Are electronic signatures legal in Portugal?

E-Signatures have been legally recognized by Portuguese law since 2009 when Decree-Law No.290-D/99 and the Electronic Signature Ordinance were passed.

As a European Union (EU) member-state, Portugal also falls under the eIDAS Regulation, which repealed and replaced the Electronic Signatures Directive 1999/93/EC and came into effect in 2016 to govern electronic identification and trust services.

In this overview of Portuguese law with regards to e-Signatures, you’ll learn about:

  • Portuguese law concerning the usage of electronic signatures as confirmed by Decree-Law No.290-D/99, the e-Commerce Law, Decree-Law 12/2021, Law no. 96/2015, the Electronic Signature Ordinance, and eIDAS.
  • The three types of electronic signatures that are accepted in Portugal under eIDAS and their specific use cases.
  • The specific eIDAS requirements must be met in order to use SES, AES, and QES in a legally valid way in Portugal.
  • The cases where an e-Signature might not be appropriate for use in Portugal, such as real estate or family law contracts.

Electronic signature law in Portugal

Besides the eIDAS Regulation that Portugal falls under due to being an EU member-state, there are several laws in Portugal that govern the use of e-signatures, including:

  • Portuguese Decree-Law 7/2004, known as the e-Commerce Law, states that “Contracts shall be freely concluded by electronic means.”
  • Decree-Law 12/2021, which ensures the execution of Regulation No. 910/2014 and regulates the “validity, effectiveness and probative value of electronic documents.”
  • Law no. 96/2015 governing the use of electronic platforms for public procurement matters.

Furthermore, a written signature isn’t absolutely required for a valid contract according to Article 219 of the Portuguese Civil Code and Article 3., n. 4 of the Electronic Signature Decree-Law.

While that is technically the case, evidence of a contractual agreement may be required should a situation arise where an agreement is questioned in a court setting.

In order to confirm that a contract is valid and legally enforceable in Portugal, many organizations use a digital transaction management solution to maintain a digital audit trail.

These sorts of electronic records are allowed for and admissible in court to confirm the authenticity and enforceability of a contract as determined by Article 368 of the Portuguese Civil Code.

As one of the 28 member-states in the EU, Portugal is also governed by the eIDAS Regulation, which oversees electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market.

eIDAS authorizes three levels of e-Signature creation and usage, and as an EU member state, each of them is accepted in Portgual.

What is a Standard Electronic Signature (SES)?

An SES is a common yet relatively unsecure type of e-Signature, which could include an image of a handwritten signature, an “I Agree” button on a website, an email signature, or a signer typing their name.

What is an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES)?

An AES meets a higher standard of security because it is verifiably unique to the person signing the document.

According to eIDAS, an AES must enable the signatory to maintain control of the signature, the signatory must be identifiable with a unique link, and any changes to the data of the electronic document after the fact must be detectable.

What is a Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)?

A QES meets the highest standard of security and is the only signature type that eIDAS validates as legally equivalent to a handwritten signature.

A qualified electronic signature must come from a Qualified Signature Creation Device (QSCD) and be issued from a Trust Service Provider (TSP) on Portugal’s list of TSP providers.

General use cases for electronic signatures in Portugal

E-Signatures are commonly used in Portugal, and since the law confirms their legality, they can be used in many situations where a signature is called for.

For the most part, a standard electronic signature will be sufficient, but an advanced electronic signature or a qualified electronic signature might be required for more complex matters that call for higher levels of security.

These are some examples of documents that can typically be signed electronically in Portugal, including but not limited to:

  • Financial documents: Insurance agreements, lending contracts, loan agreements up to EUR 25,000,00, etc.
  • Human resource documents: Onboarding paperwork, employee contracts, etc.
  • Commercial agreements: procurement contracts, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), etc.
  • Healthcare documents: confirmation of receipt, treatment authorization, etc.
  • Consumer transactions: Sales contracts, real estate transactions, purchase orders, etc.

While eIDAS and the Portuguese Civil Code have made the acceptance of e-Signatures more universal, the legality of each situation should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

For the ultimate peace of mind, you should always use legally compliant e-Signature software to be sure your electronic signatures are in line with local law.

Specific legal requirements for e-signatures in Portugal

The Electronic Identification and Trust Services Regulation (eIDAS Regulation) instituted in July 2016 has simplified the world of electronic transactions across the EU.

Organizations in member-states can follow the consistent legal framework provided for by eIDAS and be reasonably confident that their practices are legally valid.

The specific legal requirements vary based on the type of e-Signature being used. Standard electronic signatures have minimal requirements and come with fewer security benefits as a result.

If you use an advanced electronic signature, you’ll need to make sure the signature is capable of identifying and being uniquely linked to the signer.

It’s also required that the document be tamper-evident and that the signer maintains control of the signature.

Since a qualified electronic signature is the highest level of e-Signature with an equivalency to handwritten signatures, there are additional requirements.

One is that the signature is produced using a Qualified Signature Creation Device (QSCD), i.e., a mobile app, USB token, or smart card.

It also requires that a digital certificate be issued by a qualified provider on Portugal’s Trusted List.

Here’s a list of currently active trust service providers in Portugal:

  • CEGER – Centro de Gestão da Rede Informática do Governo
  • Instituto dos Registos e do Notariado I.P.
  • ACIN iCloud Solutions, Lda
  • MULTICERT – Serviços de Certificação Electrónica S.A.
  • DigitalSign – Certificadora Digital

You can stay up-to-date on the qualified TSPs by regularly checking Portugal’s Trusted List.

The Portuguese Ministry of Finance is not requiring businesses and system providers to have a digital signature on PDF invoices until January 1, 2023.

From that point forward, a QES will be mandatory on all PDF invoices and all other non-electronic invoices in order for them to be considered valid invoices for tax, fiscal, and VAT purposes, which PandaDoc’s electronic signature and document software automatically provide with every digitally signed PDF.

When not typically appropriate for electronic signatures or digital transaction management in Portugal

These are some of the use cases where QES or handwritten signature might be warranted:

  • Public procurement proceedings and some digital government services
  • Family law contracts require a wet ink signature
  • Contracts that require the court to intervene or the authentication of a notary must have handwritten signatures
  • Real estate contracts require a wet ink signature
  • Contracts concerning collateral securities require a wet ink signature

We recommend seeking legal advice if the validity of an e-Signature is uncertain in your specific use case.

Summary of electronic and digital signature legality in Portugal

The laws in Portugal are generally accommodating of digital signatures since the country is an EU member-state and falls under eIDAS.

However, each case is individual and the parties involved in an agreement may stipulate their own requirements.

PandaDoc’s e-signature software not only is compliant with Portugal’s laws and the eIDAS, but it also automates document management and provides the necessary digital signatures and security required to remove the time-consuming processes of contract and document execution. And you can try our software for 14 days for free!