How do you get a Portuguese visa? Normally, US residents who are visiting for under 90 days don’t need a visa in Portugal or most other EU countries. However, these are not normal times and the pandemic has countries closing their borders. I plan to reside in Portugal long-term which puts me in a different visa category. Since so many people have asked about the visa process and what’s involved, I am laying it all out here. It’s really not hugely complicated, just a number of tasks that need to be done.
Note: Right now (February 2021), Portugal is in a strict lockdown and very few people are getting in or out. I made it in during a very brief window of time between lockdowns and only because I had applied for a long-term residency visa. If you just want to come in for a few weeks as a tourist, that ain’t happening right now.
I got a check list from a woman I follow on YouTube (Driven Spice). In fact it was a scan of the checklist she received from VFS Global Services, a company that helps people get visas. I’ll give the same caveat she did: This is the list I was given. It may have changed by the time you apply. I’ve retyped it so you can work from a clean sheet. You can get it here: PORTUGUESE VISA CHECKLIST
I also took her advice and used VFS Global Services to help me with the visa processing. VFS actually does the initial processing before sending the completed information package over to the Portuguese Embassy.
What You Need
- Visa Application (Available on the VFS website)
- FBI Background Check
- Portugal Borders and Customs Permission
- Statement of why you want to reside in Portugal
- Three months bank statements showing income
- Certified copy of your passport
- Proof of six months accommodations
- Health Insurance
IMPORTANT NOTE: You must physically be in the US to apply for this visa.
FBI Background Check. Portugal wants to know they’re not letting any known criminals into the country and you really can’t blame them. I actually did this first because it involves several steps and takes a bit of time. Also, if the FBI showed up at my door with helicopters and a SWAT team, I could conclude that I didn’t need to bother filling out the rest of the paperwork.
I did my FBI background application online. First, I filled out the Applicant Information Form, and paid them $18 for the background check. That’s a per person fee. On that site they have a link to a list of US Post Offices where you can get your electronic fingerprints done. I don’t think this is a complete list—If you’re not me, you might check locally (in the next biggest city) before driving halfway across the state. You may also be able to have them done at a local police station or sheriff’s office, but I wanted to use a site that knew exactly what the FBI wanted and how they wanted it. Find a list of post offices that do electronic fingerprinting here: USPS Locations
Once you’ve paid the FBI, you go onto the USPS site to register for fingerprints. You are told what to bring with you, given a receipt number, and told to make an appointment online. Good luck with that. The online appointment app wasn’t working and the phone at the branch I needed to go to just rang continuously. I resigned myself to the idea of making two 150 mile round trips to get this completed: one to make the appointment and one to get the fingerprinting done. Looking back over the paperwork (three months later), I see an important line I missed: “FBI IdHSC Fingerprinting transactions are seen on a walk-in basis, during the Post Office’s passport hours.” Seeing that would have saved me a TON of anxiety.
I drove over to the Herndon Branch in Orlando where there was a family of at least eight (I swear!) getting their passports processed. Fortunately, they were at the picture taking stage. After a short wait, I was told I needed a specific type number which I could get on a website the clerk directed me to, then I could come back in with the magic number and they would take my prints that day. I wouldn’t have to make two trips! #WINNING! I went outside, went online using my phone (another victory because I have a hard enough time answering it without disconnecting the call), realized I had already been to the site and the magic number was neatly printed out in my well-organized file folder. (It was the FBI order number.) I went back inside to the very nice man and said, “You mean this number?” Smiles all around.
We had a heck of a time getting my pinkies to print and the clerk was phenomenally patient and good-natured. He got the job done and there were cheers and well wishes from the clerks and patrons. The USPS rocks.
Then you wait… a couple of weeks. When the report comes back, whatever you do, DON’T OPEN IT! The envelope has to be sealed; it can’t be tampered with. Of course you’re curious: Did that time I got caught smoking behind the A Wing REALLY go into my permanent record? Beats me. I have no idea what was in the report, but since I’ve never been arrested, I wasn’t really sweating it. I have no idea what happens if you have an arrest or conviction. I don’t know if you’re graded on a curve by the Portuguese Embassy or if even one tiny infraction throws you out of the running. All I know is you just take that envelope and send it on to VFS with all the other paperwork.
Once the report came back, I got down to business. I went through the mail-in process through the VFS Washington DC office. I started by paying VFS $35 for processing and postal labels which I used to send all the paperwork. The VFS website walks you through the process and is easy to use.
Fill out the Visa application available from the VFS website. You can get a copy of this application in English, which certainly made it easier for me. Most of it is straightforward. There were a couple of confusing (at least to me) areas, which I’ll mention as I go through. On the visa app, National Identity Number is your Social Security Number. I knew I wanted to be in the Algarve Region which meant my port of entry would likely be Faro. The application asks you to list where you will be staying which involved a leap of faith for me. I had to put my money where my mouth was and pay up for six months of accommodations. More on that later.
Portugal Borders and Customs Permission. This is a very simple form printed in Portuguese which I ran through Google translate. The form gives Portugal’s Borders and Customs Department the right to do a background check on you. They asked for things like your parents’ names and your nationality. The part that confused me was a line asking for where you were born and your current citizenship. I wasn’t in the mode of thinking your current nationality may not necessarily be where you were born. I needed to start thinking a bit more globally.
Statement of why you want to reside in Portugal. This is not your essay to get into a top tier college. Just a friendly statement saying why you chose Portugal. For me, it was the rich history and culture, beautiful beaches and warm weather, and the fact that the Portuguese actually like most Americans. I said it a bit differently, but it was basically two short paragraphs.
Three months bank statements showing income. The government of Portugal wants to make sure you can support yourself. Even though I will be located in Portugal, my business and clients are still US-based. You don’t need to make a ton of money; but they have a minimum number that is not high by US standards. I think I saw 700 Euros as the minimum base income that you should have for one type of entry, which works out to about $850/month. Frankly, I’m single and cheap to keep, but that amount won’t keep me in decent scotch. Most likely, a steady income of $1,500 to $2,000 per month for a single person is enough to get you in.
Certified copy of your passport. This threw me a bit because what the heck is a certified copy of a passport? I ended up making a color copy of my passport and having it stamped and signed by a notary. I first went to an Amscot where the woman said they couldn’t notarize passports. She made it sound like NO ONE could notarize a passport. It turns out that Amscot notaries are very limited as to what they can notarize. The next notary I contacted didn’t even blink.
Proof of six months accommodations. This can be a huge financial ouch if you don’t have friends that you can stay with or a rental that you’ve already made arrangements for. Since I had never been to Portugal, I had no idea of where to go or stay or even what prices were too high or too low. I also wasn’t keen on forking over six months of rent on an unseen apartment.
I went onto AirBnB and looked for superhosts in various areas. I knew I wanted to be close enough to walk to the beaches, needed to be close to eateries and grocery stores as I wouldn’t have a car, and had to have wifi and a washing machine. (Dryers are not common in Portugal.) By booking for more than 28 days, the rental fees decreased to about half the weekly rate. I chose three different places and paid the first month for each. The second month will be paid as it comes due. I printed out the AirBnB receipts showing I had confirmed reservations for six months and added those to the paperwork package.
Health Insurance. Your US health insurance plan won’t work in Portugal. Nope, not Medicare, either. You need to carry international travelers’ health insurance and you just have to understand that this is NOT good insurance. Basically if you die or get sick, the insurance will cover your airfare back to the US. Maybe. I chalked it up to the price of doing business and paid about $345. Once I’ve established residency in Portugal, I will get private health insurance.
Remote Work Letter. This is a short statement from your employer saying that you work remotely and have a job. Because I am self-employed, I had to write a statement saying how long I had been in my current business and that all my income would be US-based. Jobs are scarce in Portugal; they welcome people who come with their own income.
I bought money orders to cover the cost of processing fees for VFS Services and the visa fee from the Embassy. For some reason I sent the wrong amount. I don’t know if I looked at Euros instead of dollars or if the exchange rate fluctuated. VFS emailed me with the corrected amount and I just FedExed the additional fees in two separate money orders.
Once you send in all the paperwork, prepare to wait four to six weeks. I had set up AirBnBs and the health insurance to start in January and I sent my paperwork to VFS in mid-November, so I was worried about getting everything processed in time.
I heard back from VFS within three weeks. Pretty snappy. Once approved, I had to FedEx my passport up to the Embassy. It was now December 5th and my first Airbnb reservation started January 5th. How long would it take to get my passport back??
Ya gotta love FedEx. I sent my passport up on a Friday; I think the Embassy in DC got it on Monday morning. They stamped it and had it back to me via FedEx probably two or three days later.
So, yeah, very fast.
It’s a process, but it’s not horrible or hard. VFS was extremely responsive whenever I had a question. The Embassy was super fast, and nice people all around.
What Did It Cost?
Fees (Some numbers are approximate because of Euro/USD fluctuations):
|Visa Application (VFS)
|$ 45.00 +/-
|Portuguese Long Term Visa
|Visa Photos (2)
|$ 15.00 +/-
|FBI Background Check
|One Year Health Coverage
|$ 30.00 per stamp
(I had an additional copy of my passport done)
|$ 100.00 +/-
(I had to send additional money orders)
(First month’s payment on 3 separate AirBnBs)
Before flights and Covid tests, I spent close to $2,700. The three months of accommodations, of course, are what racked up the costs. The actual visa application process runs about $300 with the FedEx fees thrown in.
All that was left to buy was the plane ticket and a ride from the airport to my first AirBnB.
That covers all my costs involved with applying for and receiving a Portuguese Residency (D) Visa. I have a follow-up appointment set up with SEF (immigration) in April to get my residency card. After that, I have to update it and I can apply for citizenship, if I want, after five years.
Once again, get the Visa Checklist Here and you’ll also receive an email from me when there is a new ex-pat blog post published.
Update: Not all the SEF offices in the US ask for the same things. But requirements have changed and for most if not all, you now must have a NIF (Portuguese tax ID), a Portuguese bank account and you must have a 6-month lease. You can get these online without being in Portugal.