Lisbon has attracted a lot of working expats in the past few years. Many make the move with high expectations but without a clear understanding of the reality of living and working in Portugal’s capital city.
PRO – General laid-back work culture
In Portugal, people think the work culture is quite casual. In a way, it is, because it is permissible for things to move slowly, or for people to take time to respond to you, and this is just generally accepted as the norm.
CON – Laissez-faire mentality
With this laid-back work culture comes the issue of lagging bureaucracy and slow responses from coworkers, clients, stakeholders and other people with whom you need to communicate. This includes government staff, lawyers and doctors – even when you have an emergency – which can be incredibly frustrating.
PRO – Vacation days
By law, Portugal offers 22 vacation days per year, along with 14 public holidays, which is not too bad. Some companies are even more generous and offer 25 to 30 (sometimes more). Employees are encouraged to take their vacations and are allowed to take it all at once. Most companies allow vacation days to roll over to the next year.
CON – No work-life balance
Officially, a working day in Portugal is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., for a total of nine hours (including a one-hour lunch break), and most companies are still quite strict about that. People tend to work late as well and are often catching up on work over the weekend.
Factor in the terrible traffic, regular road accidents and consequently the lengthy commute, and you will probably find yourself having no work-life balance.
CON – Professionalism is at times questionable
Even in Lisbon, where there are a lot of international companies bringing their own global organizational culture, managers at those companies here in Portugal tend to operate their own way. The work environment appears to be quite old-fashioned and strict; for instance, remote work is not allowed, even though remote work is a big part of the parent organization’s culture.
Laws and rules are not so clear-cut, especially compared to other places such as the United States, the United Kingdom or Northern European countries. While Portugal has its own laws, companies are allowed to override those laws. A common problem shared by many companies is a lack of professional communication and a blame culture.
PRO/CON – No sick pay by law, but social security coverage
Sick days are not mandatory by law in Portugal, and employees are covered by social security after the fourth day of sick leave provided they have a doctor’s note. That being said, some companies offer a few paid sick days per year anyway as a courtesy to their employees.
Still, many companies use the law as an excuse to not provide any at all. The only option is to go without pay or use up your vacation days. In most cases, sick employees prefer to come to work to avoid those options, thus getting others sick as well.
That’s life in the big city
PRO – Large expat network
Due to the large number of foreigners moving to Lisbon for work, it is highly likely some, if not most, of your coworkers will be fellow expats. It’s an excellent way to meet people from all walks of life and learn about different cultures.
PRO – Innovation and opportunities
Lisbon is now known as one of the best cities for entrepreneurs. There’s a growing sense of innovation and curiosity, leading to a boom in the tech industry and startup scene. The work mentality is evolving slowly but surely in some industries in terms of more flexible work cultures.
CON – What about other opportunities?
If you’re neither in the tech world nor interested in launching a business, job opportunities for you might be a bit scarce. The majority of job offers come from business processing outsourcing companies.
Quality of life
PRO – Sense of security
Lisbon is a safe city, and even when getting home late, you can most likely walk around comfortably without fear of being attacked or robbed. There’s also a great nightlife, and you can always find something to do in the evening after work.
PRO – Convenient access to the airport
The airport is in the city centre and is readily accessible by public transport. Given Lisbon’s increasing connectedness to Europe and the rest of the world, one can quickly hop on a plane and spend a long weekend somewhere else, then fly back in time to get right back to work.
CON – Low salary
Unfortunately, the low wages of Portugal don’t actually allow for spontaneous international trips. On a related note, low salaries also mean that you don’t really get to enjoy life and have to be on a tight budget. Most people live paycheck to paycheck, with more than half of the salary going to rental fees.
PRO – Mild climate
Portugal’s climate is one of the main attractions for expats. Generally speaking, the weather is warm and sunny with long, hot summer months and mild winters.
CON – No insulation
While the temperature averages 11 degrees Celsius during the day in winter, it still gets humid, foggy, rainy and quite cold. And with daylight savings, you will likely be waking up before sunrise for your commute to work and getting home after sunset.
Moreover, older buildings are not built to retain heat. If you’re unlucky to work in an old building with no insulation or central heating system, you might feel colder inside than outside.
All in all, Lisbon is a beautiful city full of history, culture, and delicious food. It is also a mix of old and new and attracts a lot of investors and expats. However, consider the points above carefully before making the decision to move to Portugal for work.
About the author:
A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.
Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon.
See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.
See our Lisbon archive here.