Working as an expat in Portugal is one of the many moving pieces of moving abroad. For the most part, Portugal wants to see that you have brought your source of income with you. High-paying jobs are not common here. Minimum wage is around $750 a month but you can’t really live on that unless you’re living with family or have roomies. And even, then, who wants to? Portuguese and Portuguese-fluent people have first crack at any jobs, with the exception perhaps of very specialized positions, such as university guest lecturers or very high-level tech experts.
When applying for the D7 Long Term Stay Visa, you need to show that you can support yourself in Portugal. For retirees, that means having enough Social Security income and/or investment income to meet the minimums. For those who are younger or who don’t earn enough from Social Security, you need to show that you have other income, whether it is regular investment income, self-employment or a remote work contract from your current employer.
Remote Work Contracts
The COVID pandemic forced many employers to allow remote work and (unsurprisingly to some of us) people got their work done while enjoying a better work/life balance. Not all employers are onboard with having a remote workforce, but many more are now open to it. If you’re already working remotely, you have a better chance of being able to do so from outside the United States. You need to have a letter or contract from your employer stating that you are employed by them and how much you earn. It needs to expressly state that they are allowing you to work from Portugal. When you apply for your D7 visa, have copies of your pay stubs (usually three months) in your visa package.
Here’s the sticking point:
If you are working remotely from Portugal as a W2 employee, your employer needs to file Portuguese taxes and social security for you. Most likely, they will not want the additional expense and headache of setting that up. The work around is to become an independent contractor (1099) and have a contract with your “former” employer. You are then responsible for your own taxes to Portugal and the United States (that’s a whole ‘nother topic that I am NOT qualified to speak on). On the plus side, if you’re now paying for your own medical insurance, it’s very inexpensive here compared to the US. Another option may be for your employer to use an international Professional Employment Organization (PEO) that takes care of taxes and all the other employment requirements for them.
Self Employed Peeps
If you’ve been self-employed for a while without forming an actual company, and you have tax returns (usually with a schedule C), your tax returns and bank statements should be sufficient to qualify you. Some people set up corporate entities in the States (LLCs, C or S-corps—speak to your CPA on which is the best entity for you) and pay themselves as a 1099 contractor. Again, you need to show that you earn more than the minimum required. Frankly, the more, the mo’ better.
If you already have a corporate entity and have been paying yourself as a W2 employee, you might want to speak with both your US accountant and a Portuguese accountant to see if you should change over to contractor status. Another option is to take your pay as dividends which are taxed differently from earned income. DEFINITELY speak to a qualified accountant if you are looking to do this. In both countries.
What if you can’t qualify?
You’re too young for retirement funds, you are a W2 working stiff, and Daddy didn’t leave you a trust fund. (I hate when that happens!)
This is the part where you either start hunting for a new job that will allow you to work remotely from Portugal or you start building a side hustle. A quick Google search for “US companies in Portugal” shows that there are around 1,000 US companies in Portugal employing close to 50,000 workers. Those workers are not necessarily US citizens, however. According to the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal, the majority of companies are in IT, followed by consulting and health. It may be worth taking a more in-depth look at the companies that are already established in Portugal and investigating job opportunities.
Your better bet is building a side hustle that will provide an income stream of at least $1,000 per month, and really, more. In spite of all the claims you see on the Internet (WHAT? Not everything I read on the Internet is true?), building a steady income stream doesn’t happen overnight. The good thing is it can be done. The other good thing is that you don’t need to be hauling in six figures to qualify for the D7 visa.
Skip all those offers to make seven figures passively by hitting the easy button. The fastest way to start building a side income is to actively work. It needs to be something you can do remotely, that you have some expertise in, and something that will actually pay enough to justify doing it. That means your side hustle shouldn’t be working craft fairs or even selling physical products that you make on Etsy. Why? Because shipping from Portugal is expensive and frankly, not reliable. Do look at drop-shipping physical products, if that’s what you want to do. Or create digital products that you can sell on sites like Etsy, Amazon, and Gumroad.
Can you offer consulting services? What are your areas of expertise and is your knowledge something people will pay for? Do you know people in the industry who would hire you? Will offering consulting services cause conflict with your current employer?
Blogging is a slow build, less slow if you understand SEO and offer something that has a wide enough audience to support your efforts. But blogging is more of a support platform to offer affiliate products or highlight your services. You need to have some tech skills as well as online marketing skills.
Going any of these routes means you are building your own business, which takes time and frankly, isn’t easy. If you’re in a hurry, you might want to pick up remote work using sites like Upwork, Freelancer.com, or if you’re strictly a writer, sites like Constant-Content.com. Those sites keep a record of your earnings. More important, you can pick up jobs and get paid quickly. I recommend having at least a year of earnings under your belt, but that may not be necessary. The D7 process only asks for three months of records. However, I’d personally feel more confident with at least a year’s track record behind me.
Can you pick up a job in Portugal?
There are jobs for English speakers, even more if you also speak Portuguese, German, and/or French. However, this is something to look into after you qualify for your visa and arrive in Portugal. You need to show a verifiable income source that meets the minimums when you are applying for the visa.
Once here, you can probably pick up a part-time job, especially if you’re in a tourist area. The hospitality industry in particular seeks out English speakers, but be aware that these are not high paying jobs. Call center jobs start at around €9 or €10 per hour. IT jobs pay more, of course. There are companies that will hire you to teach English—you will benefit from having a certification.
Be aware that most Portuguese under the age of 40 speak fluent English and jobs go to the Portuguese people first. The D7 visa is for people who can support themselves using funds from outside of Portugal.
If you want to freelance in Portugal, with Portuguese clients, you need to register as a freelancer, setting yourself up with a Portuguese social security number, along with all the usual qualifications of having a NIF, having a permanent address, possibly having a tax representative. For more information on freelancing in Portugal, read How to Register as a Freelancer.
I see people who I suspect are “working under the table” advertise their services in various expat groups. I do NOT recommend doing this, either as a resident or full-fledged citizen. Follow the rules, pay your taxes. It’s expensive to move here; you don’t want to get kicked out for making a few hundred Euro under the table. That’s just stupid.
Forewarned is Forearmed.
Having verifiable income is part of the bigger picture of financing your move abroad. Working from Portugal on a D7 visa is a matter of having everything set up before you leave the States. You need to have a track record of earnings, whether it is as a W2 employed remote worker, as an independent contractor, or through your own business. The good news is you don’t need to earn a lot of money to qualify for the visa. The bad news is that you need to earn at least double the required amount to live in Portugal. As long as you know that going in, you should be fine.