A few weeks back we presented ourselves at the local SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) immigration office, our lawyer in tow, and handed over the documentation required to permit us to remain in the country until January 2019. Here’s how that process worked.
Previous to this we had a four-month visa, which had actually expired as it was impossible to obtain an appointment at SEF before the end of February, though we applied in September of last year. Our lawyer assured us that we were not ‘illegal’ but it did give us some anxiety as we were actually living in the country on an expired visa. Yes, the Portuguese immigration authorities are actually that busy.
There seems to be a great deal of confusion as to terminology of visas vs. permits, etc. Prior to our coming to Portugal, we were required to have a RESIDENCY VISA, which was stamped in our passport and was valid for us to move to the country while we awaited our meeting with SEF.
This recent meeting was to obtain our TEMPORARY RESIDENCE PERMIT, which would be good for one year, then we reapply. If approved in 2019, that will gain us two more years. We repeat that one more time (reaching 5 years’ total) at which time we may qualify for a PERMANENT residency permit providing we meet the requirements. One of those is A2 level proficiency in Portuguese, which requires an exam. At 6 years we can apply for citizenship and acquire all the benefits of citizenship not only in Portugal, but as a member of the European Union. (We intend to remain U.S. citizens as well.)
This appointment’s goal was to show the immigration officials that we had what it takes to remain in the country without becoming a burden to the taxpayers. To show we’re capable of all that, we presented the following documents:
Actually, we brought a lot more than these required items just in case, including Apostilled copies of our Marriage License, Jana’s name change, birth certificates, etc. We didn’t want to be caught shorthanded and have to make a return trip.
We had our pictures taken, a retinal scan made, our fingerprints captured, and our signature recorded with a very cool machine (see picture of Prime Minister António Costa doing a test run of the new device.) This automated procedure is fairly new but most of the larger SEF offices now have these machines. With our lawyer present, the process was fairly painless, other than the fact that the Portuguese are not sure how to handle Harold’s last name. His legal name is Harold Buehl, Jr. To the officials, Junior is his surname, not Buehl, which causes a great deal of confusion. For now, the temporary residency permit shows Junior as his last name until Harold has his passport altered by the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. Next year, at the time of renewal, we can get it fixed and he’ll just be Harold Buehl. Considering all the things that could have gone wrong, this was a small problem, though I suspect there will be more fiddling required for other forms of ID on the U.S. side.
And to be fair, the Portuguese have their own issues when they try to scrunch down their much longer names (often four or six parts) to fit forms in the States that only allow for first, middle and last names.
As with all things bureaucratic, your mileage might vary as what one SEF office requires might not be what another does. Documentation requirements change fairly frequently, so it gets confusing, especially if you’re not reasonably fluent in Portuguese. However, at the moment we’d been granted the right to stay a little bit longer in this marvelous country. Once that was granted, we both felt as if a weight was off our shoulders. We left the meeting with a piece of paper that stated that we have authorization as residents of Portugal for the next year. We will receive a fancy biometric card in the mail within the next few weeks.
The next step? Signing up for the Non-Habitual Resident’s scheme. More about that in a future post.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.