In which we become residents of Portugal
It's one thing to live here; quite another to have permission to do so (32)
As we mentioned in our last post, today was the day we both had our appointments with Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteras (SEF), the Portuguese immigration agency.
Some weeks ago, we discussed in detail the process of relocating to Portugal. Today’s appointments were about moving from being in the country on what is essentially a glorified vacation to being categorized by the Portuguese government as official “residents” of this nation.
To briefly recap: with a United States passport, anyone can travel basically anywhere in the world and stay for - in most cases - up to 90 days as a tourist. To legally stay longer than that requires - in most cases - some form of interaction with the government. Before we moved to Portugal we applied for and were granted D-7 Visas, which gave us permission to stay here until today’s appointments.
Those appointments, set for us when we received our visas, were in the northern part of Portugal. Amy’s was in a small town along the Atlantic called Espinho, Scott’s was in a larger city called Braga (roughly 100,000 people). Both are equally accessible from Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto, where we are staying for a few days.
Since our appointments were at the exact same time, we were apart for much of today going through basically the same process in different places. Following are our separate accounts of how it went:
I’ve wanted to visit Braga since we first zeroed in on Portugal so I was glad to have an excuse to come here. I got a hard lesson in the limits of public transportation, however, when we arrived at the station in Porto this afternoon only to realize that the next train to Braga wasn’t leaving for nearly an hour and I would arrive late for my 3 PM time slot. So rather than using the sub-5€ round-trip ticket I’d bought yesterday, I had to call a 40€ Uber. Next time, I will actually check the schedule before deciding what time to leave! The train is not the metro.
Finding the SEF office involved asking three different people where to go. (I’d like to say I had actual conversations in Portuguese but really I just looked at them and said, “SEF?” and then followed their hand gestures.) When I arrived, it turned out to be in an area where a number of agencies and companies had service counters so there were dozens of people spread out in a large room waiting for one thing or another and screens with the ubiquitous ticketing system scattered around the walls. The three counters that made up the SEF area each had signs saying they were closed and would re-open at 2:30 (my appointment was at 3, I arrived at 2:20) so I stood (there were few seats left available) and waited for something to happen.
At about 2:35 something - in the form of a woman with a clipboard emerging from a door adjacent to the SEF counters - happened. She spoke loudly and people flocked to her. I joined the throng and was able to glean that she was checking people in, taking note of who was there for appointments. When she turned to me I managed to remember how to say 15 in Portuguese (my appointment was at 15h) and I told her my name. She then called three (other) people’s names and disappeared back through the door.
I don’t know if everyone was there for the same reason I was. I’m really not sure what sort of business SEF would have besides what we were doing today but I imagine there are all sorts of reasons one would have an appointment. A woman in the first group was finished well before the other two. Then I heard my name called so I dashed to the counter.
I said, in Portuguese, that I was quite nervous (Estou muito nervoso). This seemed to alarm the clerk - who never gave her name - slightly and she asked why. I told her I don’t speak Portuguese that well yet. Pretty much the rest of the meeting was in English. She seemed as focused on making sure I wasn’t going to hyperventilate, pass out, or vomit as she was on getting the documents she needed to process my application.
Things went exceedingly smoothly and by the time I had to stand for my picture, I was grinning like a fool and had to tamp it down.
Getting back was a trip, literally. Google maps wanted me to take a city bus to the train station. Only problem was I didn’t have a bus pass. So I walked. It was a nice way to burn off some energy, even if it wasn’t the most scenic of journeys.
The commuter train worked like a dream for me. Except for the sheets of rain and fog that collected inside the windows and lack of signs with station names. I had no idea where I was. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I was on the right train. Eventually I saw the ocean and knew I was close.
Somehow, I managed to get off at the right stop. A 15 minute walk through light rain and I was there. The word on the street is that at the Espinho SEF you wait outside. They seem to have relaxed things: I was able to sit on a ledge inside and get to know a woman from Brazil who was renewing her student visa.
Eventually I was called to one of the three workers (think tellers, but you have a chair). We confirm my name. He hands me an application to fill out. I slide over the one I had already filled out. He disappears. He returns. He hmms and haws. He refocuses on me and says: Hand me your documents.
Now, it’s important to realize that my blue accordion file folder (thankfully plastic and thus protected from the rain on my walk!) is chock a block full of documents. My lease. My bank statements and supporting documents. My marriage license. My NIF. Etc. I understand traditionally people are asked for a couple of the documents. May I see your X and Y for example. Not, gimme everything you got. So, that’s just what I did. I gave him everything I had. Which meant, of course, that he had to scan all of it in, so we were there a while. Eventually I got to go over to the photo machine and finger printer (does this mean I’m approved? He didn’t say.) More waiting. More scanning. Documents starting returning to me. Eventually The Coveted (if poorly printed) Granting of Residence Authorization. I will receive an official version in 14 days, they say. Some people wait 6 months, so we’ll see.
On the way back to the train station I walked just a bit further to see the ocean in its glory. It seemed an appropriate way to celebrate.
So there you have it; we’re officially, legally residents of Portugal. This in no way alters our relationship with the United States (we just mailed our absentee ballots, for example), but it does mean we have a new raft of paperwork to complete for Portugal. Yay?
That’s all for now.
Love from Lisbon,
Scott & Amy
Vikki just sent me your blog link and I've been going through it! You two are hilarious! Keep that sense of humor...it will get better and you'll adjust more. Love your style of writing. Will continue to follow! Melissa Wurst
Congratulations on this milestone (and both getting the same result)! One less thing to be concerned about. Your pictures and descriptions of events and feelings are so interesting. Thanks so much for doing this.....