How to Make Portuguese Friends

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Written by: | Last updated on November 8, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 8 minutes
This article is available in: en_US

The Portuguese are renowned for their warm, welcoming demeanour, yet as many expatriates discover, transitioning from friendliness to genuine friendships can sometimes be a surprisingly difficult journey.

Expats and foreigners often find themselves orbiting within their own clusters, while the local Portuguese, particularly those who have deep roots in a specific area, tend to have established circles of friends, woven tightly over years, and are not necessarily looking to expand them.

The friendships that do flourish tend to be the exception rather than the norm, often requiring time, patience, and a mutual willingness to bridge the cultural divide but, more importantly, a little luck too.

In this introduction, we’ll delve into the nuances of navigating social spheres in Portugal, understanding the subtle art of building friendships in a country where expat and local lives intertwine yet often run parallel.

Learn the Language

Mastering the Portuguese language is a cornerstone of truly integrating into the fabric of life in Portugal. While it’s true that English is widely spoken, especially in urban hubs and tourist areas, and the locals often display impressive linguistic flexibility, learning Portuguese is a powerful demonstration of your commitment to your new home.

It’s a gesture that resonates deeply with the Portuguese, who may otherwise harbour the perception that foreigners are transient visitors, dipping into the culture without the intent to fully immerse or integrate, particularly within local communities.

By taking the time to learn Portuguese, you’re not just unlocking the ability to order a coffee or navigate public transport; you’re opening the door to genuine relationships. It’s a sign that you’re planting roots, eager to understand and participate in the local way of life.

Moreover, it’s a matter of inclusivity. Without Portuguese, group conversations must often pivot to English on your account, which is unfair on everyone else there. And, even though many people speak fantastic English, those that don’t can sometimes be embarrassed by not being able to—especially if they were expecting to be able to speak in Portuguese.

Branch Out of Meetup Groups

Meetup groups in Portugal serve as a vibrant hub for expats. However, with names like ‘expats in Portugal’ or ‘Brits Abroad,’ it isn’t surprising that they tend to primarily attract expats and very few Portuguese.

However, within this sea of expatriates, you’ll find a sprinkling of Portuguese individuals. These locals are often the ones who are open to expanding their social horizons and embracing friendships outside their established networks. They can be invaluable contacts for those looking to integrate more deeply into Portuguese society.

When attending these meetups, it’s tempting to gravitate towards the familiarity of fellow expats, but making a conscious effort to connect with Portuguese attendees can be much more rewarding. Engage with them, show interest in their culture and experiences, and you may find yourself welcomed into a world that offers a richer, more authentic understanding of life in Portugal.

Tip: The groups that are primarily made up of Portuguese people as opposed to foreigners will generally have their Meetup or Facebook pages in Portuguese as opposed to English.

Find a Hobby

Diving into a hobby or joining an organisation in Portugal can be a golden ticket to building a diverse social circle. Shared interests are the kindling for friendships; they provide common ground from which conversations can flourish and connections can deepen.

Whether it’s joining a local football club, participating in a dance class, playing padel (very popular in Portugal), or volunteering with a community group, these activities draw together individuals who already have something in common. This commonality can bridge the gap between different cultures and languages, making it easier to form both Portuguese and expatriate friendships.

General meetup groups can sometimes feel like a social lottery, as they gather a wide array of individuals who may not share more than their expat status. In contrast, being part of a specific interest group means you’re more likely to encounter the same faces regularly, allowing relationships to develop organically over time.

For instance, those who attend church in Portugal often find it a particularly fruitful environment for meeting locals. The shared rituals and sense of community in these spaces naturally foster connections, making it a conducive setting for expats to weave themselves into the social fabric of their new Portuguese home.

The Same Logical Applies Online

These days, many people use apps to make friends.

  • Patook is designed with the sole purpose of platonic match-making, allowing you to connect with individuals in search of a friendly rapport.
  • Bumble, known for its dating platform, also houses a BFF feature, although it’s worth noting that its intentions can sometimes be misinterpreted, with some users seeking more than friendship.
  • Even dating apps like Tinder are being repurposed by some as a means to expand their social circle, with clear disclaimers in profiles that they’re on the hunt for friends, not romance.

Similarly, many people use language exchanges, whether through an app or meetup like speak.social, as a way of meeting people.

However, the same principles apply to meeting people over apps as in real life. It’s essential to seek out individuals with whom you share common interests and values. The shared experience of living in Portugal might be a conversation starter, but it’s the mutual passions and hobbies that often cement a casual chat into a deeper connection.

Get Vouched

One of the main reasons that it’s so hard to make friends in Portugal is due to the close-knit nature of Portuguese society. People in Portugal tend to have their circles, often made up almost entirely of family and lifelong friends, and breaking into these circles as an outside is very difficult. You need to be “voucher for” by someone else in the circle.

As on Redditor, /u/Leading_Salamander_8, writes:

The truth is most of the fiends people make in Portugal are somewhat “vouched for” by someone that had introduced them, by a shared institution (i.e. at school, from the same church, from work), or simply by consistence over time – very rarely are friends made by simply chatting on the street, or striking up a conversation in an elevator.

Get a Job

The workplace is traditionally one of the most fertile grounds for friendship, offering daily interactions and shared experiences that can quickly lead to lasting bonds.

In Portugal, however, the expat narrative often veers away from the conventional office setting. Many expats are retirees soaking up the Portuguese sun post-career, or digital nomads who work remotely. While this lifestyle has its allure, it inadvertently bypasses one of the most effective means of meeting new people and integrating into the local community.

If you’re an expat in Portugal missing out on office camaraderie, it might be worth considering dipping your toes into the local job market. Even part-time work or a side gig can open up a new dimension of social opportunities.

For those not looking for traditional employment, volunteering can be equally rewarding. It’s a way to contribute to your new community while also placing you in the heart of a network of like-minded individuals, including many locals. Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and belonging, and the collaborative nature of such work often leads to friendships that are both profound and enduring.

Be Patient

Patience is a virtue, particularly when it comes to cultivating friendships in a new country. Whether you’re seeking to befriend locals or fellow foreigners in Portugal, it’s important to remember that deep, meaningful connections rarely happen overnight.

Finding your tribe is a journey, one that requires time, persistence, and a dash of resilience. The social landscape here, as in any nation, is complex and nuanced. Bonds are often forged in the slow simmer of shared experiences and mutual trust, not in the rapid boil of immediate gratification.

It’s easy to feel a sense of urgency, to want to establish a network swiftly to fend off the pangs of loneliness that can accompany a move abroad. However, genuine friendships need space to grow and can’t be rushed. They develop through repeated interactions, shared laughs, and sometimes, shared challenges.

Give yourself the grace to settle in, to explore different social settings, and to understand that each conversation, each outing, is a step towards finding your community. Be open, be yourself, and let the process unfold with time. Your patience will pay dividends in the form of lasting, meaningful friendships that truly feel like home.

In my experience, what makes the difference is time and repetition – keep talking and smiling and give it some real time (we’re talking many months or even years) and move very carefully and progressively (i.e. don’t go from a chat to dinner, go from a chat to coffee, from coffee to drinks, then drinks again, then drinks again, then drinks + snacks) – what I’m saying is that you have to really ease into it.

/u/Leading_Salamander_8

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.