Beijinhos: a Quick Guide to Social Kissing in Portugal

Today, April 13th, is International Kissing Day. Muah!

The Portuguese word for kiss is beijo, but when it comes to social kissing we often use the word beijinho(s), meaning “little kiss(es)”.

Cheek kissing, or social kissing, is the kind of thing that tests your cultural skills. In practical terms, and in Portugal at least, social kissing has several layers, nuances, and connotations. In Portugal, as in other countries, social kissing is something quite common, although there have been recent changes (more on that later).

If you’re living in Portugal it can be complicated to know when is a good time to give someone a beijinho – if you want to do it, that is. But what happens if you don’t?

Lo, and behold, I give you…

~The quick guide to social kissing in Portugal ~

Typically, the beijinho is used as a greeting between friends and family members but it’s also used when you’re being introduced to someone (with a few exceptions, as we’ll see). Please note that, as usual, these are only general rules.

When do you do it?

When you’re being introduced to someone. This doesn’t usually apply if you’re in a professional context *unless* we’re talking about a very laid back work environment and/or coworkers who are on the same level in terms of hierarchy. Essentially, it boils down to closeness and familiarity. 

When greeting family members. A lot of people assume that social kissing in Portugal is something that happens exclusively between men and women but there are exceptions: it’s perfectly normal for men to kiss other men on the cheek if they have a close family bond. This applies to sons/dads, grandsons/grandfathers, nephews/(close) uncles, and, quite often, godfathers/godsons. Again, it’s all about closeness and familiarity. 

When greeting friends, of course. 

How do you do it?

– In 90% of the cases, you don’t actually touch the other person’s cheek with your lips. Basically, what you do is touch the other person’s cheek with your own but you *must* make a kissing sound – otherwise it will seem like you’re just not putting in any effort!

– Which cheek first? If you’re new to social kissing I’d advise you let the other person make the first move. Sometimes we all mess up a bit and it feels like when you’re walking down the street and someone is about to bump into you, so you move to the side and the other person does exactly the same… Good news: it’s nothing serious. Most people will just say desculpe (sorry) and laugh it off.

– If it’s someone you’re familiar with, it’s ok to complement your beijinho by touching the other person’s shoulder or with a quick hug. Yes, I know, it takes some practice!

– If it’s someone you see on a daily basis and/or are extremely familiar with, it’s often ok to give just one kiss. 

What if I don’t want to?

Don’t do it! If you’re uncomfortable with beijinhos, you can simply say “no”. If you want to be more delicate about it, maybe you can go for the tried and true Portuguese excuse for this type of situation: go ahead and say you have a cold and don’t want to spread any germs. 


– When living in Portugal it’s likely that, sooner or later, you’ll come across the word chi-coração (quite often spelled xi-coração). A chi-coração (coração = heart) is a hug, technically speaking, and the term is usually applied when talking to children. However, time and again, you’ll find it is used among grown women in a very affectionate way. In those circumstances, the xi-coração may very well come with a kiss on the cheek. 

– Some Covid-related behaviours are still lingering in Portuguese society and one of them has to do with social kissing. I’ve noticed I don’t see it as often as I did before… Time will tell if some people just dropped the habit altogether or if they’ll go back to it.


Beijo – kiss

Beijinho – little kiss

Beijoca – another variant for little kiss, slightly less used

Beijo na bochecha – kiss on the cheek

I’d like to leave a final thought on this topic. Speaking for myself (and, I believe, speaking for people in other countries where social kissing is normal), when I meet someone from the USA, Central or Northern Europe I will, by default, assume they feel uncomfortable with social kissing – but it makes me sad. Over the years I’ve learned to not think too much about it, but when talking to other Portuguese about this, especially older people, they often say it makes them feel rejected.

Obviously nobody should be forced to do something they don’t want to, but please bear in mind that every story has (at least) two sides to it!

I’d love to know: are you a fan of the beijinho or do you prefer to avoid it?



  1. ‘tá complicado! When as a quintessential nordic introvert I first received emails signed off with abraços and beijinhos, my thought was, “ooooh, this is getting serious” 😉

  2. This is one American who isn’t bothered by kisses and/or hugs. I do want to know if the Portuguese kiss when saying goodbye.

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