Finding Work in Portugal: 2018 Update

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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

Finding work in Portugal: The Essentials

Speaking Portuguese

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.

Shattered dreams of work in Portugal

Seasonality

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.

Working in Lisbon

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

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.

Finding online work

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.

 

Starting a business in Portugal

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.

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.

RECOMMENDED READING: Cost of living in Portugal.

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31 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.
    Saz

  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?
    B

  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
    B

  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.
    Thanks
    Claire

  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,

    Ben

  11. Hi Carolina,

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

    Best wishes,

    Ben

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  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,

    Louise

  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: http://lisbon.angloinfo.com/af/469/lisbon-employment-agencies-and-recruitment.html

    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!

    Elizabeth

  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,

    Lou

  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.

    Regards

    Steve

  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,

    Ben

  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?

    Regards

    Steve
    Regards

    Steve

  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,

    Ben

  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.

    regards

    Steve

  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,

    Lou

  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.

  26. Hi Claire ! I am a Portuguese woman living in London . Unfortunally the teachers are having a bad time in Portugal . Many people with 20 years of experience are struggling to keep their jobs in the national education system. So guess what they are doing? Tuitions and working in private schools ( or trying to do so)

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