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Starting a Business in Portugal as a Foreigner

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Published at 17 November 2023

While previously, Portugal has long been known for holidays in the sun, it has now emerged as one of Europe's top destinations to start a business as an expat.

But why Portugal? Why not any other European country? Well, let's break it down.

  • Economic Growth and Stability: Over the years, Portugal has emerged as a beacon of economic resilience. With its steady growth, it offers a stable environment for businesses to thrive and expand.
  • Supportive Government Policies: Portugal isn't just about beautiful beaches and delicious pastéis de nata. The government here rolls out the red carpet for startups and entrepreneurs, offering a ton of incentives, grants, and support mechanisms.
  • Thriving Expat Community: And if you ever feel the pangs of homesickness, don't worry! Portugal boasts a bustling expat community. From networking events to social gatherings, you'll always find like-minded individuals to share a glass of vinho verde with and discuss the next big business idea.

Understanding the Portuguese Business Ecosystem

Portugal, with its rich history of explorers and traders, has always been a melting pot of innovation and commerce. Today, this legacy continues, with the country offering a diverse and dynamic business ecosystem that beckons entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe.

Popular Industries for Foreign Entrepreneurs

While Portugal's charm lies in its traditional industries like cork production, wine-making, and textiles, the nation is rapidly evolving. Here's a glimpse of the sectors that are catching the eye of foreign entrepreneurs:

  • Tech and Startups: Cities like Lisbon and Porto are becoming European hubs for tech innovation, with numerous incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces sprouting up.
  • Tourism and Hospitality: With its stunning landscapes, rich history, and delectable cuisine, Portugal is a magnet for tourists. This presents vast opportunities in the hospitality sector, from boutique hotels to culinary ventures.
  • Real Estate and Property Development: The allure of the Portuguese lifestyle has led to a surge in demand for properties, both for personal use and as investment opportunities.
  • Renewable Energy: Portugal's commitment to sustainability has opened doors for ventures in solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.

Chambers of Commerce and Business Associations

Navigating a new business landscape can be daunting, but you're not alone! Portugal's local chambers of commerce and various business associations play a pivotal role in guiding foreign entrepreneurs. They offer:

  • Networking Opportunities: Regular events, seminars, and workshops where you can meet industry leaders, potential partners, and fellow entrepreneurs.
  • Resources and Training: Access to market research, legal advice, and training sessions tailored for the Portuguese market.
  • Advocacy: Representing the interests of businesses, especially in policy-making and regulatory matters.

Choosing the Right Business Structure in Portugal

Starting a business in Portugal is an exhilarating journey, and one of the first crossroads you'll encounter is selecting the appropriate business structure. This choice will influence everything from your tax obligations to your personal liability, so it's crucial to get it right.

Overview of Business Structures in Portugal

Portugal offers a range of business structures, each tailored to different needs:

  • Sole Proprietorship (Empresário em Nome Individual): Ideal for individual entrepreneurs, this structure is straightforward but comes with unlimited personal liability.
  • Private Limited Company (Sociedade por Quotas or LDA): A popular choice for small to medium-sized businesses, LDAs offer limited liability and can be set up with one or more shareholders.
  • Public Limited Company (Sociedade Anónima or SA): Suitable for larger ventures, SAs require a higher minimum capital and are subject to more stringent regulations.
  • Partnerships: These can be general (Sociedade em Nome Colectivo) or limited (Sociedade em Comandita), depending on the liability and involvement of partners.

What's Best for Foreigners?

For most foreigners starting out in Portugal, the LDA often emerges as a favourite due to its flexibility, limited liability, and relatively simple setup process. However, your unique circumstances, business goals, and risk appetite will play a significant role in this decision.

Remember, while this overview provides a snapshot, delving deeper into each structure's nuances is crucial. Dive into our detailed guide to weigh the pros and cons and make an informed choice.

Navigating the Registration Process

Starting a business in Portugal can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it's important to navigate the registration process with precision. As a foreigner, there are some additional considerations to keep in mind. Here's a step-by-step guide to ensure you're on the right track:

Step-by-Step Guide to Registering a Business

Starting a business in Portugal can be a rewarding experience, but it's important to navigate the registration process with precision. Here's a step-by-step guide to ensure you're on the right track, using only official government links:

1. Make sure you can legally start a business in Portugal: Ensure you meet the legal requirements, including having a Portuguese residency card, a tax number from the Portuguese tax office, and a social security number. If you are a non-EU/EFTA national, you'll need to obtain a Portuguese visa and residency permit.

2. Choose a name for your company: Select a unique name for your business in accordance with Portuguese regulations.

3. Reserve your company name: Before registering your business, you may reserve a unique company name with the Portuguese Commercial Registry.

4. Obtain a fiscal number: You'll need a fiscal number, or NIF to conduct any financial activities in Portugal. Visit a local tax office or use online platforms to obtain it.

5. Open a bank account: Establish a business account to manage your company's finances.

6. Draft and notarize articles of association: Depending on your business structure, you'll need to draft and notarize the articles of association, outlining the company's objectives and share distribution.

7. Register with the Commercial Registry: Head to the Commercial Registry (Registo Comercial) to officially register your business once all your documents are in order.

8. Obtain necessary licenses and permits: Depending on your industry, you might require specific licenses or permits. Ensure compliance to avoid legal issues.

9. Register for social security and VAT: Ensure you're registered for Social Security and VAT (IVA in Portuguese) if applicable, as it is crucial for tax compliance.

There are services that specialise in company creation, such as Empresa Na Hora, Empresa Online and Rauva, who can all simplify the process for you.

Special Considerations for Non-Residents

1. Legal Representation: If you're not residing in Portugal, you might need to appoint a legal representative to act on your behalf during the registration process. Source

2. Documentation: Ensure all foreign documents are translated into Portuguese and notarized. Some might also require an apostille stamp for validation.

3. Stay Updated: Regulations can change, so ensure you're always updated on any changes that might affect your business.

It's worth noting that Portugal's business-friendly environment and the thriving expat community offer ample support. Take each step with care, and soon enough, you'll be part of Portugal's vibrant business landscape.

Navigating Banking and Tax Essentials in Portugal

Navigating the financial landscape of a new country can be a maze, especially when you're setting up a business. But fear not! Portugal offers a robust banking system and a transparent tax structure that, once understood, can be a boon for your entrepreneurial journey. Let's dive into the essentials:

Opening a Business Bank Account

Having a dedicated business bank account is not just a recommendation—it's a necessity. It ensures clear financial records, simplifies tax filings, and offers a professional front when dealing with clients or suppliers.

  • Choose the Right Bank: Portugal boasts a mix of international and local banks. Research and choose one that aligns with your business needs. Some popular choices include Millennium BCP, Banco Santander Totta, and Novo Banco.
  • Required Documentation: Typically, you'll need your business registration certificate, tax number, proof of address, and identification. For non-residents, additional documentation might be required.
  • Online Banking: Most Portuguese banks offer comprehensive online banking services. This feature is especially beneficial for non-residents or those who travel frequently.
  • Fees and Charges: Be aware of any account maintenance fees, transaction charges, and other associated costs. Some banks offer promotional periods with reduced fees for new businesses.

Understanding Portugal's Tax System

Portugal's tax system is comprehensive, but with a bit of understanding, it's manageable:

  • Corporate Income Tax (IRC): Businesses are subject to IRC, which is levied on their profits. The standard rate is 21%, but reduced rates might apply to smaller businesses.
  • Value Added Tax (IVA): If your business deals with goods or services, you'll likely need to charge IVA. Rates vary, with the standard being 23%. Reduced rates of 13% and 6% apply to specific goods and services.
  • Social Security Contributions: Employers are required to make social security contributions on behalf of their employees. The rate is typically 23.75% of the employee's gross salary.
  • Double Taxation Agreements: Portugal has double taxation treaties with several countries. This means that if you're paying tax in another country, you might be exempt or receive a credit in Portugal.
  • Tax Benefits: Portugal offers various tax incentives for startups and businesses in specific sectors. It's worth exploring these to see if your business qualifies.
  • Filing and Deadlines: Ensure you're aware of tax filing deadlines. Late submissions can result in penalties. Consider hiring a local accountant or tax consultant to guide you through the intricacies.

In the realm of finance, knowledge is power. By understanding the banking and tax essentials in Portugal, you're setting a strong financial foundation for your business. And remember, when in doubt, seek local expertise. Portugal's welcoming business community is always ready to lend a hand.

Leveraging Local Resources for Your Business in Portugal

Starting a business in Portugal can be challenging, but the country offers loads of resources designed to support, nurture, and propel your business forward. Here are some of the resources you can tap into:

Government Grants and Incentives for Startups

Portugal's government recognizes the value of startups and foreign investment. As a result, there are several programs and incentives in place:

  • Startup Visa Program: Tailored for non-EU/EEA entrepreneurs, this program facilitates residency and offers support to those looking to establish or move their startups to Portugal. Learn more
  • Portugal 2020: An initiative co-funded by the European Union, it provides financial support to businesses in various sectors, from technology to tourism. Learn more
  • Tax Incentives: New businesses can benefit from reduced corporate tax rates, tax credits for R&D, and other fiscal benefits designed to ease the initial stages of business growth. Learn more
  • Innovation Support: Institutions like IAPMEI offer support for innovative projects, providing both financial aid and expert guidance. Learn more

Networking Events and Platforms for Expat Entrepreneurs

Building connections is crucial, especially when you're new to a country. Portugal offers a vibrant scene for networking:

  • Lisbon Startup Week: An annual event that brings together entrepreneurs, investors, and professionals. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn, network, and showcase your business.
  • Web Summit: One of the world's largest tech conferences, held annually in Lisbon, offers unparalleled networking opportunities.
  • Meetup Groups: Platforms like Meetup have several groups dedicated to expat entrepreneurs in Portugal. These events are more intimate and allow for deeper connections.
  • Co-working Spaces: Spaces are not just workspaces. They host events, workshops, and socials, making them hubs for the entrepreneurial community.
  • Local Chambers of Commerce: Organizations such as the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce often host events and provide resources tailored for expat business owners.

Remember, by leveraging the resources Portugal offers and immersing yourself in the local entrepreneurial community, you're positioning your business for success.

Overcoming Challenges When Starting a Business in Portugal as a Foreigner 

Starting a business in Portugal as a foreigner is an exhilarating journey, filled with opportunities and the promise of new horizons. However, like any entrepreneurial endeavour, it comes with its set of challenges. But fear not! With the right approach and resources, these hurdles can be transformed into stepping stones. Let's delve into some common challenges faced by expat entrepreneurs in Portugal and arm you with strategies to tackle them head-on.

1. Navigating Bureaucracy

Challenge: Portugal, like many countries, has its share of red tape. From business registration to obtaining licenses, the administrative process can seem daunting, especially if you're unfamiliar with the local system.


  • Stay Informed: Familiarize yourself with the necessary procedures by visiting official government websites and seeking advice from local business associations.
  • Hire a Local Consultant: Consider hiring a local business consultant or lawyer who can guide you through the process, ensuring all paperwork is correctly filled out and submitted.

2. Language Barrier

Challenge: While many Portuguese professionals speak English, official documents and some business interactions might be in Portuguese.


  • Learn Basic Portuguese: Even a rudimentary understanding can go a long way in building rapport and navigating day-to-day tasks.
  • Utilize Translation Services: For official documents, consider using professional translation services to ensure accuracy.

3. Cultural Differences in Business Etiquette

Challenge: Every country has its unique business culture. Understanding and adapting to Portuguese business etiquette is crucial for successful collaborations and partnerships.


  • Research and Observe: Take time to understand local business customs. For instance, Portuguese business meetings often start with casual conversation before delving into the main agenda.
  • Ask for Feedback: Don't hesitate to ask local colleagues or partners for feedback on your interactions. They can provide valuable insights to help you adapt.

4. Access to Local Networks

Challenge: As a newcomer, building a local business network can be challenging.


  • Join Business Associations: Organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce can provide networking opportunities and resources tailored for foreign entrepreneurs.
  • Attend Local Events: Participate in local business events, workshops, and seminars. Not only will you gain knowledge, but you'll also meet potential partners, clients, and mentors.

5. Understanding Local Market Dynamics

Challenge: The Portuguese market, with its unique demographics and consumer preferences, might differ from what you're accustomed to.


  • Conduct Thorough Market Research: Before diving in, understand the local market trends, consumer behavior, and competition.
  • Engage with Local Experts: Collaborate with local market research firms or consultants who can provide insights tailored to your industry.

While challenges are an inevitable part of the entrepreneurial journey, they're not insurmountable. With the right mindset, resources, and support, you can navigate the Portuguese business landscape with confidence and flair. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity in disguise, waiting for the bold entrepreneur to seize it!


Portugal, with its sun-kissed beaches, rich history, and vibrant culture, is not just a dream destination for tourists but also a land brimming with business opportunities. The nation's steady economic growth, coupled with a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, makes it a beacon for foreign entrepreneurs looking to make their mark.


Do I need to be a resident in Portugal to start a business?

No, you don't need to be a resident to start a business in Portugal. However, non-residents might have additional requirements or paperwork, so it's essential to consult with a local expert or legal advisor.

What is the primary language of business in Portugal?

While Portuguese is the official language, English is widely spoken, especially in business circles and among the younger population. However, official documents and contracts are typically in Portuguese, so it might be helpful to have a translator or understand basic Portuguese.

Are there any industries particularly welcoming to foreign entrepreneurs?

Portugal has a thriving tech startup scene, especially in cities like Lisbon and Porto. Other sectors like tourism, real estate, and agriculture also offer ample opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs. 

How easy is it to hire local talent?

Portugal boasts a skilled and educated workforce. With numerous universities and technical institutes, finding local talent, especially in the tech and service sectors, is relatively straightforward. 

What about the cost of living and doing business in Portugal?

Compared to other Western European countries, Portugal offers a lower cost of living and competitive business operational costs. This affordability is one of the reasons why many foreign entrepreneurs find Portugal attractive.

Are there any specific tax benefits for startups or foreign entrepreneurs?

Yes, Portugal offers several tax incentives and benefits, especially for startups and SMEs. It's advisable to consult with a local tax expert to understand the specific benefits you might be eligible for.

How open are locals to foreign businesses and entrepreneurs?

Portugal has a long history of trade and exploration, making the Portuguese generally open-minded and welcoming to foreigners. The growing expat community and the success stories of foreign entrepreneurs further foster a positive environment for international businesses. 

How can I network with other foreign entrepreneurs in Portugal?

There are several expat communities, business associations, and networking events, especially in major cities like Lisbon and Porto. Platforms like Meetup also host events tailored for the expat entrepreneur community.

What if my business doesn't succeed?

Business risks are a part of the entrepreneurial journey, irrespective of the location. Portugal offers a supportive environment, and even if a venture doesn't succeed, the experience and learnings can be invaluable. Moreover, the country provides mechanisms for businesses to pivot, restructure, or even wind down if necessary.

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