Visiting Portugal? The Complaints Book (Livro de Reclamações) will protect your consumer rights

This last decade Portugal has experienced one of the biggest booms in tourism anywhere in the world, culminating in the Northern city of Porto winning European Best Destination in 2017. I loved it so much that I decided to move here.

But with any situation like this, there will be people trying to make a quick buck. Some bad behaviour is experienced and businesses will try to take advantage of you. So what should you do if you've got issues?

Step in the “Complaints Book”, or in Portuguese “Livro de Reclamações”.




Every legitimate business must have one of these books. It is a physical book, A4 sized, and also available online. This includes private run AirBnB lodgings as part of their licensing requirements. Even government agencies, municipalities, fire stations, EVERYTHING.

Every business has a designated Competent Authority which oversees and regulates their practice. If there is no singular government agency for this then the default regulator is the Ministry of Justice. The power of this book is that if you feel you have a valid reason for an official complaint (I will explain what ‘valid' means) then you must feel free to write in the book.

Moreover, each business must also display this poster visibly either in the shop window or at the payment counter which displays the business entity's legal name and which authority governs their business practice. These can be filled in either by hand or typed.

Consequences of withholding of the Complaints Book.

If the shop refuses to give you the book just call the police, telephone number 112. Seriously.  Each business entity can be liable for fines up to €15,000 for refusing to let a customer complain because it is deemed a concealment of fraudulent practice. Alternatively the police have the power to close the establishment!

What happens when you write in the book?

The Complaints Book is bi-lingual Portuguese/English but is allowed to be filled in whichever language you want, though if it is not recognisably one of the major European languages (Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German) then you may need to indicate it somewhere on the form so the authorities can find someone to translate it for them.

You will need to provide your personal details and contact details if you wish to receive notification on the progress of your complaint. You do not have to be a resident of Portugal to use the Complaints Book, literally anyone can write in it if the reason is valid. If you write in the physical book, a staff member must also sign the form to state they have witnessed your claim.

There is space for the business to write whatever defence to the claim they have. Just let them write what they want, as the business Regulator will be the arbitrator in the issue at hand.

A carbon sheet is used to triplicate the sheet you write on. One copy is retained by you, one copy by the business establishment, and the final copy is sent to the regulator within 5 working days. The regulator will then have 10 working days whether to uphold your complaint and force the business to redress your issues.

It will be very natural for the business manager to plead to try and resolve the issue before or while you write. No doubt the number of complaints features in their performance metrics but where there is justification I believe hard feedback is required. If you do find yourself in the situation where you have started writing but decide not to finish it off, you will need to cross off your complaint (two diagonal lines across the page) and write “complaint cancelled” or “reclamação anulada”.

Invalid complaints

While emotions can run high, you need to try and think objectively about whether something is worthy of an official complaint. For instance “my steak was overcooked” or “the waiter gave me a nasty face as he served me” will probably be totally rejected.

Don't go making a mockery of the book and requesting it trigger happily. This is a serious measure to protect consumer interests. Please keep it that way.

Valid complaints

It is mostly obvious if you are being cheated out of something by a restaurant or shop. E.g. refusal to issue a receipt, prices not matching advertisements or shelf labels etc.

But it becomes tricker in sectors which don't really have consistency across international borders. For instance, in Portugal all AirBnB or hostel providers not only must show the red poster as shown above, but there must be a fire extinguisher, night glow evacuation and emergency telephone signs clearly visible, and instruction manuals including the manager's contact details written in 4 languages, two of which are Portuguese and English.

If any of these are absent you should deem this to be a valid complaint. (Because if your stuff gets stolen while you're there and they are not a legal listing…it will be a lot of hassle to sort that one out!)


My Experience

I have threatened to write in the book once before, when the Immigration Agency (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) ignored the fact that they cannot ask for birth certificates to originate from a particular country if you're not born there. They eventually backed down after the threat of writing in the Complaints Book, plus the knowledge that the Solvit by European Commission had been alerted to their duplicity and they finally accepted my document.

My second experience where I wrote in the book was when my internet provider was installing the fibre connection to my house and left a rather big hole in my wall. Rather than repairing it they just left it as it was.

After 8 weeks of complaining to Vodafone customer services, the first 4 of which was wasted because the lady in the store merely pretended to register my complaint, they had deemed there was ‘nothing they can do' and closed my case. After I felt I had exhausted that option I wrote in the online version of the Complaints Book.

The next day a man with a bucket of cement came and patched up the wall in 20 minutes.



The Complaints Book is a very powerful instrument for your protection. It can be used in all measure of life with justification, though consumers must also play their part to not abuse the system.


  1. Ah! Portugal.
    You have to go thru Loja do Cidadão to really feel the portuguese way of dealing with bureocracy.
    I’ve wrote once.

  2. A correction. The instruction manual in 4 languages is only a requirement now for AL properties with recently issued licences. Properties with existing licences have until later this year to implement this measure.

    1. It’s not even later this year. Properties registered before the new law came into force on October 21st 2018, have *two years* to adapt to that particular part of the new legislation.

  3. Would TAP air have this book as well? Im going through hell with them at the moment and would love to be able to add a little pressure

  4. Hey Tim, great info, thank you. We heard about (and used) the “threat” of the book against the vets treating my dog. They jumped instantly after two weeks of leaving us without a diagnosis or feedback. It was too late for him though – he died a few days later.

    I’m interested to hear that you used it for SEF, as that’s becoming my next, biggest bugbear. I’ve been waiting for my “family reunification” with my EU husband for almost 7 months now. Santarem has ignored every email and never answers the phone. It’s too far for us to just go back there in person. Finally a helpful call centre lady gave us two other addresses, which then prompted a reply from Santarem saying my application is under “instructional analysis”. No explanation of what that is or how much longer it will take, and they continue to ignore us once again. I feel it is now time to take action.
    I’ve had a look at the online book, but I don’t see any regulatory authority that pertains to SEF?
    What do you suggest?

    1. Hi Janine, I would definitely file the complaint against the vet. They can still be held accountable for negligence if the regulator deems their (lack of) procedures to have been a significant and preventable cause for your dog’s death.

      Regarding SEF, I think there is a law that states they must make a decision within 3 months of receipt of documents. But have you already submitted the documents or are you awaiting your appointment? Also are you able to search the online version of the Book of Complaints to find the branch of SEF you are looking for? Otherwise an in-person visit is the best action although I acknowledge you said it’s a bit far from you. Failing that, you can try contacting SOLVIT by phone? If you wish to take the case further they will ask you to put things in writing.

      1. Hi Tim
        Thanks for your reply – it got lost in amongst my mails and have only just seen it!

        Re SEF, yes the law does state that they must approve within 3 months or it’s automatically processed. My problem with that is – how do you force them by law to do the thing that you’ve been waiting for them to do for so many!
        All my docs were submitted at my appointment on 6th May and we were assured it would take max 3 months to receive my residence card…

        We’ve looked for a way of doing the online complaint, but SEF doesn’t seem to be amongst the list online at all. SOLVIT will probably be the way to go from this point, I think.

        Best wishes for the new year!
        Kind regards,

    1. Not a complete list per-se, but every business whether it is a sole trader or a legal corporation, or shopfront has to be registered. If you cannot find the place you are searching for by name, you can give details of address, telephone number, shop name etc. And they will try to find the place you are complaining about

  5. Hi we have just registered our house with AL and are now looking to get the complaints book. However, I prefer that my guests use an on-line version, rather than have an actual book. Do I need to do anything else, other than signpost them to the on-line version?

    1. “Anything else” is quite broad… but I’m guessing you have a fire extinguisher plus fire blanket, and luminous glow-in-the-dark emergency exit signs?

      1. I meant “anything else” in terms of the on-line complaints book. Do I have to register my property on there first before guests could use it? Or can a guest just access it if required?

  6. We bought a sofa less than 7 months ago and already it’s deteriorated and has frayed. We lodged a complaint in the sofa company’s complaints book and note they’ve to send it to the “competent authority” within 5 days. How do I find out who the competent authority is ? I’ve requested the information from the sofa store to no avail

    1. If you fill the form online it will say who the competent authority is when you select the shop you want to complain about. If you fill it in-person it should say on the complaints book poster which they must legally display in-store. If they are not displaying the poster then also write that into the book.

  7. I have a stay coming up in a 5-star property in the Algarve. The most recent reviews (since Portugal reopened) are concerning, especially with regards to COVID-rules enforcement such as mask wearing by guests and crowding. I’m quite forgiving if service is not up to par with full occupancy, but if the hotel is really not making an effort and my experience suffers, would this qualify for a complaint in the Red Book? Or since this is public health related, should I contact another agency?

  8. We just moved to Portugal from the US and were wondering about the ins and outs of the complaints book. This article was super helpful – thank you!

  9. We have been in dispute with our builder since 2015, as he did not fit a solar water heater on our house which was law. In 2018 he offered us €1200 and told us to give him the receipt for tax reasons. We refused as we want him to pay the full amount which is over €3000 and/or fit one.
    Can we put a complaint in his book as he has a registered company. And if we ask him to bring it to our home, as he doesn’t have an office, does he have to comply?
    Thank you.

  10. I have made a complaint as I sent my Ebike in for servicing and the company destroyed the motor! They deny it. Really complicated I sent in 3 pages about what happened! Waiting a week now for response just wondered what to do if the company doesn’t respond? So far the manager of the company has been very difficult. I’m estimating damage to the bike will cost 1000 euros to repair so may be cheaper to replace. They’ve been holding my bike now for one month and I have no transport! Was unsure whether to take this matter to the police? Also considering the small claims court but guessing it would take months to deal with. Do you think the Complaints Book can deal with this kind of case that’s very detailed and lots of evidence to look into? Many thanks.

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