I received my residency permit and I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk.
I am now officially a legal resident of Portugal. I have somehow blundered my way through the paperwork properly and made it through the two most anxiety-ridden weeks of my Portuguese life. Moving here has been a series of steps, made a little more difficult by COVID. But I’m a real person now!
The first step was applying for the residency visa. The process seems difficult at first, but it really is just a matter of organizing documents and getting things like an FBI report, fingerprints, and European health insurance.
When you get your visa, the Embassy usually sets up an appointment for you with SEF, the Immigration and Border Service. (It’s actually printed on your visa and if I remember correctly, you also get an email with the date, time, and location.)
My visa was valid for four months; my SEF appointment was set for three months in. All good. Except COVID. Offices were closed, appointments were cancelled and rescheduled, and the Portuguese government automatically extended all visas to the end of 2021. Yay!
The appointment with SEF is for your residency permit. A visa gets you in; the permit lets you stay. Coming into the country on a D7 visa, you need to be a resident of Portugal for five years before you can apply for citizenship. (That will be a whole ‘nother process.) Your first residency permit is good for two years, then you have to renew, doing the paperwork all over again. Maybe. They are streamlining processes, automating more of SEF’s functions, and more things can be done online. In two years, I might be able to renew online. Which is great but right now, during the transition, the way things will work two years from now is not quite set in stone.
To make it worse, when you ask in expat groups about people’s experiences in their residency appointments, they are all different. (I swear!) The paperwork you need to have is pretty standard – SEF has a list on their website and the list is also on the application form.
But different offices will sometimes ask for all of the docs or a few of the docs. You need to show 8000 Euros in your Portuguese bank account. No, you just need to show over 8000 Euros in assets. No, you just need to show reliable passive income of more than 8000 Euros a year. No, you need to show passive income and assets in Portugal. In some offices the clerks are fluent in English; in others they are not at all fluent. (Nor should they have to be.) Some of the appointments take 20 minutes or less, others take more than an hour. In a few of the locations, you need to bring two recent passport size photos. Others have cameras. Still others have the new biometric devices.
If you’re an over-thinker like I am, conflicting information will make you more than a little crazy. I so wanted to get all this paperwork perfect. I was incredibly worried that after all the time, effort, and money I put into getting here, they might kick me out. (Yes, of course I go directly to the worst case scenario. Welcome to me.) I even worried about whether I should fill out the application in black ink or blue and came damn near to doing two, one in each color. I went with black ink. I’m fairly sure it wouldn’t have mattered, but I’m still not completely sure.
The Residency Permit Appointment
I showed up to the appointment 15 minutes early (after having arrived earlier in the day and making sure I knew where the office was). I didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes. I had every piece of paperwork I could possibly need in my bag. And then some. I had the main folder with all the required paperwork from the list, a second “in case they ask” folder, and a third “if weirdness happens” folder. And an extra blouse in case I spilled something on my shirt before the appointment. I was READY.
And the appointment went as smooth as silk. The agent was very kind, fluent in English, and professional. My appointment was in the Faro office which is very up-to-date and has the new biometric ID set up. He obviously had all my paperwork from the visa application and asked for very little additional paperwork. The main things he seemed to need were my passport, visa, and NIF (finance number). He did ask if I had a Utente (healthcare) number. I explained I couldn’t get one without a residency permit but I had a temporary one that I got for my vaccine. I volunteered that I have private health insurance. He nodded, unconcerned, and didn’t ask for any of that paperwork. My original visa application had a paid year of health insurance (God forbid anyone would have to actually access it—I’m very sure it is crap. I signed up for private health insurance as soon as I had a permanent address.)
He scanned documents, he stamped things, I signed things. He took my picture (three tries, bless him), my fingerprints, and I think they did some sort of body scan, so I’m pretty sure they know what my BMI is. (Kidding. I hope.) I paid around €150 for the permit and I’ll receive my biometric card in the mail sometime in the next month or so. The appointment took about 45 minutes. And two weeks of worrying.
And now, I can breathe. I have been in limbo for eight months, waiting for this appointment. I didn’t know what to expect and honestly, up until a few weeks ago, still wasn’t clear on the requirements for the permit. Actually, while I was confident I had what I needed when I walked into the appointment, I also knew that weirdness could happen. From what I’ve heard in the groups, if something isn’t right in your paperwork, they tell you to fix it and make a new appointment for you. While I was confident I wouldn’t be escorted to the border if something was wrong, I wanted to get it right the first time, mostly so I could finally feel settled.
And I am settled. I have my long-term apartment. My wi-fi is reliable. I am learning more about the area where I live. With COVID restrictions relaxing (85% of the country is fully vaccinated), and my permit in hand, I feel like I am finally free to explore more of my new home. As Steve Martin said in The Jerk, “Things are going to start happening to me now!”