We had a trifecta of fun this week!
We secured our residency permit (yay!), we celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary (yay!) and we finally got to explore Porto (yay!).
I was originally going to write a single post that covered it all, but I have decided to break it up into two so it isn’t too long. The post on Porto will be published next Friday, June 26 and wait until you see the pictures! Wowza!
Before I jump in and tell you about what happened when we went to get our residency permits, I just realized I have been using the wrong terminology. We were initially issued a visa to enter the country, but just received a permit to stay. I have inadvertently been calling what we just received a residency visa. That was wrong. Apologies for any confusion.
The Type D visitor’s visa we were issued back in November of 2019, that allowed us to travel to Portugal, was only good for 120 days. The last day that visa was valid was March 18, 2020 – the very day SEF (Portuguese immigration and border control) had scheduled our appointments to apply for a one year residency permit. No room for error in that timeline, but we weren’t the ones controlling it so we went along with the plan.
Unfortunately, March 18 also happened to be the very day Portugal shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We showed up that day, hopeful that we would be able to squeak by and get our permit before everything closed, but it was not meant to be. Thankfully, the government made a quick decision to extend all temporary visas for three months (and then another three months after that) to ensure no one was in a situation of being in the country illegally due to circumstances beyond their control.
SEF proactively contacted us a few weeks ago to reschedule our appointments for June 19 (coincidentally the day of our 21st wedding anniversary). Our appointments were, once again, scheduled to take place at the Braga location, a three and a half hour drive north from our house. Braga is one hour north of Porto so we decided to make it a special trip and stay two nights in Porto.
Just to clarify, we applied for and received our one-year residency permits which are not the same as citizenship. We are still U.S. citizens. One year from now we will apply for a two-year residency permit. And, after those two years, assuming we are still in Portugal and wish to stay, we will, again, apply for another two-year residency permit. After that we become permanent residents. One year later, after a total of six years, we will have the right to apply for Portuguese citizenship. Portugal allows dual citizenship with the US so we won’t have to give up our US citizenship if we end up pursuing that path. However, at this point, having been in the the country for less than six months, I have no idea if we will take it that far, but that is the process in case you were wondering.
Interestingly, the shut down of the government due to the pandemic enabled SEF to change their procedures related to applying for subsequent residency permits. Instead of a face to face appointment, you can now do it all online, however, you still have to show up in person for the first one.
The experience at SEF was super easy. It was a bit weird at first because of all the precautions they were taking due to the pandemic like waiting outside the building to be called and then, once called, using hand sanitizer before being escorted to an agent’s desk by a person in full hazmat suit (just kidding about the hazmat suit). Once we were with the agents it was fine. Won was at one desk with one agent and I was at another desk, not too far away, with another agent. We were all within talking range. The agents did not speak a lot of English, but enough that we managed. To begin with, we each filled out a form with some basic information like our address, date of birth, parents names (oddly enough), and NIFs. To learn more about the NIF number and how we got ours click here.
Won likes to be super prepared for all things all the time. So days before our appointment he reviewed, re-reviewed, and re-re-reviewed our paperwork. We needed to have proof of health insurance. Check. Our certificate of residency. Check. Our NIF documents. Check. Proof of financial means that demonstrated we would not be a financial burden on the Portuguese social system. Check. Everything was in order!
Once we were all done at SEF and sitting down for an espresso and a pastry celebrating our new residency status, Won told me that his agent had asked him to produce bank statements. He said he broke out in a sweat and totally panicked (internally, of course!) He had not brought copies of our Portuguese bank statements with him. We don’t keep a lot of cash in our account here – typically less than 10,000€ – so they were not really important. He had brought our investment account statements, US Social Security statements, and my pension statements. For a terrifying moment he did not know what would happen. His mind was exploding with worry: Would they reject our applications? When would we be able to reschedule another appointment? While it is not that far away, it is not easy to get to Braga because of Sweet Pea. There was no way he could grab the bank statements and return with them. Now what?!
As it turns out, the agent used the term “bank statement” as a more general way to say “proof of financial means.” Once that was cleared up he was so relieved! He started pulling out all the documents he had brought. When he produced my pension statements from J&J she asked him where his were and he replied, “I’m too young to have a pension!” We were all laughing!
With that non-crisis moment behind us (unbeknownst to me at the time, of course), everything went pretty smoothly until we had to pay the application fees. When we were being escorted to the agents’ desks, the woman who came to get us asked if we were prepared to pay the fee in cash (they do not accept checks or credit or debit cards). She pointed to her clip board where she had written the amount. This was done as we were climbing a set of stairs and I saw the amount, which looked like 64.20€. Won said, no problem! He had plenty of cash to cover it. She said, are you sure? We have a machine here if you need to use it. Won said no problem. We are good.
Soooo, when it came time to pay up I counted out 65.00€ and pushed it through the window. The agent took it, counted it, and then pushed it back and re-pointed to the amount. Uh oh…it was 164.20€…each. I think I assumed the number one, which is oftentimes written as an inverted “v” was a badly written euro symbol. Off Won went to the cash machine, escorted of course. Non-crisis #2 averted.
For now we have a piece of paper that shows we have applied for and received approval for a one-year residency permit. In a few weeks we should be receiving our Portuguese identification cards. So, what does this magical card do? It provides us with all the benefits of a Portuguese citizen with the exception of voting rights. We can also travel to other Schengen countries without a passport. Pretty cool, huh?
So, you are probably thinking, Ahhh….Beth, Won, and Sweet Pea can now splash around in the ocean, take pretty pictures of the buildings and landscapes, drink tasty wine, and play for a whole year. Not exactly.
Now that we have our residency permit we will start working on all the steps to get the car legalized, drop our US car insurance (which is pretty pricey), get Portuguese car insurance, swap out our US driver’s licenses for Portuguese driver’s licenses, and finally get Portuguese license plates for the car. You have no idea how funny it is to see the looks on people’s faces when they see our plates.
For now, we are back home and enjoying the fact that we’ve reached another important milestone in our adventure. Next week I will tell you all about our time in Porto. And guess what? Now Won wants to move there! …sigh…
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay in touch!
From Portugal with love,