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Open an LLC Portugal? The Best Legal Form for your Business

By Bernardo Barbosa

Published on 17 April 2024

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From opening an LLC in Portugal to being a sole trader: Deciding on the right business legal structure is one of the first things you'll need to do when starting a business in Portugal. Doing so ensures that your business operates within a legal framework, provides clarity on your rights and responsibilities as an entrepreneur, and can influence the perception of your business in the eyes of customers, partners, and investors.

In this article, we'll guide you through understanding each legal business structure available for Portuguese entrepreneurs today, so you can make better-informed business decisions in the future.

The following are the most common business structures entrepreneurs can find in Portugal. Getting familiar with them should help you choose the right business structure. Understanding the company incorporation process in Portugal is crucial for entrepreneurs looking to establish their business, as it involves navigating through the procedures, requirements, and documentation for setting up various types of business entities.

1. Sole Proprietorship (Empresário em Nome Individual)

sole proprietorship, or "Empresário em Nome Individual" in Portuguese, is a simple option for solo entrepreneurs looking to establish a business without forming a company.


Simplicity: This structure is straightforward, making it possible to operate a business without incorporating a formal company.

Authority: As the sole proprietor, you have complete control over all business operations.

Minimal requirements: Unlike larger entities, this structure doesn't require minimum share capital or extensive administrative formalities, which is great for business owners with a low budget.


Limited growth: A sole proprietorship business structure affects growth. Limited resources and lack of a complex formal apparatus can make it hard to scale a business.

Unlimited liability: There's no legal distinction between personal taxes, business taxes, and personal/business assets. The business IS you!

As the simplest form of business entity, sole proprietorships imply unlimited liability. Your personal assets can be used to settle business debts and, for that reason alone, a sole proprietorship is only worth considering if your business is very low risk.

Therefore, this structure is best suited for small-scale ventures with very low risk. Since they provide ease of operation and minimal administrative burdens, sole proprietorships are often the choice of first-time business owners.

2. Freelancer (Trabalhador Independente)

freelancer, or "Trabalhador Independente" in Portuguese, is a solo legal agent operating without a formal business structure. Freelancers offer services such as writing, design, consulting, and programming not through a separate business entity, but as themselves.


Flexibility: Freelancers have the autonomy to choose their projects and clients.

Variety: They can collaborate with multiple companies, working across various industries and projects.

Low entry barrier: Starting as a freelancer requires virtually no funding and minimal administrative processes.


Tax compliance: Freelancers have to manage all of their personal tax returns and Social Security contributions.

Unlimited liability: As in a sole proprietorship, there's no legal separation between personal and business assets.

Stability: Business income can be inconsistent, especially during economic downturns.

While freelancers benefit greatly from the independence and flexibility of their work, their lack of legal protection and income stability is worrying. For this reason, many freelancers start by freelancing as a side gig before going full-time.

Both sole proprietors and freelancers benefit from simpler administrative processes compared to other business structures. However, they also incorporate a concerning unlimited liability aspect.

3. Private Limited Liability Company (Sociedade por Quotas, LDA)

A Private Limited Liability Company, known in Portugal as LDA, is the predominant business structure in Portugal because it offers a balanced blend of liability protection and operational flexibility. Starting an LDA not only requires a minimum of two shareholders, with their liability confined to the capital they have invested in the company, but also mandates the appointment of a legal representative. This representative is essential for managing the company's affairs and fulfilling registration obligations with the Commercial Registry.


Lower risk: Shareholders are safeguarded from personal liability, limiting their financial exposure to their investment.

Operational flexibility: LDAs can be established with scalable capital, enabling small to medium-sized enterprises to start small companies and grow into large companies without changing their structures.

Equity: Since shares are transferable, ownership transition is easier.

Incentives: Government funds, tax exempt status, and other fiscal incentives are prevalent in the LDA world.


Complexity: The process of setting up an LDA still requires generous amounts of paperwork and legal procedures.

Minimum shareholders: A solo business owner cannot start an LDA without two or more owners.

Regulatory oversight: A tax exempt status comes at a cost… Despite the existing incentives, LDAs must pay taxes and comply with a significant number of administrative obligations regarding Social Security and business insurance.

The LDA is the most popular business structure in Portugal for good reason. Combining the advantages of limited personal liability with an astounding capacity for growth, LDAs look like clear winners. However, they require at least two (very hard) things from business owners: the ability to cooperate with other people, and the courage to navigate a complex fiscal and administrative system.

4. Single Shareholder Private Limited Company (Unipessoal)

The Single Shareholder Private Limited Company, known in Portugal as "Unipessoal," is similar to the LDA but allows for a single shareholder to start, own, and run the business, combining the benefits of limited personal liability with the convenience of sole proprietorships while offering some growth capacity.


Personal safety: Like the LDA, the Unipessoal protects the shareholder's personal assets from business-related liabilities.

Sole ownership: Who needs a partnership agreement? Unlike the LDA, the Unipessoal can be owned by one single person.

Operational flexibility: Business owners can benefit from the operational flexibility of an LDA as a single shareholder.

Perceived professionalism: Other businesses tend to trust a Unipessoal more than a sole proprietor or freelancer.


Personal risk: Although the Unipessoal provides limited personal liability, the single shareholder is still responsible for all of the company's obligations.

Resource constraints: As a solo agent, the Unipessoal owner is often forced to deal with resource limitations in terms of capital and expertise.

Potential growth hurdles: Expanding a business with a single owner is harder than expanding a business with two or more owners such as the LDA.

Compared to other structures, the Unipessoal offers a middle ground between being personally liable (sole proprietorships) and having some growth capacity (LDA). It suits solo entrepreneurs who value autonomy and simplicity but still enjoy the protection that limited liability structures provide.

5. Public Limited Company (SA)

Suitable for larger businesses, a Public Limited Company or SA is the most complex business structure in the list. Establishing an SA requires at least five shareholders, but the shareholder's liability is limited to the value of their shares.


Protection: Shareholders' liability is limited to their invested capital, which means they are not personally liable for their company's losses—it's like a limited liability partnership!

Growth capacity: SA companies can raise capital by issuing shares to the public, making it easier for them to expand.

Credibility: Public companies often enjoy higher credibility and trust among investors, suppliers, and customers.


Complexity: Establishing an SA involves more administrative steps and compliance requirements than establishing other business structures.

Compliance: SAs must adhere to the strictest types of regulation, including corporate taxes, double tax status, and other tax consequences.

Costs: Due to the massive regulatory demands of SAs, massive professional services become necessary; these limited liability companies require large amounts of capital just to remain compliant.

The mighty SA makes other legal structures look like the little kid's league. Best suited for larger companies seeking capital from public investors and aiming for enhanced market visibility, this structure has the downturn of requiring huge resources just to exist as a legal entity.

If you like to think big as an entrepreneur, you should look at this business legal structure as your end goal, not your starting point. Unless you're in an extraordinary position, you should first consider acquiring a little bit more experience with business structures such as a sole proprietorship or Unipessoal before going public.

Any partnership agreement can make for some type of business structure, and there are some business structures (such as cooperatives and nonprofit corporations) that haven't been covered. However, the information considered should offer you an overview of the best legal structures for mid to small business owners.

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Structure for Your Portuguese Business

So, should you go for a partnership agreement that makes you less personally liable? Or should you bet your personal assets on the chance of self-funding your small business? There’s really no right answer to the question, as choosing the right structure for your business depends solely on your business’s needs. To make the right decision for YOUR company, consider the following factors:

To start with the right foot, consider Rauva’s company creation services for your first business:

Determining the appropriate legal structure for your Portuguese business is an important decision that will impact your company’s trajectory. Each legal structure has unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s essential to carefully evaluate your long-term business goals, your level of risk tolerance, and your ability to cooperate before making the final choice.

Whether you opt for the simplicity of a sole proprietorship, the independence of a freelancer, the balanced protection and flexibility of a Private Limited Liability Company LLC, the convenience of the Unipessoal, or the unmatched growth potential of the SA, the decision should be based on a holistic understanding of your business’s needs and context.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the importance of choosing the right structure for my Portuguese business?

Selecting the right business structure is crucial as it impacts taxation, liability, and operational flexibility. The right choice can also lead to cost savings and legal protection.

2. What are the different structures available for businesses in Portugal?

Portugal offers several types of business structure and partnership agreement, including sole proprietorships, LDAs, Public Limited Companies, and Unipessoais.

3. How do I decide between a sole proprietorship and an LDA?

The decision depends on factors like liability, capital requirements, and taxation. An LDA provides limited liability protection but is more legally complex, while a sole proprietorship is simpler but offers no separation between personal and business assets.

4. How can I register my business in Portugal?

Registering a business in Portugal involves numerous steps such as choosing a name, obtaining an NIF, paying the minimum share capital and registering with the Commercial Registry. For navigating the registration process with the Commercial Registry efficiently, utilizing professional legal services is highly recommended.

5. Can I change my business's structure after registration?

Yes, but the process can be complex! Consult with a legal advisor for more information on this topic.

6. Are there incentives available for certain business structures in Portugal?

Portugal offers various incentives and grants for businesses, especially those in specific sectors or regions. These can include tax benefits, financial support, and innovation grants.

7. What legal considerations should I keep in mind when expanding my business in Portugal?

Expanding a business in Portugal may involve legal considerations such as employment laws, contracts, intellectual property protection, and even corporate income tax. When a foreign company seeks to establish a branch or subsidiary in Portugal, the parent company plays a crucial role in defining the operations, assuming liability, and overseeing the registration and management of the branch.

8. How can I seek professional guidance in choosing the best structure for my business in Portugal?

To make an informed decision, consult with legal and financial experts who specialize in Portuguese business law. They can provide tailored advice based on your specific circumstances.

Useful Resources

Portal das Finanças - Portuguese Tax System: Everything you need to know about the Portuguese tax system, including corporate taxation and legal structures.
ePortugal.gov.pt - Accessing the Tax Office's services: Valuable information on accessing the Tax and Customs Authority's services, including information on legal structures for businesses.
ePortugal.gov.pt - Personal income tax (IRS) in Portugal: Provides information on personal income tax (IRS) in Portugal, which is relevant for entrepreneurs who are considering different legal structures for their businesses.
OECD - Information on Tax Identification Numbers for Portugal: Everything about tax identification numbers (NIFs) in Portugal, which are relevant for businesses that need to register with the Tax and Customs Authority.
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Written by Bernardo Barbosa

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