Starting a Business in Portugal

Starting a Business in Portugal is trending due to the tax incentives still available to non-residents who decide to relocate to Portugal.
Article Last Updated: 17 May, 2024 under Limited Company Set-up Service

1. An introduction to starting a Business in Portugal

Many people are taking advantage of the very generous tax incentives still available to non-residents who decide to relocate to Portugal. Coupled with the modern trend for small businesses to be extremely mobile, able to relocate to anywhere around the globe almost at a moments notice, has had something of a mushroom affect, with many now starting a business in Portugal, particularly in major cities such as Lisbon and Porto

English-speakers would be well advised to hire a professional to manage their business accounting and tax affairs. This person will normally handle registration of the business with the relevant government agencies and then manage ongoing fiscal obligations. Below is some initial information that you can use to orientate yourself to the requirements that you will be most concerned with when starting a business in Portugal:

2. Tax Returns

Sole-traders in Portugal must make quarterly and annual income tax and VAT (known as IVA in Portugal) returns. This will require the maintenance of records of all bills and invoices, with VAT receipts and payments noted separately. An accountant will then use this information to fill-in the relevant tax and VAT forms before submitting them to the local offices of Hacienda (tax office). 

Note: Starting a Business in Portugal is as difficult as almost everywhere else and perhaps it is worth mentioning the obvious: it is advisable to delegate accountancy to accountants, same as legal matters to lawyers. If you have a nice amount of work while going "solo", paperwork can sink your performance or at least cause you some penalty from time to time due to diligences out of deadline, calculation mistakes and so on. Do what you do and focus on doing it well, delegate as much as you can. 

As well as the quarterly income tax and VAT returns, an annual return must be made in respect of both - in the case of VAT at the beginning of the year, before January 31st and in the case of income tax, at the end of June. For those who are self-employed (as opposed to those who own limited companies) this is the same as the annual personal income tax return that most individuals in Portugal must make. 

If your personal financial circumstances are complex e.g. multiple properties, stocks, shares and other investments then your accountant may charge additionally for assisting you with this annual tax return.

3. Tax Deductions

Those costs and bills that give rise to legitimate tax deductions against income in Portugal - as opposed to those which do not - is a subject worthy of a fairly lengthy book. However, as a broad rule, those bills that are necessarily incurred in the operation of a business may typically be deducted. 

So, the rental of offices, any employee related costs as well as the purchase and operation of office equipment (assuming that they are related to the operation of the business) may legitimately be deducted from any income before the payment of taxes. 

More complex questions can sometimes arise where a telephone or vehicle are used partially for work and partially for personal use. Normally the percentage of the cost relating to work can be deducted, but great care must be taken as in some cases the use of a vehicle may not be considered as a suitable deduction.

4. Social Security Obligations

This will cost the typical autonomo or sole-trader around €250 per month. This will entitle a self-employed person to receive health care from the Portuguese national health service, as well as a pension upon reaching the statutory pensionable age. 

Depending on the amount paid, a sole-trader may also receive unemployment benefits should their business become unsustainable. However, this is a complex issue and eligibility will depend on how the business became unsustainable. 

The amount and quantity of unemployment payments will depend on the number and amount of social security contributions that have been made. If you are under 30 years of age or have been long term unemployed or are a woman over the prescribed age you may be entitled to a reduction in the monthly payments. 

This needs to be checked in each particular case. The payment falls due regardless of whether or how much you are earning from your business. It is paid monthly and so it is not sensible to register on the last day of the month as you will be liable for that months social security contributions even though you are only registered for a single day.

5. Invoicing

Most people that move to Portugal have previously only ever worked as employees, which means they have never had experience of having to invoice a client before. For those that have never issued them before, an invoice is an important document for fiscal purposes and is it maybe used in investigations carried out by the revenue officials of Hacienda there are certain legal minimum requirements regarding the information that the invoice must contain:

  • The invoice must be identified as such and clearly contain the word 'Factura' (Invoice in Portuguese) without any additions. It must contain the date of emission and the date of carrying-out the activity if different from the date of emission.
  • The invoices must be numbered consecutively but the starting place or space between each number is irrelevant (001, 002, 003 or 1000, 1005, 1010).
  • Your fiscal details must be included - NIE number (or CIF if a company), registered address of the business.
  • Details of the Client - NIE or CIF and registered address. This is unnecessary if the client is not a business or other professional but an end consumer.
  • Discounts - if any, should be identified.
  • Base Amount charged - the net amount charged plus the IVA (VAT) including the rate charged.
  • Total Amount Charged - the previous quantities added together.

Any currency may be used, but there must be a conversion into Euros. The invoice may be emitted in any form, and there is no requirement for it to be stamped. 

So as an example, if you are charging €1000 for a service, you would in fact invoice 1000€ + 23% IVA (VAT) - 15% IRPF (income tax) and therefore expect to receive €1080 (€1000 + €230 - €150 = €1080). This means that you are effectively paying your tax as you go. At the end of each quarter, your tax bill is calculated and any retentions you have already made are deducted from your final tax bill. 

You will need also to keep any VAT you charge apart, as you are responsible for paying this to the government at the end of each quarter. VAT received is  balanced against any VAT paid on products and services required for the running of the business, and any positive balance is payable.

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Elsa has been running a private legal practice since 1997, assisting both national and international clients in civil and business legal matters. In addition to her primary law degree, Elsa later obtained a Master’s Degree at the University of Austin, in the United States, with a postgraduate doctorate in international trade as well as mediation, arbitration and negotiation.
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