Considering a move to Portugal? Many Americans and other third country nationals have found the process confusing, contradictory and changeable, not to mention geared toward EU citizens. It is all of those things and more. This article combines current experiences of dozens of Americans with research and authoritative input to provide a detailed, step-by-step guide to the process for a Type 1 Visa (sometimes referred to as Visa Type D), the most common residency process for retired or non-working US Citizens. There are several other Visa categories, two of which may appeal to retirees or non-working persons:
- The Golden Visa Program: Portugal joins many other countries in 'selling' residency and nationality. The Golden Visa leads to a Residence Permit with the possibility of receiving Portuguese nationality, yet it requires a qualifying investment in Portugal. These investment options include: transferring funds of 350,000 euros to the Arts or investing 1,000,000 euros or more; creating a minimum of 10 jobs; or, acquiring property valued at 500,000 euros or rehabbing an older property costing 350,000 euros. You'll find many real estate firms and accountancy sites offering all the details on this approach.
- The Entrepreneur, Employed and Self-Employed Program (Article 88): Streamlined in July 2017 to reduce bureaucracy, this program intends to attract qualified, educated professionals to work and invest in Portugal. Find details on Expat Exchange, under the Visas tab in the Portugal Community section. Highly skilled professionals who retired in the US might follow this approach to start a business or be self-employed in Portugal.
If you're not currently pursuing citizenship, trying to work in Portugal or investing at these levels, this article is for you. You'll start this two-part process by getting your Residence Visa Type 1 from the US, which is effective for 120 days. This Visa entitles you to travel to Portugal to accomplish part 2, obtaining your Temporary Residence Permit that covers your residency in Portugal for the remainder of a year and is renewable. Portugal requires that you complete the process of applying for your Visa from the United States or, if living in a country other than Portugal, that you complete it with the respective Portuguese consulate in that country. The reasoning is that you need to submit your passport for the approved Visa and can't be outside the US or resident country without your passport.
Let's examine the Type 1 Residence Visa process. I've made two assumptions about why you want a Residence Visa Type 1, the most common Visa for relocating to Portugal:
- First, that you want to move to Portugal more or less full-time; that is, you want to be able to stay for more than 180 consecutive days in a given year. Otherwise, you can come to Portugal for up to 90 days out of every 180 consecutive calendar days on a 'tourist visa', which is simply using your passport to enter Portugal.
- Next, I assume you aren't related to a Portuguese citizen (Visa Type 2 and 3 are for resettlement of relatives of Portuguese citizens, with different documentation and requirements).
Timing is one of the most stressful aspects of applying... compiling the required documentation can take several months and it can take 2 months for the Consul to review your application. However, you can only submit your application within three months of the date you'd like to come to Portugal. If that's not enough, once you have your Visa, you must come to Portugal to convert it into a Residence Permit within four months. Gain some control over the timing by applying for the Criminal Background Report (item three under Documentation) first, as the FBI is currently requiring several months to process them. Or, use a 'channeler' as mentioned on the FBI site to get your Criminal Background Check within days. Almost 100% of your fellow applicants are using channelers.
You'll assemble a complete package of documentation and submit it to your designated Portuguese Consul in the US (see the list of consulates at end of article).
The Application Form:
- Each applicant completes an Application for a Schengen Visa. Do this online or print, complete and submit a paper (pdf) version. A benefit of the online application is that you can track its status in the system.
- While requirements state that you must complete this Application in Portuguese, most Portuguese consulates have accepted them completed in English.
- If completing the paper (pdf) version of the application, prepare two copies of the Application Form for each applicant. Affix passport-style photos, taken within the last six months, to each copy. [Applicants residing more than 2 hours driving distance from their respective consulate are permitted to apply via the mail. If you are not applying in person at your consulate, your signature on the application form must be notarized.]
- Submit one copy of this Application per applicant along with all of the documents listed in the Required Documents section, below, to the Portuguese Embassy's consulate Office having jurisdiction over your place of US residence (see list at end of article).
a. If you filed an online application, your consulate will notify you to request that you bring the complete set of supporting documents with you to an in-person meeting.
b. If you filed a paper application, you need to make an in-person appointment with the respective consulate and bring your application plus all supporting documents. Many consuls are using a centralized online scheduling service. This service is unaware of the particular hours and closings of each consulate. Check your consulate's office schedule online first so that you can accept or request an appointment for a date that you know your consulate will be open.
c. If you live more than a 2 hour drive from your respective consulate, you will mail everything and likely never have an in-person meeting. Since May 2014, consulates have collected biometric data (fingerprints and photos) on applicants, one reason that in-person appointments are preferred. These biometric records are kept for 5 years.
- Bring the remaining copy of your Schengen Visa Application and all documentation described below with you to Portugal. Some will be required when you convert your Visa to a Permit in Portugal.
Documents that must be included with your Application are explained below. Your application is not processed until all of these documents are received and approved by the consulate. Additional documentation can be required:
- Personal Statement: This short note is provided, dated and signed by each applicant. It states the reason for settling in Portugal, generally where you intend to reside and what type of accommodations (rental, buy) you'll have initially. This can be as simple as "I wish to live in Portugal as a retiree because it is a beautiful country. I will live in Lisbon and rent an apartment for a few months while searching for something to purchase or rent longer term." Most importantly, the statement is judged by its likelihood of success. Some applicants submit greatly detailed statements that have become a barrier to their application simply because all the additional details have to be considered by the investigators to determine how successful an applicant will be at meeting his/her goals. One family included "so my children can learn a new language", which the investigators felt might or might not happen, and the application was delayed by 4 months. Keep it really simple.
- Proof of Financial Means / Proof of Sufficient Funds: What constitutes 'sufficient' varies. A few years ago, the threshold was 50,000 euros per applicant, sourced from any combination of investments, income and savings. In the last two years, the consulates are pegging the amount to the Portuguese minimum wage data. This reduces the threshold to about 16,000 euros for the first family member and half of that for each additional family member. This lower threshold is roughly calculated as 40 euros of funds for each day you'll be in Portugal plus 75.00 euros per entry into the country. These assets must be accessible to you from Portugal.
What counts towards your proof of sufficient funds is any combination of the following:
a) Bank statements (must be for the most recent three months and show the name and address of account owner(s)--applicants with joint accounts may both use the same account statements yet both names must appear on the statement); Travelers checks; Letter of employment showing income; International credit card showing credit limit; Investment reports; Income from property or non-property assets or from intellectual property
b) A company pension certificate, pension check statement or notarized letter confirming a pension from the responsible authority and/or a Social Security Benefit letter
c) Self-employed persons can use their tax return from the previous fiscal year or proof of previous economic activity and of an income during the previous fiscal year
Provide only original copies or color print-outs of all the records you use to prove financial means. If you fail to provide proof of sufficient financial means, you'll be required to have a 'financial guarantor' in Portugal. A financial guarantor can be your lawyer, a person with power of attorney, landlord, Dean of Admissions etc. who is a national of the European Union or holds permanent residence in Portugal. This person needs to provide a letter or email stating that he/she will guarantee your accommodations and financial support for a year as well as your return transit to the US. The guarantor's name, financial number and address are required on the letter or email. This imposes a legal risk on the guarantor so it can be difficult to obtain.
This difficulty has encouraged a new business in Portugal aimed at selling the financial guaranty letter and visa preparation services. Alleged service-providers are 'trolling' our posts on Facebook, websites and blogs, then contacting potential Visa applicants in the US and offering to deal with the guarantor letter and all aspects of applying for a Visa, charging $400 to $4500 for the basket of services. Three out of four times, these people are not attorneys, not qualified to help and abscond with your money. Many of us who've preceded you to Portugal can recommend attorneys who would charge $40 per guarantor letter or you can ask your initial landlord or realtor, who often is willing to help.
SPECIAL NOTE: I've emphasized the role of Financial Guarantor here because the San Francisco consul requests this Financial Guarantor regardless of your level of financial means. If applying through San Francisco, you must submit a letter or email that complies with the above details. This could become a requirement from all consuls.
- Criminal Record Certificate: This is obtained from the FBI and requires that you complete an application called the FBI Identification Record Request / Criminal Background Check. You must submit a recent, original set of your fingerprints with your application. This Certificate currently costs $18 per applicant. You need to receive a clean criminal record statement from the FBI to include in your Application package. If you go through the FBI it can take four months to receive this letter, perhaps 10 days through a channeler. Make a couple of copies of your Certificate as your original remains with your Application at the consulate. You might also be asked to sign a request form for a criminal record check in Portugal (Requerimento - Registo Criminal), which the consulate will process for you.
- Copy of your Marriage Certificate or license if you are married. About half of recent applicants have not been required by their consulate to provide this.
- Passports: Copy of the photo page (showing personal data and dates of validity) from your passport. This page must be notarized. Please note:
a) If you are issued a Visa, your consulate will request your passport to affix the Visa to a blank page. Passports must be issued within the last 10 years and must have at least two blank pages. A passport older than ten years that has been extended for a period exceeding ten years from the date of issuance will not be accepted.
b) Your passport must be valid for at least three months after the expiration of the visa for which you are applying. The passport or travel document must be recognized by all parties of the Schengen Agreement.
c) Bring a couple of extra, notarized copies of the photo page with you for the Temporary Residence Permit process.
- Proof of Health & Insurance: Each applicant must have medical insurance that meets the Schengen Community Requirements. Regulations for the Schengen Visa state:
"... applicants shall prove that they are in possession of adequate and valid travel (or other) medical insurance to cover any expenses which might arise in connection with repatriation for medical reasons, urgent medical attention and/or emergency hospital treatment or death, during their stay(s) on the territory of the Member States. The insurance shall be valid throughout the territory of the Member States and cover the entire period of the person's intended stay or transit. The minimum coverage shall be EUR 30,000" (per applicant).
If you have existing insurance coverage that includes the features noted above, your proof of medical insurance can be an invoice or your annual statement showing the name of the insurance company, policy holder names, the dates that this coverage is valid and proof of repatriation and evacuation coverage. If you don't currently have insurance with these features, look into a travel insurance plan or an annual plan that covers you in Portugal. Many sources provide travel insurance policies to support Schengen Visa applicants. Once you arrive in Portugal, you will find several options for a low-cost, high-quality medical insurance plan with networks covering where you live.
Some consuls have also requested a letter from a doctor stating that you are in good health and free from any communicable disease; if your consul doesn't request this with your Visa application, you might be asked by the SEF in Portugal to produce it for your Residence Permit application. It might also be useful when you apply for medical insurance in Portugal.
- Proof of Accommodations: This requirement has been in flux during the last year without any advance warning. Changes were imposed by the San Francisco consul requiring that temporary accommodations be contracted and paid in advance for a 6 month duration while also rejecting hotel and AirBnB contracts if the invoices aren't registered with Financias, the Portuguese taxing authority. Other consuls have accepted proof of 3 months' paid accommodations without proof of registration at Financias. The more rigorous requirements in San Francisco could become standard with all consulates so review the 'comments' section of this post to keep informed.
Proof of accommodations can be any of the following:
- a Rental Contract showing your name as it appears on your application and documents, the property address, owner's name and the contract period;
- a paid Hotel Confirmation stating name, address and telephone number of the hotel, including confirmation number;
- a home Purchase Agreement; or
- a letter from someone with whom you'll stay. If staying with family or friends, submit an official letter of invitation (Term of Responsibility Form)signed by your host. The host's signature must be notarized in Portugal and a copy of your host's Identity Card included.
Some San Francisco applicants have continued to use AirBnB but worked with the owner to produce a 6 month contract. Registration of a contract with Financias is the owner/landlord's responsibility.
- Travel Reservations or Tickets: Half of the consulates are requiring proof of pre-paid outgoing and return travel with the return travel scheduled prior to the expiration of your one year of residency. Half are not... so ask your consulate! Some consulates have accepted reservations versus purchased tickets, but a proof of purchase is often preferred and is specifically called for in the regulations. Buying plane tickets when you don't know when you'll get your Visa seems risky, but your Visa is good for four months, thus providing a wide travel window. You can assume that the application process—if you use the FBI versus a channeler--might take 20 weeks at the outside and plan your departure accordingly.
Items 1-8 must be submitted together and in duplicate to the Portuguese consulate responsible for your state (see list at end of article). Consult the current Fees Table regarding the payment to include with your application package.
What's Next, or "Part 2"
In approximately 3 to 4 weeks you should receive a letter or email from your respective Portuguese consulate approving your Visa application and requesting your passport along with an addressed, pre-paid, return envelope. The consulate will affix a Type 1 or Type D "Temporary Residence Visa" to your Passport and return it to you within two weeks. This Visa expires in four months and allows you to return home and re-enter Portugal two times during the 4 months plus unlimited travel in the Schengen zone.
As I stated earlier, this is a two part process; at this point you'll be ready for Part 2, getting your Titulo de Residencia Temporária (Temporary Residence Permit). On arrival in Portugal, make an appointment at your local Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) office to complete the process. Regulations indicate that you must make your appointment in person at the SEF office nearest your place of residence. However, due to the high volume of applications, SEF is currently asking applicants to call or sometimes allowing only online requests for an appointment. Try the phone call first, reaching the SEF Customer Contact Center via these numbers: (+351) 808 202 653 or (+351) 808 202 653. The Center is open from 9:00am to 5:30pm. You'll get a recorded menu. If you wait until the end of the recording a person who speaks English will come on the line. If your call isn't answered, go online at www.sef.pt to see if they've implemented an online-only appointment request process.
In addition to the increased volume of applications, SEF is undertaking a 'work slow-down'. Appointments are often set well past the date that your Temporary Visa expires. In this case, ask SEF to send you an email noting the date of your appointment. This email essentially extends your visa to the date of your appointment, so print it out and keep it with your passport to prove your visa didn't expire.
The appointment itself takes less than an hour, but you might spend the entire day waiting, as many SEF offices give you an appointed time to get an appointment, not to meet with the official. Arrive early to get the better actual appointment slots.
This is when all your extra copies and Application forms will be required. Be overly prepared:
a) Some SEF offices request that you provide two more passport-style photos while others have photographing equipment on site that they prefer to use or are accessing the biometric data from the Portuguese consulate where you applied.
b) SEF has a list of documents you must produce for this, your first, appointment. See the article How to Get Your First Residence Permit at Expat Exchange for a list and explanation of those documents.
c) Documentation requirements change a bit depending on the whim of the officials with whom you are working and efforts to improve the process. Being prepared with copies of all of your original documents will save you a return visit to SEF.
Within two to six weeks after SEF approval, your Titulo de Residencia Temporária (Temporary Residence Permit) card will be ready...arriving at your home, your local post office or your local SEF office. Your first Residence Permit expires one year from the date of issuance, or the expiration or your visa, whichever is sooner. Going forward, two consecutive two-year permits are granted. At the 5th year, you can apply for a Permanent Residence Permit that is renewed every 5 years. A minimum language proficiency (A2) is required to obtain a Permanent Residence Permit along with proof of financial means, accommodations, a Portuguese criminal record check and medical insurance.
Because it takes so long to get that first appointment with SEF, you'll likely apply for your NIF, Número de Identificação Fiscal, before getting your Permit. The NIF is issued by your local tax office (Finanças). The NIF is required in order to open a bank account, buy a car or apply for a credit card, among many other transactions. Since 2017, Financias is requiring that you have a Financial Guarantor with you to get your NIF. As defined earlier, this is a permanent resident or citizen of Portugal willing to assume your financial responsibility if you default. Financias states that the role of Financial Guarantor expires in one year.
Hyperlinks in order of use in the article:
- Health Insurance: Regulation (EC) No 810/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009, which entered in force on April 5, 2010
- Schengen Visa Applicant Information: http://www.embassyportugal- us.org/Embassy_of_Portugal/Visas_files/What%20is%20a%20Schengen%20Visa.PDF
- Proof of Financial Means: Act 23/2007 of July 4, amended by Act 29/2012 of August 9; Chapter 1, Article 11. http://www.sef.pt/documentos/56/LeideImig(Lei29_2012)EN.pdf#1