Country info and advice - Portugal
The following comments are from teachers who have taught, or are currently teaching, in Portugal. If you are a teacher and have some advice to share, please add it here.
Moving abroad is a large undertaking; laws, customs and the entire way of life in Portugal may well differ greatly from what you are used to. But don't be discouraged from living your dream of a new life in Portugal, just arm yourself with as much information you can about Portugal and the Portuguese way of life before you move and keep as open a mind as possible so that you can immerse yourself in your new life. If you're going to be working in Portugal you will soon make new friends, contacts and business associates and chances are you will be in an environment where you can practice and improve your Portuguese language skills and this will help you greatly in your day to day life in your new country.
Beware of schools offering free accommodation. I had a one year contract with a small school in northern Portugal. The residence was a flat attached to the old school building. I was told that it is a one-bedroom. However, there was no bedroom at all. This would have been fine for a temporary accommodation. But there were problems with heating, hot water up to a lingering sewer smell in the bathroom. The toilet and the sink looked like they were salvaged from a dump. The owners changed the toilet and sink but the lingering sewer smell stayed on. I had to leave after 1 month.
As a Portuguese living in Portugal you may think my opinion is compromised but I'd like everyone to know that Portugal is a lovely place to live in. Of course there are some people that will disagree with me but there is always someone with not so good experiences wherever we go. In Portugal you'll find people from all around the world, our country has good weather, good accommodations, and depending on where you choose to live, you'll find large cities or nice calm villages. There are several bi-lingual schools in the Lisbon, Oporto and Algarve areas due to the large foreign communities living here. You can also find foreigners' support groups where people from your own country meet and share experiences and ideas. Please contact your embassies as they will give you information about theses groups. The Portuguese are nice, we try our best to help others and even if you don't know how to speak our language, you'll find that a few words will take you a long way because everyone will appreciate knowing that you are trying to make yourself understood. As someone once said, Portugal is the second world - we're not quite as developed as the first world or as undeveloped as the third world and we seem to have the best of both worlds. Sometimes you'll have to be patient but you'll find that Portugal is worth it! I hope you enjoy my country when you visit or when you move here.
I worked for a school in a suburb of Porto. It has schools in Maia, Gaia and other places. It was completely disorganized and ran by an owner without any TEFL experience. Be wary about teaching in Porto and only go for well known schools: IH or British Council.
As a Canadian teacher that has been living in Portugal for the last year. I would tell those interested in coming here to know that that cost of living here has increased drastically over the last few years. It is more expensive than living in Toronto. You can have a good life here, depending on what you are expecting and will accept. There are many people in Portugal that are very nice, but at the same time you have to be careful like anywhere else so that you are not taken in by those that would like to take advantage of you. It is an odd combination of both first world and third world. So be as informed as you can before coming and don't rely on information from only one source even if it is the government or consulate... I learned that that was misleading often. I am tri-lingual and do speak Portuguese and even then I ran into some interesting situations. So I don't discourage anyone but I do ask you to be careful and to be prepared.
I am currently working and living in Porto as an English teacher in a private school. I agree with Rosa - prices have risen drastically here but unfortunately wages have not. The current financial 'crisis' doesn't help either with more and more people being forced to accept ridiculously short contracts or to work on recibos verdes (green receipts). The latter were introduced to help freelance workers and tradespeople i.e. the self-employed, however loopholes in the regulations means that many employers (even government agencies!) are using this as a way of getting around giving teachers temporary contracts. They do this to avoid paying any tax or social security payments for you, the teacher - you will end up paying for these yourself. This means paying a social security bill of upwards of 150â‚¬ a month whether you earn anything or not. Be warned - if you find yourself 'unemployed' you'll still have to pay this bill! Plus because you're making all the contributions yourself your take-home pay will be substantially less than an employed co-worker. On the flip side you are exempt from tax and social security contributions for the first year so perhaps it's a good idea to cut and run after a year to a better-paid country to teach! This is a huge pity as Porto is an amazing city. But I have to say, the experience of dealing with the bureaucracy of a '2nd world' country takes its toll over time.
I have lived in Oporto, Portugal for the past five years. I lived in AlcobaÃ§a in the Lisbon area for one. I would never live in Oporto ever again if I had a choice. The people are narrow and closed in Oporto. I have not made one friend here. In the Lisbon area I made friends easily, and I was invited to their homes quickly. What a difference Oporto is. I hate it here, but my husband has his job here, and since jobs these days are difficult to find, I am a prisoner of Oporto. Yes, it is pretty, but the food is horrible. They don't even know how to make a decent cup of coffee. On the other hand, the food is delicious down south.
I've lived in Portugal, Porto
region for over 20 years. I agree that you have to be very careful with
contracts. IH, British Council, Cambridge school offer good conditions, and the
teaching is nice, with small classes, although most of the teaching is in the
evening or Saturday.
The people of Portugal are friendly, but family comes first, so it may sometimes take a while to be invited to someone's home. They are reserved, but generally polite and accepting of foreigners. I don't find the Portuguese any more narrow minded than any other nationality; there are all types of people wherever you go. It helps to remember that there is no right or wrong as far as culture is concerned; I've met many foreigners who are upset at the Portuguese way of doing things because of their own ethno-centric narrow mindedness.
They are very proud of their traditional food, which I also like, although I prefer the food in the many gourmet restaurants springing up around Porto. The coffee, in my opinion, is the best in Europe (if you like it strong and slightly bitter).
The countryside and cities are beautiful. Apart from Porto itself, I particularly recommend the beaches of Vila Nova de Gaia, and the cities of GuimarÃ£es and Amarante.
I've been living an working in
Porto for over two years now. It's true that there are some schools that you
should avoid and as mentioned before there are more internationally reputable
schools that are more professional. Wages are not great and don't stretch as far
as they did due to the 'crisis'. Contracts are like gold-dust - most teacher
work on the dreaded green receipts (also mentioned above).
However, I have to say that I love Porto and have loads of friends here - Portuguese and foreign. I have always found Porto to be much friendlier than the south and the people are much more approachable and down-to-earth. I'm really surprised by Eileen's comments, as this has not been my experience at all. The food is great here and something the Portuense people are extremely proud of - but of course some restaurants are better than others.
It's also much, much cheaper than Lisbon, where apartments are easily three times the price - wages are not! They seem to be the same as Porto!
All-in-all I love Porto and its bohemian charm. There's a fantastically cool night scene here and it was recently rated as destination of the year by the NY Times - praise indeed.
Having lived here in Porto for
several years, I would say the most important thing to do early on, if you
intend on staying for longer than a year, is get informed. The tax and social
security system here can seem very complicated and during this time of financial
crisis, many unscrupulous employers are taking advantage of foreigners who are
ignorant of the laws.
On the other side of things, the people in Portugal are welcoming and warm and often fascinated by us foreigners and our slightly odd ways. I would even go so far as to say they are more forgiving of us than they are of each other in certain situations.
Once you have made friends with a Portuguese person, you are likely to have a friend for life. The family is put before everything and everyone else, so bear this in mind when it comes to Sunday lunches at the in-laws, where copious amounts of delicious food (meat heavy) are served up and consumed in front of the doting mother.
Football is another institution here, with most falling into 3 camps, Porto, Bem Fica and Sporting. Always a highly controversial topic.
Having spent time in both North and South, I would say that I do NOT consider the food in the North to be anything less than excellent. Yes, it is more difficult if you are not a meat or fish lover. However, many vegetarian restaurants have sprung up recently, which a vegan friend highly recommends.
My experiences of Porto in particular have been very positive. I have found the people patient and warm. Yes, they may not approach you first in a cafe, but then they will welcome you if you initiate a conversation. The majority under 40 speak a decent level of English and will go to great lengths to try to communicate.
Given that everyone here seems to take great pride in their culinary skills and the Portuguese cuisine, it is quite common to have friends over to the house for dinner, at least in my experience. However, one must be open to the experience and like any other national cuisine, there will be something for everyone. It's not ALL about codfish, although prepared the right way, that can be delicious
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