We were engaged in a tremendous amount of planning leading up to our relocation to Portugal. Being an engineer by trade, I had actually prepared a GANTT chart with all the projects that were needed prior to our leaving the U.S., a process that involved a lot of reading and research to make sure that everything was checked and double-checked. We made sure to have legal assistance every step of the way.
Of course, there was an unexpected glitch: my name.
I am named after my father so I’m a Junior. In the British colonies it is quite common to have name suffixes, Sr. Jr. II III, etc. Other places in Europe, not so much. In Portugal, for instance, people will generally have 4 or 5 names, two surnames for their mother and father, a Christian name and one or two given names. But there is no provision for a Jr. on any of the forms or computerized record systems in the country. Your family name is entered on all the legal documents as your sobrenome.
(This isn’t only a one-way issue: The U.S. doesn’t know what to do with the four to six parts of a Portuguese name because they’re used to only First, Middle and Last.)
I had a hint that the Junior might be a problem when we opened our bank account a short time before we moved overseas: the Welcome! e-mails I received were addressed to O Senhor Jr. I immediately contacted our lawyer who checked with the bank and was informed that they had to use the name exactly as it appeared on my passport. At least the bank was able to use Harold Buehl on my Multibanco and health insurance card. All the other bank documents have my last name as JR.
Our lease and my Número de Identifação Fiscal (tax number) were issued with the name Harold Joseph Jr Buehl and that gave me hope. I figured that might make a good compromise going forward and hoped that the other government agencies might be able to work it this way. Not so much.
Despite both me and our attorney pleading with the SEF (immigration) agent during the meeting for our temporary residence permits, and after she checked with several other people in the office, my last name on the permit is still JR. I have immense respect for the employees of SEF, but they kept coming back to the fact that they could NOT have a name on my immigration paperwork that was not the same as my U.S. passport. The name HAD to match. I think everyone in the office came up to apologize and explain that there was nothing they could do.
If I were still a resident of the US, a name change would not be that difficult: A trip to the courthouse, a notice published for a couple of weeks in the newspaper, an appearance before a judge, some court fees and you have a notarized court order showing your new name.
As I am no longer a resident of the US, nor own property in the States, there was no jurisdiction to which I could petition for a name change. I wrote a note to the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, they researched the passport regulations, and came back with good news -- the name suffix on the passport is optional and I could drop it even if that was the way it was written on my birth certificate.
The embassy staff made an appointment for me to receive a new passport (without the troublesome JR) during their next visit to Porto.
The DS-11 form was necessary since I would be altering the information on my passport and is the one used when you are requesting a new one. It was tricky because whenever I marked that I currently had a passport, it would print out a DS-85 form for a passport renewal rather than the DS-11 form for a new one. I filled it out the best I could and the embassy staff helped me fix it at my appointment by adding the information about my current passport.
When I went to the photo lab and asked for a passport photo, they gave me one sized for EU documents, and not the larger 5cm x 5cm that is required for a US Passport. I didn’t realize that until I was at the meeting so the embassy staff gave me a letter in which to mail them the proper size photo. I got that by visiting a different photo lab.
The money order (Vale Postal) was another matter. There is a level of inconsistency in the way money orders are handled by CTT. At the main post office in Porto it is their policy that they will not just print out a money order and give it to you like I was used to in the US. They were required to mail the money order to the recipient.
I didn’t realize this so here I am, in line, looking up the address and phone number of the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon on my iPhone because the e-mail from them did not have this information in the footer. Happily, the embassy staff accepted my receipt as assurance that the fee had been mailed. The registered mail envelope and the copies were mercifully a non-issue. (Note: Last I heard – which was a week after I mailed the money order– the embassy still hasn't received it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one.)
Once I receive my new passport, I’ll be able to have my name changed on my Temporary Residence Permit when we renew that next June, and then I will need to go back through all those other governmental offices that have my last name as Jr to get those corrected.
As of now I need to patiently wait the 2-3 weeks for my passport to show up in the shiny red Registered Mail envelope. Of course, that means that I have to stay home until it arrives so I can sign for the letter. But soon the JR will be no more and all will be well until we discover another quirk of Portuguese bureaucracy.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.