Portugal is a beautiful country which everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. This wonderful country may not be as large as its Spanish neighbour but it is warmer and just as beautiful. It was also the longest surviving of the European Empires and as such it has its own unique customs and business etiquette. Recognizing the uniqueness of this country is important if you want your business venture to succeed.
The Catholic Church and the family unit are extremely important to life in Portugal. Due to this it is quite a reserved and conservative country to do business in, although this is gradually changing. It also means that business structures are extremely hierarchical and status is important. As such decision making power usually lies with one or two people and their subordinates and little real power. It also leads to rather lengthy negotiation processes as all decisions have to come from the top.
Portuguese people also prefer to do business with people they know, so that they can trust them. This can also lengthen the negotiations as they try to establish a personal relationship with you before making a business deal.
When you greet your Portuguese counterparts you should shake the hands of both men and women. This should be repeated when leaving the meeting. Kisses on both cheeks are reserved for close friends and family members.
It is important to remember that Portugal is not part of Spain and they do not Speak Spanish, they speak Portuguese. If you forget this, your counterparts may get extremely offended. Also not all business people speak English, so unless your Portuguese is excellent it is a good idea to hire an interpreter.
As previously stated Portuguese people are quite conservative. As such men should wear a suit and tie. Women should usually wear either suit pants or a pencil skirt. However, Portuguese people also take a lot of pride in what they wear and usually dress immaculately, especially for business meetings.
The Portuguese take a very relaxed attitude towards punctuality. It is not uncommon for your counterpart to be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes late for a meeting. It is still best practise to call with an explanation if you are going to be delayed, but it should not cause any problems.
Corruption can be a major problem when doing business in Portugal. In Portugal nepotism is still widespread and is viewed by many people in a positive light. Employing someone that you know implies that you can trust them more than a complete stranger. Due to the nepotism many companies are still run by families. It also leads to the problem of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Which often means that most qualified people are not making the decisions.
As the Portuguese do not take punctuality too seriously it is ok to arrive roughly 15 minutes late. Table manners are formal in Portugal. Do not place your napkin in your lap and note that the guest of honour usually serves themselves first. Also if you are finished eating you should place your knife and fork parallel to one another at the side of your plate. It is polite to leave some food on your plate when you are finished as it signifies that you are full. You should not discuss business at dinner unless asked by your host. It is pleasure not business.
If you are invited to your counterpart’s home, it is important to bring a gift for the hostess. Flowers, good quality chocolates and sweets are all good gifts to bring. Wine is not a good idea unless you know a wine that the host is particularly fond of. Gifts will usually be opened as soon as they are received in front of you.
Overall, as long as you remember that Portugal does not have the same etiquette rules as Spain, and that their hierarchical structure is important, you should get on fine! Bear in mind that they have a relaxed attitude towards punctuality too.