Many of the best companies in the world are choosing Lisbon for their innovation and service centres
Laid-back Lisbon ticks post-Brexit boxes
For London-based financial entities considering a move after Brexit, there is a lot to love about Lisbon: cheap labour; a highly-educated multilingual workforce; tax incentives; a stable government; membership of the EU’s Single Market and euro zone.
It is also a prime location for access to Europe, Africa and the Americas, including 250 million inhabitants in the Portuguese-speaking markets.
Staffers moving from the UK capital will be even more excited about the laid-back lifestyle. “Lisbon is a much more manageable city and has a huge amount to offer,” says the British expat Tim Seconde, 42, the head of capital markets at Retail Partners Europe, who moved to Lisbon 17 years ago. “When you can get from the city centre to a beautiful beach in 20 minutes you know you’re getting something right. Eating out and nightlife scenes have also changed considerably since I’ve been here. There is much more on offer now and the city has become much more trendy.”
The city has come along way in the last decades says Rui Coelho, the executive director of Invest Lisboa, which was created in 2009 to attract companies of all sizes to Lisbon. “At that time the city was bankrupt, unmotivated and with an empty and decaying city centre. Now Lisbon is beating all-time records in real estate investment, tourism and entrepreneurship. Many of the best companies in the world are choosing Lisbon for their innovation and service centres; one of the last ones was Daimler with its Digital Delivery Hub. The annual Web Summit put us on the map for start-ups all over the world. The BBC said Lisbon is the best European capital for work and play. So Lisbon is not a secret anymore…”
“Lisbon offers everything a normal city in Europe offers and more," says Jeremy Bryant, 40, who moved from Paris to Lisbon in September 2014 to establish TimeResQ (www.timeresq.com), a grocery delivery service for Airbnb guests. He discovered the city in 2004 while on assignment for his former employers, the Metro International newspaper group. “I was fortunate to have made good friends back then, who I visited every year until the opportunity came to move here.”
The city’s rich culture and history, the kindness of its people and the high quality of life are the things he likes best about Lisbon. His list of drawbacks include the bureaucracy, male-dominated society and traffic jams. At the weekend, he and his wife hit the beach or take advantage of the city’s vibrant cultural scene, going to an exhibition at the new MAAT (Museum Art Architecture Technology), or a gig at the CCB (Centro Cultural de Belém).
They found it easy to settle down. “The Portuguese are very welcoming and open-minded. We quickly and easily integrated and most of our friends are Portuguese. However, to integrate successfully, be kind, always, as Portuguese are calm and react poorly to quick-tempered people. Every Portuguese has a family member living abroad giving true kindness towards any stranger they meet. However the expats, being expats, tend to stick together.”
Mr Bryant says that at the moment, most expats are Brazilian or French, many of whom, like him, live in the historic but untouristy Lapa, the design and embassy district. “It is now a mix between the ‘earlier discoverers’, from early 2010, and and the second phase of the successful entrepreneurs, thanks to the fiscal tax rebates.”
Logistically there is plenty set up for expats and their families. “Schools and hospitals have very high standards,” he says. “It’s easy to carry an insurance for expats to cover any medical bill. As the minimum wage is still low, all services are very affordable and it’s very common for families to employ a live-in nanny.”
English is also widely spoken and there are several international schools including the American School and St Julian’s. “I have a young family and schools in general are of a good standard with plenty of international and bi-lingual options,” says Mr Seconde. “My son is starting at a bi-lingual school in Lisbon in September and I’ve been very impressed by the options. He’s currently at a state-run nursery which has exceeded my expectations.”
Some Londoners will also finally be able to afford to buy their dream home. Pedro Lancastre, the Portugal managing director for the global real estate firm JLL, says Lisbon is three to four times cheaper than London for a prime property. A property in London worth €27,000 (Dh116,295) per square metre will cost about €8,000 per square metre in central Lisbon.
“Lisbon is becoming more international and London expats do not differ from what the international markets seek in Lisbon,” says Mr Lancastre. “The prime historical zones of Avenida da Liberdade, Principe Real, Chiado, the Avenidas Novas but also the Lisbon-Cascais axis, by the sea and where most international schools are located.”
Coastal Cascais is where Mr Seconde lives. “I have just bought a house 15 minutes outside Lisbon as prices in Lisbon have rocketed in the last two years or so,” he says. “Cascais is popular with expats. You are on the beach with a 30-minute train commute, which appeals to people arriving for the first time from large cities like Paris and London. Personally I would always want to be closer to Lisbon.”
The British writer and artist Lucy Pepper, 47, prefers the centre. She moved to Portugal with her Portuguese husband in 1999 and has lived in central Lisbon since 2004.
“We live in Avenidas Novas, an area built in the first half of the 20th century, having left Bairro Alto which, though always having been busy, is now unbearably loud and filled with tourists at all hours.” She loves the city but worries about the current focus on promoting tourism. “The city needs more than that in the long term, and the city centre is struggling under the weight of wheelie suitcases.”
For the first time, the British, who used to buy mainly in the Algarve region, are in the top 10 buyers in Lisbon, and the city’s commercial property is proving attractive, too.
“Lisbon is one of the cheapest countries in Europe as far as office rents are concerned,” says Mr Lancastre. “Rents in the prime central business district in Lisbon are six times less expensive than in London, at €220 per square metre per year in Lisbon versus €1,300 per square metre per year in London.
Brexit is already boosting the real estate market, he says. “With the positive moment that Portugal is facing and with the strong real estate market fundamentals in place, Lisbon has been put on the map, benefiting from the investors that are withdrawing capital from the UK.”
In the meantime, businesses are eyeing up opportunities in Lisbon. “In Portugal, we have registered a general increase of interest in our market from all economic sectors since the Brexit referendum and especially after the activation of article 50,” says Bernardo Trindade, the executive director of Portugal IN, a new temporary task-force created in response to the Brexit result and designed to attract FDI, which reports directly to the Portuguese prime minister, António Costa.
“As for financial services, Lisbon might not have the scale of other European cities, such as Frankfurt and Paris, to attract a great influx of financial organisations which are now operating in UK, but on the other hand, Portugal offers a range of competitive advantages. We know that these are currently considered by some international banks who look at moving all or parts of their operations to Portugal and thereby benefiting from remaining in the single market and the unique position of Portugal in relation to other continents.”
London-based companies moving operations to Lisbon will be in good company: major global companies with hubs here include BNP Paribas, Panalpina, Cisco, Fujitsu, IBM, Microsoft.
“Thanks to a strong commitment to open up and diversify our economy, Portugal offers, both in private and public entities, an environment which is open and welcoming to new foreign investments, guaranteeing a smooth transition from the country of origin,” says Mr Trindade. “Portugal has come a long way in e-gov services and simplified procedures and ranks well in investment-friendly environment. Also, the Portuguese are well-known for their friendly and tolerant way of being, which is a huge plus.”
A move to Lisbon won’t be all plain sailing for British companies, however, warns Mr Coelho. “There are many challenges: we don’t have cricket games, managers will need to start using sun protection, finding their way in a human-scale city, dealing with so many French investors…”
Homesick Brits can always take one of the 154 flights a week to London and be home in just 2.5 hours.
What is not to like, says Mr Coelho. “Third safest country in the world. The best quality of life in the world.
"Don’t come if you don’t love blue skies.”