Portuguese Bureaucracy in the Digital Age

How Portugal is Making it Easy to Take Care of Business

Getting all the right immigration documentation, setting up a new business, understanding new tax codes, and buying property in a foreign country seems like it would be a huge headache just for the sake of a little sunshine, but many of the IPBN members who have taken the plunge disagree. For many of them, this move was the perfect decision, in part, due to the Portuguese bureaucratic system itself, which has recently further improved its processes due to mandatory appointments to comply with COVID-19 regulations.

But don't think being digial means supplying your taxes, business registrations, and residency documents is a breeze. There is still the odd archaic practice of triplicate hard copies, triple stamped and stapled a certain way, but luckily, that’s moving on according to the accountant Pedro Texeira, CPA at Taxlibris. Organizations like IAPMEI and Segurança Social have been scrambling to make their online platforms bug-free to assist citizens and residents alike over the past six months. Meanwhile, the Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira’s (AT) website has been the most advanced of all three departments, and one of the most efficient within the E.U. “Now, at these three departments, you can do everything online. It’s just a shame that the IRN (Registos) and SEF haven’t caught up yet.”

While there is a dichotomy to bureaucratic dealings, there’s typically an up-side. On the one hand, you can pay VAT (taxes) online but on the other hand, you have to have an accountant, which means paying the accountant. However, there's a plus in that you receive expert advice that could certainly benefit you in the long run. Texeira says that even if people could, they shouldn’t try to do their own accounting here in Portugal. “If you just jump in, you’ll get crazy. You need an advisor behind you to help guide you.”

Accountants can help take the burden of number-crunching, calendar alerts for online payments, making sure your Social Security contributions are up to date, and submitting your business’ monthly SAFT zip files to the Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira so that you and your business can stay above board. And according to Teixeira, Taxlibris has been doing it all digitally for quite some time to ease the strain of client availability. In fact, all their processes are automatized, which has made working from home that much easier for himself and his team once COVID-19 restrictions came into play. “We do miss the personal interactions of course,” says Texeira, “but we are luckily set up to have minimal contact.”

Businesses being obliged to have an accountant here in Portugal is one of those laws that many might think antiquated, but it’s not just about the burden of supplying documents and receipts should the taxman come knocking. Accountants are equipped with the knowledge of the latest tax code updates and the latest professional software that can save you a lot in the long run. IPBN member Mário Ferreira of acountia.pt warns against trying to do it all yourself anyway, saying, "You must be sufficiently agile and fully aware in Portuguese tax law and other government entities (such as Social Security) also with the Depart of Finances software SYS in order to comply with the required returns in due dates in order to avoid penalties for no returns or late returns." So basically, it's worth it for a little peace of mind. 

Portugal enjoys double taxation agreements with around 200 different countries including the U.S.A. meaning that pensions and overseas capital gains if you have help applying for the correct tax regime, can go straight to your pocket for ten years with very little taken off the top. For people on retirement and new businesses, this aspect is very attractive, so having an accountant guide you toward these perks you might otherwise miss certainly pays off for you and your business. IPBN members can reap great rewards like full access to IPBN members like Pedro and Mario. With the right support, a lot of the guesswork can be taken out, making your move much smoother and your life much richer.

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