Handling unexpected curve balls when moving out of the country is par for the course.
As mentioned in my last blog post, we had just returned from a trip to Europe, which included our first visit to Lisbon. The week we got back we put our house on the market, accepted a full price offer and sashayed into the Portuguese consulate with all of our paperwork, money, and high hopes ready to submit our visas applications.
Won had been researching and preparing our visa application packets for about three months prior to this appointment. The requirements are listed on the consulate website and include the following: your passport which has to be valid for at least three months after you arrive in Portugal, a personal statement on why you want to move there, two passport-sized photos, valid travel insurance with medical coverage, an FBI criminal record report, proof of financial means, and housing in Portugal. That last one was a bit tricky. We didn’t want to make a financial commitment for housing (i.e. buying a place or renting an apartment) until we were sure we would get our visas. In the end, they accepted a three week hotel reservation statement. Whew!
So there we were, all shiny faced and excited. Well, so much for that. We were quickly informed that Portuguese immigration had changed the visa requirements. WHAT?!?! We now had to have a Portuguese bank account and an a national identity number, called an NIF as a part of our application package. We had been in Lisbon less than three weeks before and could have done it then!! Arrgghh!! This meant that we were going to have to figure out how to get back to Lisbon while coordinating the sale of our house, preparing to move out and figuring out where we were going to live.
We found a short term apartment in the same complex as my son, Matthew and his wife, Heather, moved in quickly, and booked another flight to Lisbon the following week with the express purpose of accomplishing those two things. We were planning to stay two nights reasoning that it couldn’t possibly take more than one day to get this done; two max. Right? Once again, Won sprung into action and found out where and how we could get our NIFs. We learned that an NIF is required to open a bank account so getting that was our first task.
We arrived in Lisbon the morning of October 7 (the day our house closed!), rented a car, and went directly from the airport to the office which issues NIFs. We waltzed in, used our Google Translate app to figure out what to do, made our selection on a machine in the waiting area, were quickly called, learned that we picked the wrong window for what we needed, went back to the waiting area, and made another selection. It wasn’t terribly long before we were called a second time. We were feeling good! This was going to be a breeze! We stood at the counter as the agent reviewed our paperwork. She looked up and informed us that we needed to have a Portuguese citizen vouch for us in person and that their personal information would also be on our paperwork. WHAT?!?! I cheekily asked the agent if she could vouch for us and without even cracking a smile she said, no (chalk it up to jet lag…). Won and I looked at each other and stumbled back to the waiting area.
We had to think fast. We knew three people in Portugal. Marta, a real estate agent we had met with in July. Erika, a lawyer she put us in touch with, but with whom we had only communicated briefly and ultimately didn’t hire. And Paulo.
We had met Paulo in July when we used a ride sharing app called Bolt. Won wanted a luxury car and it was Paulo who pulled up in his 2019 Jaguar F Pace SUV. Won and he quickly connected and Won asked if we could hire him the following day to take us around so we could explore/scout out possible locations where we might live. Paulo did better than that, he put an entire itinerary together, which included a driving tour of Lisbon and the area across the Tagus river, visits to some local sites with spectacular views, lunch along the sea, and a stop to meet “the best small wine producer in Portugal.” We spent from 8AM that morning to 7PM that evening with Paulo and learned a lot about him. He’s retired from his former business of owning and operating diving schools and traveling the world extensively to teach SCUBA diving. His wife had passed away from cancer five years before and his two adult sons were the light of his life. He owns a winery and forty hectares of vineyards in the Duoro Valley and is in the process of setting up an agro-tourism business on his property. Apparently he was bored so he signed up with Bolt which is when our paths crossed. We quickly set up a WhatsApp thread to stay in touch and he insisted on driving us to the airport the following morning as a friend and gave us two bottles of wine to take home; one was his label and the other was from that small winery we stopped at the day before – both wines were superb!
Frantic messages were sent to all three of the people we knew and hoped beyond hope that someone would be able to drop whatever they were doing and come to our rescue. Paulo, bless him, replied immediately and told us he’d be there in an hour. Hallelujah!! We successfully procured our NIFs. Yay!!! Task One was complete. While we were waiting for our NIFs to be generated, we quickly caught up with Paulo and told him why we were in Lisbon. He asked us which bank we were going to use and when we told him he was appalled. NO! You must use my bank. We knew we were in great hands so we followed along.
Paulo made a quick call and arranged for us to come in immediately. We were greeted very warmly by the bank manager and expeditiously shown to another young man’s desk to complete the process. We settled in and started to provide all the information needed. As we chatted amicably back and forth, we learned that it typically takes three days to open a bank account. WHAT?!?! (Apparently, the information is submitted to Interpol who then runs it through their system in an effort to prevent money laundering. With some folks it can take up to a month before they are approved.) We didn’t have a month let alone three days! We were scheduled to return to NJ the day after next. Our heads were spinning. Paulo didn’t seem terribly concerned so we pressed on providing all the information requested. Once again, Paulo to the rescue! About an hour and a half later, Paulo, glances over to the manager on the other side of the room, and we were then informed that we were approved and had our bank account. We practically fell over ourselves thanking them all for their help! I still shake my head in disbelief at our good fortune in finding Paulo and what a treasure he is. What are the odds that we would connect with him via a ride sharing app and that he would end up being so generous having barely gotten to know us?! Serendipity at its finest for sure. We continue to be in regular contact with Paulo and his son, whom we met later that day and who accompanied us to the airport the following morning.
We got home late Wednesday evening and submitted our, now complete, applications that Friday. Everything was in the hands of Portuguese immigration. We were told it could take anywhere from 30 and 120 days to find out if we were approved due to the volume of applications immigration was handling. Now we just had to wait.
In my next post, I’ll be sharing more on other aspects of what type of visas we received, what we are doing to wind down our lives here in the US and more about what we will need to do once we arrive in Lisbon.