Raquel Batista of Lighthouse Consulting
Raquel Batista of Lighthouse Consulting

Portugal: Great place to live, difficult place to run a business

I recently confessed here my shape-shifting intentions and the plan to sculpt my ageing body. As the kilos are evaporating into the gymnasium air-conditioning, one of the fringe benefits I’m realising in this so-far enlightening process is an urge for ‘fitness’ in other areas of my life too.

As I streamline my physique, there are noticeable parallels in how I want to run my business, finances and even friendships. Lean is good, and I’m inspired to trim the metaphorical fat wherever I can as I transform my ‘dad bod’ into a well-oiled machine.

It’s one thing, however, to pump iron and measure calories, much of which is under my control. It’s an altogether different matter when approaching Portugal’s ways of overseeing businesses and ‘rendering unto Caesar’.

I didn’t come here to retire; I couldn’t. I came here to work. And as my method of creating a livelihood shifted away from the original plan in marketing and business development towards surprisingly becoming the ‘Portugal influencer and YouTuber’ I am today, I wanted to do it right.

There I was then, pre-pandemic, starting off with the best of intentions as a beacon of self-employed excellence. I registered my ‘activity’, as the Portuguese put it, setting myself up in Finanças at my local Loja de Cidadão.

My intention was to become a Portuguese business, pay my dues, and do the right thing as a foreigner coming into the country. But let me tell you, from bitter experience, ‘the road to hell IS paved with good intentions’, and furthermore, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.

That first good intention led to a special hell, my first of many costly mistakes, and an act of ‘migrant naivety’ that should have been done through a professional.

In those early days, and as usual, Portuguese friends and acquaintances were always happy to point me in the right direction, making recommendations of both people and processes. I realise now that not being able to help others is an act of national shame, which I think is laudable but can be painful.

My first (informal) advisors made it all sound very easy, and I think were the first to suggest I get myself set up with “the portal”, a place from where, it turns out, few emerge unscathed – even the best of the Portuguese.

In case you don’t know, the Finanças Portal is the hub of all things Portuguese and fiscal. To use it, you must have the legendary NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal), and an access code that is sent to you by post. It is here that the first casualties come to harm, sometimes lost in a loop of lost mail, as liabilities and fines mount up online.

Both Mrs M and I were able to get NIFs and log-in codes fairly easily as I recall, although these too may be experiences I’ve chosen to bury deep in my unconscious mind, alongside countless other administrative anxieties and bureaucratic bungles.

The NIF and access code combo, for anyone’s future reference, is what your chosen accountant (and choose you should!) will need to go into the fiscal dark web on your behalf. Whilst this seems a gaping security and privacy breach, it is indeed standard practice for your fiscal representative to do their job – pretending to be you, online.

Fast-forwarding from those early days, where a local accountant once helped me using his teenage son as a translator, and following other personal recommendations that didn’t quite work out, I can share that I have been penalised, fined and even had my bank account frozen in what feels like a smoke-filled hall of mirrors for citizens who just want to earn money and pay the government what they ask for.

Should I be so open and candid about this? Well, why not? The Portuguese government is. As well as shutting me down, they have also shamed me to clients whilst demanding of them direct payment of my invoiced fees. They even publish downloadable PDF lists of debtors on the afore-mentioned portal. Let’s just get this out in the open.

I’m past caring about being ashamed or shamed as I now turn my attention towards helping others avoid the mistakes I made. Now on my fifth accountant, who is so far, so good, I am back in the saddle, facing this nightmare fully – as we all must if we want to succeed in business here. I am so ready for the next step in business just as I am to flex and groan in the gym. No pain, no gain.

I have long-since abandoned my expectations about accountancy, taxation and business admin here in Portugal, as I contemplate a move from the ‘green receipts’ system (which are not green), edging now into business incorporation.

In a realm where Portuguese people often don’t understand how things work, and even accountants disagree with each other, I am delighted to have found Raquel Batista of Lighthouse Consulting.

This remarkable woman, and incidentally busy mum, daringly quit the corporate world a couple of years ago and now uses her considerable experience in law and finance to help foreigners create and grow businesses.

“I know from my own experience that starting and running a business is hard here in Portugal,” she says. “I love helping people get money-making ideas off the ground and onto the right tracks. I have even written a step-by-step guide on how to do it. If you want to take the leap yourself, I am here for you, just a phone call or email away!”

In Portugal’s fiscal rabbit-hole, you need this sort of help. Going it alone is not for the faint-hearted. And resist employing a ‘cheap’ accountant as this can create an awful false economy in the long-term. Chances are, if they don’t charge you very much, you’re not going to get much value.

In the spirit of physical AND financial fitness, I urge you – if you are in the business or starting a business – to take action and keep going. Falling behind means certain failure and misery. You may end up paying hundreds of euros in fines like I have, money I now realise would have been better spent on engaging the good professionals I now suggest.

I truly want foreigners to start businesses in Portugal. What better way to ‘give back’ to the economy, and to the society, than to create a business, add value and pay taxes – value-added and income tax – plus social security?

Even if the government is not helping us do this in any obviously helpful way, making it unnecessarily hard and punishing when you digress from their obscure framework, I say let’s push on, get help and create great enterprises anyway.

Honestly, I don’t feel out of the woods yet. These have been hard times, with hard-learned lessons albeit with useful knowledge gained. I do believe I have finally found a team of professionals who can work with me in the way that I need. Raquel is in the centre of that mix and is clearly a ray of sunshine and hope to others who I suggest consult her.

Wish me luck as I become a true Portuguese business, and why not join me in starting your own entrepreneurial venture in Portugal – generating profit and adding value to the Portuguese economy and society?

As the Pet Shop Boys said famously: “Let’s make lots of money”. And while we’re about it, let’s make it easier for other foreigners to follow in our footsteps. They needn’t succumb to seemingly archaic and anti-enterprise systems that hinder and harm those simply ‘going about their business’, as I nearly did. They just need the right help.

By Carl Munson

Carl Munson is host of the Good Morning Portugal! show every weekday on YouTube and creator of www.learnaboutportugal.com, where you can learn something new about Portugal every day!

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