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Learn more about doing successful business in Portugal. This page has information about Portugal’s economy, history and even some useful Portuguese phrases. Expand your international business expertise with Lingo24’s International Business Knowledge Base.

Facts and figures

Situated in South-western Europe, on the west side of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal’s geographic location along the Atlantic coast soon determined its vocation to the sea. The country, with a population of 10,605,870 (July 2006) and a total area of 92,391 sq km, consists of continental Portugal and two archipelagos: Madeira, 2 islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of continental Portugal, about 360 miles from the coast of Africa, and the Azores, 9 islands, in the Atlantic Ocean almost halfway between Lisbon and New York.


Weather and climate are much influenced by the Atlantic. Its southerly latitude gives it a Mediterranean type of climate, but one where the summer heat is tempered by the Atlantic influence. On the coast the winters are particularly mild. Winter is the wet season everywhere in Portugal, but autumn rain can sometimes be heavy in the north as the fine weather of summer breaks. The length and severity of the summer drought increases from north to south. Summer sunshine and temperature and winter mildness also increase southwards. The south-facing coast of the Algarve region is the sunniest and warmest part of the country, but the summer heat rarely reaches the unpleasant levels sometimes found in south-eastern Spain.

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Portuguese is spoken in Portugal, as well as in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Goa (India), Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, São Tomé e Príncipe, and East Timor. It is the third most widely spoken European language in the world, spoken by approximately 200 million people.


Football is considered the national sport in Portugal and is extremely popular. The country hosted the 2004 European Football Championship, where it reached the final only to lose to Greece, and in 2006, the European Under-21 Football Championship. In the 2006 World Cup, Portugal finished fourth. There are 3 daily newspapers totally dedicated to football and four national divisions. The three major Portuguese teams are FC Porto, SL Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal.


Fado is known as the Portuguese blues: a plaintive, crying song with an exotic, Middle Eastern feel to it which gives it a special appeal. Although Portugal has other types of folk music, it is the fado which has come to represent the country. This is largely because the usually melancholy sound of the fado is so distinctive, inevitably inviting comparisons with the blues.

Fado is pretty well limited to Lisbon itself and to the city of Coimbra. Coimbra being historically and now a university town, the fado there is more academic and associated with students, although some artists or groups have broken out onto a broader stage. The fado follows fixed structures, originally derived from dance music, over which old or new lyrics are sung. These tend to deal with love (unsatisfactory, at least from the singer’s point of view) and the word saudade (roughly yearning, longing, nostalgia, homesickness… missing in general) crops up a lot.

Key Dates

1143 – Kingdom of Portugal recognized

10 June – Day of Portugal / 10 June 1580 – also called Camões Day, the day that revered national poet Luis de Camões died.

5 October 1910 – Independent republic proclaimed.

25 April 1974 – The Carnation Revolution: an almost bloodless, left-leaning, military-led coup d’état that effectively changed the Portuguese regime from an authoritarian dictatorship to a liberal democracy after a two-year process of a left-wing semi-military administration. Although government forces killed four people before surrendering, the revolution was unusual in that the revolutionaries did not use direct violence to achieve their goals. The population, holding red carnations, convinced the regime soldiers not to resist. The soldiers readily swapped their bullets for flowers. It was the end of the Estado Novo, the longest authoritarian regime in Western Europe.

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Main cities

Lisbon (capital)

The capital of Portugal is the westernmost city in continental Europe and has an area of approximately 1,000 sq km. Being the wealthiest city of Portugal, Lisbon lies in the centre of the country and offers a wide variety of options for visitors, including beaches, museums, and places of historical interest, exquisite shopping and exciting nightlife. Also, the city’s centre is being considered for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.


Portugal’s second largest city and capital of the northern region is internationally famous for its Port wine and also known for its culture, enterprising spirit and local cuisine. In 2001 the city was designated European Culture Capital and recently, the city’s centre was recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city is also called “Invicta” (unvanquished) due to its resistance against the Napoleonic Imperial army.


Located in the central part of Portugal, Coimbra is considered to be the country’s 3rd most important city and is famous for its University, one of the oldest in Europe, and also for its monuments, libraries, gardens and nightlife. The “city of students”, as it is called, still holds many remains from Roman times. Coimbra is also known for its Fado de Coimbra, a genre adopted by the students, which is performed with the traditional guitarra de Coimbra (a slightly different version of Lisbon’s fado guitar) and usually sung by male voices.


Capital of the Alentejo region, Évora holds its centre behind well-preserved medieval walls, fact that placed this city on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The city has many monuments from various historical periods namely the Roman temple, the Cathedral of Évora, Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), totally covered with human bones, and Água de Prata Aqueduct.

The city is also noted by its University that was founded in the 16th century and was formerly a Jesuit college.


This city to the South of Portugal is capital of the Algarve region, famous for its warm climate, beaches and for being an extremely popular holiday destination for domestic and foreign tourists.

Recently, Faro is also renowned for its Motorcycling Concentration, which is held every year in this city and draws thousands of bikers and tourists to this particular region.

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Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the European Community in 1986. Over the past decade, successive governments have privatised many state-controlled firms and liberalized key areas of the economy, including the financial and telecommunications sectors. The country qualified for the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998 and began circulating the euro on 1 January 2002 along with 11 other EU member economies. Economic growth had been above the EU average for much of the past decade, but fell back in 2001-05. GDP per capita stands at two-thirds that of the Big Four EU economies. Portugal has been increasingly overshadowed by lower-cost producers in Central Europe and Asia as a target for foreign direct investment. The government faces tough choices in its attempts to boost Portugal’s economic competitiveness while keeping the budget deficit within the Eurozone’s 3%-of-GDP ceiling.

Natural resources

Portugal’s main natural resources include fish, forests (cork), iron ore, copper, zinc, tin, tungsten, silver, gold, uranium, marble, clay, gypsum, salt, arable land and hydropower.


Portugal’s main industries include textiles and footwear; wood pulp, paper, and cork; metals and metalworking; oil refining; chemicals; fish canning; rubber and plastic products; ceramics; electronics and communications equipment; rail transportation equipment; aerospace equipment; ship construction and refurbishment; wine; tourism.


More than half (50.8%) of continental Portugal is dedicated to agriculture – grain, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, grapes; sheep, cattle, goats, swine, poultry, dairy products; fish. The north has a miscellaneous agricultural type (except for the Douro Valley), while the south has developed an extensive monoculture on cereals and olive trees. Wheat (3,000 sq km) and corn (2,680 sq km) are produced in vast areas, followed by barley, potatoes and rice. Larger plantations are the vineyards with 3,750 sq km, but the olive trees have the larger area of about 4,000 sq km.

Portugal is one of the largest producers of olive oil (“azeite”) in the world. Producers, mind you, not exporters…most of the olive oil produced in Portugal is also consumed in Portugal. But as with wine, there is potential for Portugal to make a name for itself with its olive oil. Portugal will never be a mass-producer/exporter on the same scale as its Spanish neighbour to the east, but there are a number of olive varieties unique to Portugal through which Portugal can differentiate itself in the market for high-quality olive oil.


Cork – Portugal is the major exporter of cork products accounting for some 80% world cork revenues. Natural cork bottle stoppers are the type of product that Portugal exports most in this sector, followed by agglomerates (covering, black, etc). In third place come agglomerated bottle-stoppers, followed in descending order by champagne cork stoppers, cork chippings and boards. Wine bottle stoppers are the cork industry’s most important product.

Wine – Portugal, because of its climate and soil conditions is a wine producer par excellence. The characteristics and qualities of its wine are unique and recognized worldwide. Wines produced in Portugal vary according to regions and grape varieties. In fact, there are a myriad of genuinely Portuguese varieties. That’s why, from north to south, Portugal has such a wide range of wines to offer – from its Vinho Verde wine, so deliciously refreshing, to its Port wine, the most full-bodied in the world, and quality table wines, produced in demarcated regions.

Wine plays a fundamental role in the Portuguese economy. Statistics for Portuguese wine exports point to 2 million hectolitres for 2000. Of the total sold abroad, 44% covers Quality Fortified Wine produced in a Demarcated Region, 13% covers Quality Wine produced in a Demarcated Region, and 43% of Table Wine from non-specified regions and Regional Wines. With regard to Fortified Wine, it is noteworthy that Port Wine accounts for 95% and Madeira Wine, only 4%.


The Algarve is a popular tourist destination mainly due to its warm climate, beaches and low costs both for domestic and foreign tourists. The region has still many signs of the Roman presence and the Moorish occupation, reflected on the various ruins and buildings. It occupies the southernmost region of Portugal and although it has a small number of permanent inhabitants (about 400,000), this figure increases to over a million people during the summer.

Another destination of choice is Madeira, a Portuguese autonomous archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean, with only two inhabited islands: Madeira and Porto Santo. Madeira Island is the largest, has a mountainous landscape and is noted for its New Year’s Eve celebration with an impressive fireworks show, flowers, tropical fruits and an all-year-round warm climate. Funchal is Madeira’s capital that sits on a beautiful natural “amphitheatre” surrounding the city.

Things to bear in mind

In general, Portuguese are a very friendly, informal, easy-going people. The language barrier is, usually, not a problem, because most people speak English or at least, a bit of English.

Do visit the many monuments, museums, etc. dedicated to the Descobrimentos, as the Portuguese are very proud of their “discoveries”. In 1415, the Portuguese set sail on an epic voyage that would make them the first to discover the ocean routes to India, Brazil, China and Japan, and at the same time founded settlements on the east and west coasts of Africa.

Do try the local food, as Portuguese cuisine is known to be one of the richest in Europe. One of the 365 ways to prepare bacalhau (salted codfish) is a must.

Things not to do

Do not assume that Portugal is part of Spain, as this is considered to be offensive to the Portuguese. This common mistake is often made due to geographical reasons because Portugal and Spain share the Iberian Peninsula. Also, the Portuguese fought to defend their territory and they are very proud of their small but honoured country.

Do not rush. If you are in a rush, slow down. Most things in Portugal move slowly (except the traffic, of course), so to make the most of your visit go with the flow, rather than against it.

Avoid driving, as it can be stressful. The Portuguese are big Formula 1 fans and it shows. Road signs, although much improved of late, can also send you for a spin.


Hello – Olá / Viva!
Yes – Sim
No – Não
Please – Por favor
Good morning – Bom dia
Good afternoon – Boa tarde
Good evening/night – Boa noite
Thank you – Obrigado (obrigada, if the speaker is a woman)
Goodbye – Adeus
Pleased to meet you – Muito prazer em conhecê-lo (conhecê-la, if the person being introduced is a woman)
See you again soon – Até breve
How are you? – Como está?
Very well – Muito bem

Prepared in cooperation with Viva Translations.

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