3 Ways an Expat Can Embrace the Culture in Portugal

Understanding culture in Portugal is just one of many things expats should know before moving to Portugal, especially for digital nomads.

Although I was among the thousands of foreigners who moved to Portugal, there are some vital points you should understand before moving to Portugal. Since I only moved to Portugal to be with my partner, I still considered these important factors to ensure not only that my Portuguese partner feels valued, but so I can also enjoy as much of the Portuguese culture as possible.

Invest in Learning Portuguese from Portugal

I have been visiting Portugal for about 4 years now, and I have lived in Portugal for one year as an expat. Throughout these years, I have seen a major decline in Portuguese speakers, and even the attempt to speak Portuguese at all. As someone who comes from a super individualistic background (American culture), this has really opened my eyes to what non-English speakers are just partly experiencing.

Learning Portuguese from Portugal is Culture

Learning a new language may seem intimidating, or even impossible. I get it, I could never imagine myself memorizing a completely new vocabulary, especially if I couldn’t remember 50% of my studies growing up. However, I am now speaking Portuguese quite comfortably with my partner and friends, which has greatly increased my ability to communicate in Portugal.

Speaking the language of the country you are living in can be so impactful for not only your CV and job opportunities, but also to consider your new home and its culture. So many people prefer to see learning a new language as a trophy, but I see it as a way to unlock a new world; including friends, jokes, perspectives, and so much more. So yeah…learn Portuguese, from Portugal. I promise the locals will love it!

Local Etiquette: Understanding Local Culture in Portugal

For those who don’t know, local etiquette is the hidden or unwritten code of practice by localsthat are typicalcustoms or rules that are considered correct or acceptable in a local social structure. Knowing this, when you visit Portugal, or any other country, consider the local etiquette of the native dwellers.

A great friend of mine, Antoine Bertier, is an experienced nomad traveler who once discussed local etiquette and its importance. I would never forget this one thing he said;

“Even if you learn the language, not understanding the underground will keep you isolated from the locals.”

Antoine Bertier

What is underground, you may ask? Underground is what you don’t see everyday as a tourist, getting to the raw reality of Portuguese and who they really are. This can go from politics to a common phrases, jokes, way of living, etc. Experiencing these raw moments of another country, at least for me, is way more exciting than living a life with the mask of tourism, material wealth, etc.

Here are some basic culture and etiquette tips to show respect in Portugal as an Expat:

  • Refer to others as their titles (Ex: Senhor, Senhora, Doctor, etc) until they say otherwise.
  • Do not speak Spanish to Portuguese as they are two different languages, this can come across as negligent or impolite.
  • Do not spit on the ground or liter as Portuguese see this as disrespectful.
  • Tipping is not expected.
  • Rejecting gifts is seen as offensive, not being polite.
  • Dress modestly and consider yourself well-polished. Wearing hats inside or while eating is seen as rude and inappropriate

Of course there are many other things to consider although these are just some of the easier and obvious tips I can provide.

Invest in the Portuguese Market

No, I’m not talking about stocks, but I am talking about restaurants, local jobs, coffee shops, gay bars, etc. Large companies has stretched its way into other country markets besides their own, which has its pros and cons for many countries. For Portugal, it has greatly affected local markets, and puts many Portuguese families into debt while silencing the Portuguese culture.

Mercado do Bolhão image taken in Porto - Culture in Portugal

You might be thinking, “but Charlee… I’ve already been to Mercado do Bolhão! Isn’t that local market?”

Of course it is! It is one of my favorite places to visit when I can. However many of my Portuguese colleagues, including my partner who has lived in Porto their whole life, says that this market is not the same as it once was due to the saturation of tourism, sales, etc. This has affected the authenticity of Bolhão unfortunately… but hey, its still better than going to Starbucks!

If you need a tip, just try to find non-branded sellers, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and humble people. Investing in the Portuguese market will not only improve their life, but it will also enhance the richness of the Portuguese culture!

What would you say an expat should consider when moving? Comment below and let me know!

Charlee Anthony

Self-taught SEO and research enthusiast, I am an alien in all countries and a friend of many. I have been travelling all my life (25 years), however Portugal is my new forever home. As I fully delve into Portuguese culture, I also share my tips and tricks on how to live comfortably in a new country.

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