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Things for Americans to Consider

Hiring a “contractor”, a plumber, electrician, handyman, pool man, gardener, or anyone doing a job for you in or outside of your home, is very different here in Portugal than in the USA.

First of all let me say there are A LOT of highly skilled, very hard-working Portuguese {and other nationalities} here. The thing that we Americans must keep foremost in our minds, and that we must adapt to, is the way things work and the way that people work. Life is at a much slower pace here. As I said, there are a lot of hard workers but you will find the hours that workers keep to be much different than America. Whoever you hire will work at their own pace. For the purpose of saving my fingers from typing all the possible people you can hire, I will simply refer to any, and all the people you can hire as the/a  “worker” in this article.

So you have purchased a home and unless it is all new and shiny, you will have to hire someone at some point to fix, refurbish or change something in your home. In the U.S. there were many ways to find a contractor. There were ads in newspapers, multiple ads on TV, ads in your mailbox and your email inbox, ads on your kids’ soccer complex walls, bulletin boards full of business cards in restaurants and shops. Ads for every kind of worker or business that you could or would need was usually right in your face… repeatedly! You could call and get estimates, look them up on the Better Businesses Bureau website and go to other websites to look at reviews. Or you could get a referral from a friend.

In Portugal, your best bet is to start with recommendations for friends, family and fellow expats who can lead you to great workers who speak at least a smattering of English.

I suggest you add a translation APP to your phone right now. Otherwise, you will become frustrated. Try to get several estimates if you can. This is extremely hard sometimes because you may only have one, or with luck two names. Getting an estimate for work is like pulling teeth sometimes. It’s not because they don’t know what they will need or approximately how long the job will take, it’s because many workers are not used to giving estimates. It’s all in their head. They might have to get someone at home to help them write an estimate. Some of the most excellent workers we have had are not very literate because they quit school to learn their trade. Single tradesmen will come up with a fairly close estimate. The job may be under a little or over a little but usually not by much. Estimates we have gotten from larger companies with more workers seem to vary a great deal from the independent worker. We have had estimates for the very same work vary by €9,000.


contractors in Portugal

When you are ready to hire, write out your questions in European Portuguese. This is very important because a lot of translation sites focus on Brazilian Portuguese. While some words may be similar, a lot are totally different. Print off your wants and needs in Portuguese and in English. This will aid you in your interview and estimate process. The contractors that you interview will be comparing apples to apples. Make copies so you can give the paper to the worker or business.

Portuguese workers come and go at will. Theirs… not your will. If they say the job will take a week to complete, double that. If they say they will start Monday, don’t worry too much if they have not shown up by Tuesday or Wednesday. In the States, if you had a contractor or business not show up within 15-30 minutes of the scheduled time, you might be calling them to find out the problem. As I said earlier, the Portuguese work at a slower pace. They will never have a heart attack because nothing is an emergency.

Tomorrow Amanhã Maybe tomorrow, maybe 2-3 days, maybe next week
Next week Na próxima semana Maybe next week… could be the week after
In the morning de manhã Maybe, could be the afternoon, could be the next day
After lunch Depots do almoço At least 2 hours
Payment Pagamento Independent workers might want partial payment at the end of the week (in cash). Keep a record book and get their initials next to each payment. They are usually not dishonest, just forgetful,
Total Todos Don’t be surprised if it’s less than the estimate. They would rather over-estimate and then not charge as much than have to ask for more.

Portuguese independent workers very rarely if ever sign contracts.  You will only get a contract from a business. And don’t think because they are a business that the above definitions don’t apply to them. They apply to almost all contractors and workers in Portugal.

The best places to find good workers is word of mouth from friends or expat forums such as Expats Portugal.

Don’t forget to ask your realtor or your personal banker (the one you will be sure to make friends with).

About the author: Peggy moved to Portugal permanently in 2019 from Kentucky USA. She now lives near Pêra, Silves on the Algarve. You can connect with Peggy via the forum. Her username is @peggyl


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