A Complete (and honest) Guide to Getting a Portuguese Visa: Part One

The thrilling tell-all of an American abroad

The time has come. It’s officially time for me to begin the legal quest to live in Portugal. If I can be honest, the whole thing is a little overwhelming, for a number of reasons, which I will now conveniently list below:

  1. I do not speak Portuguese (working on it, don’t worry!)

  2. Most of the offices you have to visit throughout the process have wonderful employees, who only speak Portuguese.

  3. I’m not a European citizen, so things are ten times harder (“boo hoo, cry me a river, you live in paradise.”)

  4. There are so many papers, trips to different offices, and silly loopholes in the system, that you’re never quite sure if what you’re doing is correct

But ANYWHO! Here I am. An enthusiastic American in Portugal, with a goal of getting a Freelancer’s Visa. And you know what I’ve found? There aren’t many blog posts about this process online, so I’d like to fill the void. For those of you not moving to Portugal, I promise to still include my normal quips and embarrassing stories, so you’re not bored to death.

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Excuse me, Can I please live here?

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? Why yes we should, Maria Von Trapped in Paperwork.

For starters, if you read my recent blog post, you know that I have a new job. In terms of moving to Europe, I basically won the lottery. I’m Charlie, and my new contract as a freelancer for a European company is my Golden Ticket. I now have the resources to prove to the Portuguese government that I’m not here to coast on welfare, and I can indeed provide for myself. WOHOO!

Step one

So the very first step (after the job) in Portugal, is getting a NIF, otherwise known as a tax number. All Portuguese people have it, and you use it for everything, from buying a house to buying groceries. And to get a NIF, you have to go to the finance office in your district and, as an American, bring a Portuguese witness with you. What does the witness do? Still incredibly unclear to me, but if I translated correctly, they basically agree to accept official mail on my behalf? Hmm, should really double up on the Portuguese classes…

So I proceeded to the finance office last week, bright and early, to stand in line with 75 other people (I was number 60. sigh.) before the office opened. Our superstar landlady, Sofia, arrived to be my witness, and we spent the 30-minute wait time chatting about her adorable grandkids. (She thinks they’re too restless and need more discipline.)

SO, when my number is called, we proceed to the desk where a friendly employee speaks Portuguese with Sofia, asks for my passport, and in a few minutes I’m issued a NIF.

TA-DA!

Consider Step 1 Done.

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Notes from my NIF experience:

-I highly advise getting to the finance office half an hour before they open, to avoid a ridiculous wait time.

-Always bring your passport

-Otherwise, this part is pretty straightforward.

step Two

You’ve got the NIF! Congratulations! Proceed home, pass GO, and collect… nothing but a piece of paper. But it’s a very important piece of paper, so Alles Gut. What’s next? Registering your address. If I’m doing this right (pray for me), the next step is going to the government office in town ( the Freguesia, pronounced “Frehg-zia”), and registering that you actually live there. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. For this portion of the exercise, non-EU folk have to get two local people to be witnesses (so many witnesses, so little crime. Sorry, I had to) and attest that they’re locals, and they see you bopping around town all the time. In essence, I kind of like this rule. It’s almost like you’re not allowed in the club, unless you’ve made a point to interact with locals. Cool, I dig it. But it’s a bit difficult when you live in a vacation town. All of the Portuguese people I interact with on a daily basis? None of them have registered addresses within the town limits, so according to the government, they don’t count.

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Any witnesses up here?

Time to call in the reinforcements, aka every Portuguese person in town I’ve ever interacted with. First stop was the little shop next door where we buy the morning bread. “Ola! Eu Necessito… *points to paper*.” Nope, they don’t live in the town limits (or the two ladies don’t like me. 50/50 chance). Next. The Mill, my absolute favorite coffee shop, across the street (with a bangin’ ceramics collection). Hard pass. Same story. Nobody lives in the town limits. At this point, I started to get a bit frustrated. I live here. I have bills sent to this address. Why isn’t this enough?! Deep breaths, young grasshopper.

Story Time: when I first entered Pace University’s BFA Musical Theater Program, Amy Rogers proclaimed a certain mantra, at every available moment:

“Don’t Be An Asshole!”

All day, every day, somewhere at Pace a professor was yelling this at a room full of impressionable 18 year-olds, and I must say it’s a simple saying with some weight. Because what I’m realizing now, is this phrase isn’t just for Broadway kids. It applies to everything, especially in the case of a foreigner abroad. Why do I say this? Well, as I neared the end of my list of locals I see every day, I realized I had to broaden my scope; reach out to the people I don’t see every day, and ask for a favor. Enter Hugo, the creator of the Ericeria magazine (check out AZUL) who I once had a coffee with, and wrote a pro bono article for. He graciously interrupted his morning walk with his beagle to vouch for my residency. Same for Dika, the goddess of a woman who’s helped Kris and I navigate Portuguese bureaucracy on multiple occasions, in exchange for nothing more than some red wine with enthusiastic conversation.

I hadn’t reached out to Hugo or Dika in, well, too long, but they showed up, and vouched for me in a pretty pressing time, simply because, in the past, I had been kind. Amy Rogers, this successful certificate of my address registration is for you!

Notes from my Address Registration experience:

  • Become familiar with the rules for witnesses in your town

  • Know the people who live within your town limits

  • “Don’t Be An Asshole” -Amy Rogers

The next step in this process is getting a bank account, and for me, finding a car. After that, it’s back to the States for the rest of the forms (plus some extended family time). Stay tuned to see if I actually figure this all out, in Part Two!

Have you been through A visa process before?

Have any questions about my experience?

Join the conversation in the comments below

Emily Hughes1 Comment