financial crisis was just getting started. An awful lot has changed since then, and I’m pleased to report that the situation for people finding work in Portugal has improved considerably. The country is undeniably “on the up.” However, some of the basic truths and realities remain the same.
So, let’s begin with those – but don’t be downhearted until you read the article in full – there are some options for self-employment and remote working that I also cover in this article.
Finding work in Portugal: The Essentials
It should be really obvious that getting a job in Portugal if you don’t speak Portuguese is likely to prove difficult.
It’s not impossible if you have in-demand skills, especially in tech and finance. These jobs are also mostly found in Lisbon or Porto, and we discuss them later in the article.
However, let’s get something really clear from the start:
Uprooting to the Algarve assuming you’ll land a job if all your language skills extend to is ordering a bottle of beer is naive and unrealistic.
Some Brits, especially, seem to have a real blind-spot on this issue. They often fail to make the direct comparison of how limited the job market is for people who arrive in the UK unable to speak English! Yes, some of these people find jobs, but typically rather undesirable minimum-wage jobs. British people hold the slightly embarrassing accolade of being the worst language learners in Europe, so typically have far worse prospects in a foreign land than people arriving in the UK – who are often fluent in two or more languages.
In my first iteration of this article, I said the following – and I stand by it:
If you cannot speak Portuguese, your employment prospects in Portugal are not exactly zero, but they ARE fairly crap.
If you’re a youngster and want to fund a summer of partying and sunbathing with casual bar work then sure, you can probably do that. But this isn’t particularly realistic for grown-ups. Plenty of people come unstuck by thinking they can jump on a plane with a few grand behind them and find work before it runs out. They usually spend the last couple of hundred on a flight home.
It’s also essential to point out just how seasonal this kind of work is. Many parts of Portugal, especially much of the Algarve, have a whole economy based on tourism. Some towns’ populations swell by more than ten times in the summer months. When things quieten down, businesses shed staff as the tourists disappear.
I spoke to a good friend in the Algarve about this before I started updating this article. He told me that some hotels, bars and restaurants “try to keep good workers through the winter, but it’s tough as income drops by at least 70%.”
It’s inevitable that such businesses have to cut their teams to a skeleton over the winter – and this rarely means holding on to people who can’t speak Portuguese!
The Brighter Side
With that doom and gloom out of the way, let’s move onto some better news.
The tourism industry in Portugal is absolutely thriving at the time of writing. While seasonal work really does mean seasonal in most cases, there’s plenty of it. In 2017, as the summer got underway, it even hit the local press just how many vacancies remained unfilled.
This is backed up by reports from “on the ground.” I was told, at the time of writing, that “loads of people with businesses are screaming out for employees now the summer’s approaching, but can’t find people with the right experience.”
So there are seasonal jobs out there. Quite how alluring these jobs are is another matter, however. Typically these jobs involve providing for and cleaning up after tourists – and many are low-paid. Minimum wage in Portugal is €649.83 per month. This is less than half of that in the UK. Yes, the cost of living is lower, but it’s not that much lower.
Working in Portugal’s Cities
Moving away from Portugal’s tourist zones, and the typical jobs you’ll find within them, you can find a rather more pleasing picture in the cities, especially Lisbon.
Lisbon has built itself quite a reputation as a hub for technology businesses and startups in recent years. If you have the right skills and experience, you can find genuine opportunities and prospects in this thriving and appealing city.
It’s not just startups that have found a fondness for Lisbon. Facebook has a presence there, and Google is in the process of building a “tech centre,” which will create 500 jobs. Big firms like these often provide support for a customer base across Europe and beyond, so with the right skillset, you could even find a job with a multinational company in Portugal without being able to speak Portuguese. I personally know someone who has achieved this.
The Jobs in Lisbon website has extensive listings for jobs that may not require fluency in Portuguese, and at the time of writing included jobs from the likes of Siemens, Airbnb and Bosch. Note, however, that these are primarily jobs that require specialist knowledge in industries like tech and finance.
Other options worth considering include rep work for tour operators, and cabin crew jobs, both of which are advertised on occasion but typically get snapped up quick.
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. It was exactly this that allowed my wife and I to move to Portugal in the first place.
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 providing a 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, fewer 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 would like to find some tips to help convince your employer, have a read of “The Four Hour Work Week,” by Tim Ferriss. (If you’re reading this in the USA, use this link instead).
Working online as a freelancer is an inreasingly realisic option. However, whatever you do, don’t just open Google and type “make money online.” 99% of the things you see will be scams! There are, however, plenty of 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.
I recently started a project called HomeWorkingClub.com which will definitely help if you’re in the market for online freelancing options.
I recommend starting with the “Freelancing for Beginners” article, which will introduce the realities of this world.
Working in this way was pretty new when we first lived in Portugal, but it’s now increasingly common across the world. Ironically, when we moved back to the UK, both my wife and I continued to work like this, and love the lifestyle and flexibility it provides. With studies suggesting that up to 50% of people may work freelance within a few years, this is a boom time for the industry, and it truly does provide those with enough determination with the ability to work from anywhere.
I won’t go into much detail on this here, as you’ll find everything you need to know on the other site linked above.
Starting a Business in Portugal
Of course, an alternative to finding work in Portugal is to start a business there of your own, although – for fear of sounding like a broken record – you will find things much harder and drastically reduce your client base if you can’t speak Portuguese.
You can do absolutely anything you can think of, and I know people in Portugal making lucrative successes of everything from holiday rental businesses to firms running kayaking trips.
In the spirit of providing a balanced and realistic post, however, here are a few warnings I should provide about leaping into a business venture in a country you may not be completely familiar with:
- With a few exceptions, running a bar or restaurant unless you have a successful track record in the business rarely ends well.
- Assuming that something that works in one country will automatically work in another is foolish.
- Service businesses (such as IT support and web design) cannot typically charge anywhere near as much in Portugal as they can in the UK and northern Europe.
- There’s a fine line between running a villa management / apartment rental business and being a glorified cleaner. In most resort towns there are a couple of companies running thriving firms and a bunch of other people fighting over the scraps.
- Red tape and bureaucracy is genuinely hard work in Portugal. If you’re starting a business, expect to take twice as long and spend twice as much when you deal with the practicalities.
- Running a seasonal tourism business can be hectic and stressful – and all in the searing heat of the summer. Think very carefully about whether you’re truly willing to watch all the tourists enjoy the best of climate while you work to serve them – it may not turn out to be the dream you expect.
So, that concludes a completely honest “warts and all” account of finding work in Portugal. Some of it may seem demotivating, but it’s far better to find out the realities in an online article than once you’ve burned bridges and travelled there!
Nothing’s perfect or simple, but one or a combination of these options may bring you sufficient income to live in the sun.
If you are serious about moving to Portugal, then please check out our book.
The book is also available in the USA and Canada via this link.
RECOMMENDED READING: Cost of living in Portugal.