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Portugal's construction opportunities

Published on: 8 Oct 2009
Who's out there

Balfour Beatty, in a consortium to build Porto metro; Foster + Partners, which masterplanned the Boavista area of Lisbon; Davis Langdon, at Dragao Stadium, home of FC Porto; Broadway Malyan, with Albufeira Retail Park, and Atkins at the new terminal at Porto airport.

Who you need to know

Portugal has been a major beneficiary of EU funding, enabling it to invest in large infrastructure projects - the construction industry is worth £30bn a year and accounts for 6.5% of GDP - so government clients are key. The biggest private client is developer Sonae.

Where the action is

The new Lisbon airport and upgrading of the existing one; healthcare, where £4.5bn has been earmarked for PPP projects; rail, with a high-speed link and new rail connections to main ports planned; renewable energy, which is due to gain an estimated £6.4bn of investment; port redevelopment projects.

What to do

When tipping, the Portuguese tend to leave either nothing or 5% as a reward, but it is generally expected for a foreign tourist to leave 10%. There is still a sense of formality in social interaction and anyone with a degree is usually addressed as “doutor” (doctor). The Portuguese prefer to do business face-to-face rather than by email or phone, which are seen as impersonal. Relationships are built with people, not companies.

What not to do

In business it is common to give a gift to a prospective partner, so you will offend if you reject a gift offered to you or make it clear it will be distributed to staff. Gifts are intended as a personal gesture and mark of respect, not a bribe. Gifts received should be unwrapped immediately. The country effectively shuts down in August so it's not a good time to schedule meetings.

Down time

Football and food occupy a lot of time. Even if it's not their first team, everybody is a fan of one of the three big football clubs - FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Benfica. Owing to the ocean's proximity, fish is a popular dish in Portugal, especially salted cod, the national dish, for which there are apparently 1,001 recipes.

It's also a great place for wine lovers. There's light and fizzy vinho verde green wine in the north of the country and heavier reds further south in regions like Alentejo - not forgetting port, grown in the north.

The most popular leisure destination is the cafe, where the coffee comes short and strong and with a firewater chaser if you're feeling brave. And of course there's the beach, with the most popular resorts around Lisbon and on the southern Algarve coast.

Fashion dos and don'ts

Appearances matter. People are fashion conscious and believe that clothes indicate social standing and success.

How far will your money go

Major cities have high living costs but rural areas are still very affordable. A single person can live comfortably on €1,000 a month, with €300-€500 covering quality rental space including main utility bills. Bizarrely, most employees are paid 14 monthly salaries per year - receiving double in the summer and at Christmas. Local prices are: 20 cigarettes £1.70, a loaf of bread 50p, a litre of milk 30p, and a decent bottle of red wine £4.

Free and easy

A slap on the wrist is the most likely outcome if you're caught smoking a joint in public.

Going down

Heavy fines will follow if you fail to show identification (such as your passport) if requested by the police, while drivers must carry not only a warning triangle but a reflective vest in case of breakdown.

And finally .. useful phrases

“Acho que há um erro na conta” (I think there's a mistake on the bill); “Os seus bolinhos de bacalhau parecem muito bons” (Your salted cod balls look delicious); “O seu bigode fica-lhe muito bem Sr Guarda” (Your moustache is very becoming).