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How to Do Business in Portugal

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The People

portugal photoPortugal is a self-styled country comprised of generally reserved and understated people. The Portuguese are traditional and conservative. People do not quickly embrace change and innovation. The Catholic Church has a strong influence on people’s lives. The family is the basis of Portuguese life. Life is simple, especially in rural areas. The Portuguese go home after work and entertain on weekends only.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands with everyone present—men, women and children—at a business or social meeting. Shake hands again when leaving.
  • When meeting friends, men embrace and pat one another on the back, and women kiss both cheeks.

Body Language

  • Portuguese do not use a lot of body gestures. Do not be overly demonstrative with hand gestures or body language.
  • Beckon someone with the palm of your hand down and fingers or whole hand waving (as patting someone on the head).
  • Never point with your finger.

Corporate Culture

  • Portuguese do not take punctuality for business meetings particularly seriously, but expect that you will be on time. Call with an explanation if you are delayed. Be prepared for your Portuguese counterparts to be 15-30 minutes late.
  • While many younger managers speak English, it is appreciated if you have correspondence translated into Portuguese.
  • Plan on hiring an interpreter for business meetings.
  • Meetings are for briefing or discussion. Decisions may take several meetings. Do not expect clear, decisive results. The aim is not to find a common ground, but to strongly express one’s point of view.
  • If agreement/support is required at a meeting, you should lobby participants privately beforehand.

Dining and Entertainment

  • Food is served family style. The guest of honor serves him/herself first and passes dishes around the table.
  • Fish is eaten with a special knife and fork.
  • To signify that you would like more food, place your fork diagonal from the left and your knife straight down to form a triangular position. When finished eating, place knife and fork (tines up) side by side on your plate at the 5:25 position.
  • It is polite to leave some food on your plate when finished eating.

Dining and Entertainment (continued)

  • Dinner with business colleagues is a social event. Do not discuss business at dinner unless your host initiates.
  • When offered a drink by a business colleague (coffee, soda, alcohol), accept.
  • Allow your host to open the door when it is time to leave.


  • Dress is conservative. Women usually wear dresses, and male dressing is based primarily around a jacket and tie.
  • There is little difference in dress between work and social life.
  • For business, men should wear suits and ties or sports coats and ties. Women should wear dresses, suits or pantsuits.


  • When invited to someone’s house, always bring a small gift for the hostess. Flowers for the hostess and table wine for the host are recommended gifts. Give expensive chocolate and expensive flowers (not chrysanthemums).
  • Gifts are opened immediately upon receiving them.
  • A return invitation to the hostess is appreciated.
  • Gifts are normally not exchanged at business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate at the successful conclusion of negotiations.
  • It is more common to send small Christmas gifts to customers. Give pens, crystal, ashtrays, diaries or any gift which might be related to the business itself.

Helpful Hints

  • Portugal is not part of Spain, and the people are not Spanish, nor are they in any way similar to the Spanish in culture. They do not speak Spanish or Brazilian.
  • Keep a relaxed attitude about time.

Especially for Women

  • Foreign business women are treated fairly and with respect.
  • Traditionally, conservative attitudes have prevailed towards women, but there is a strong movement towards Portuguese women being involved in business.
  • Going to a bar alone is frowned upon. It may call unwelcome attention.
  • It is better for a foreign woman to invite a Portuguese man to a business lunch rather than dinner. If you invite a man to dinner, it is better to ask if he would like to bring his wife.
  • The charm of Portuguese men will not allow a woman to pay for a lunch or dinner. It is acceptable to try.

Mary Bosrock
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
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