Google “Best places to retire abroad” and Portugal consistently shows up in the top ranked countries. Ditto in highly regarded magazines such as Forbes and AARP, as well as those magazines selling sugar-coated dreams to those with rose-colored glasses. And we’d done our homework as travelers who’d spent the last three years roaming Mexico, Central and South America as well as several Caribbean islands before we jumped to Europe. We knew what we wanted and what we wanted was to live in Portugal. Ask anyone who’s been there and they’ll know why. For the uninitiated, we could list the low cost of living relative to other European venues, fresh and delicious food, a moderate climate with 300 plus days of sun, miles of coastline, fascinating history and warm people with wide smiles. For us, Portugal pushed all the right buttons including an important one. We didn’t want to give up traveling, not with Europe spread before us and beckoning. We just wanted a place to call home, to launch from and return with only a small carry-on suitcase accompanying us.
It requires little effort for much of the world, including US citizens, to visit Portugal and the other twenty-six European countries that comprise the Schengen Zone. You simply present your passport at your original point of entry for a stamp and, presto, you’re granted permission as a tourist to enter, exit and cross borders with no further ado, similar to us driving from state to state in the US. “Great” you say but, and for us as slow travelers with no time constraints, this presented a conundrum. The visa is only good for 90 days. And then you have to leave the Schengen nations for a period of at least 90 days.
So, what to do if you want to stay? We whiled away our time in Portugal this summer investigating places we’d like to live more-or-less permanently we also started doing our research and hired a lawyer to help walk us through both sides of the process: the documents we would gather in the US and the forms, renewals, translations that we would be completing upon our return to Portugal. There’s a wealth of material online (and probably much of it is even accurate!) from many countries about how to apply for a their residency visas as well as lists of the necessary documents but, when it came to Portugal, there seemed to be a dearth of information. We found articles online with guidelines for citizens belonging to the EU but for US citizens there was a confusing jumble of incomplete, contradictory and inaccurate data. We finally concluded that there wasn’t an easy way – we had to begin at the beginning and put together our own list of requirements necessary to apply for a Portuguese residency visa (here’s where being stubborn not to mention methodical and, somewhat, patient comes in handy!)
Our online inquiries led us to the official website regarding visas for Portugal at embassyportugal-us.org and a little bit of squinty-eyed reading resulted in a Eureka! moment when we found a link for residency visas. As retirees we were indeed on the list of people eligible to receive this type of visa and the table at the end of the page seemed to be short and straightforward. We contacted the Consular’s Section of the Portuguese Embassy in Washington DC requesting the application form and we received a prompt email response with four attachments. An initial point of confusion was the actual name of the form itself, Application for Schengen Visa. This form, however also covers the initial steps for the residency visa process.
Tip 1 Processing fee $128/person.
Tip 2 The signature needs to be notarized if mailing the application but a notary is not necessary if applying in person.
Tip 3 If you plan to present the application personally be sure to call and schedule your appointment a few weeks in advance as the office hours are limited.
Rounding up the Documents
Passport sized photo
Personal statement We each wrote a brief paragraph about why we wanted to retire in Portugal (the people, the countryside, the culture and history, etc.) as well as where we would be residing and our type of accommodations.
Proof of Financial Means We submitted a printout of a letter from the Social Security Administration that showed that Richard received monthly Social Security payments and the amount 2) three months of bank statements to show the money was direct deposited into our account and 3) that the monies were available to us in Portugal
Tip 1 We haven’t come across a source we can quote on the income necessary to prove financial independence but the figure we kept in mind is that 1000 Euros is considered sufficient to support a family of four in Portugal.
Tip 2 Our lawyer advised us to keep our answers regarding financial resources as simple as possible and not to complicate this step by submitting other sources of income such as 401(k) or 403(B) pensions, savings and investments holdings, etc. as they may needlessly complicate the process.
Tip 3 We included our Marriage Certificate to show that this income was available to both of us since Anita is not eligible to receive Social Security payments yet.
Criminal Record Certificate Issued by the FBI We had our fingerprints taken at our local police department (cost $10/person) and then worked with a company to expedite their submittal and review through the Bureau (cost $63/person).
Tip 1 A list of pre-approved FBI channelers is available online but the company we used was My FBI Report (myfbireport.com). The company notified us 4 days after they received our print cards that Richard would need to get his fingerprints retaken and resubmit them as the FBI said they were “too worn.” The police department waived the fee for the reprinting process when we presented the receipt showing proof of our initial payment. However the expediters charged an additional $20. Anita received her background check within 10 days and Richard’s arrived a week later.
Tip 2 A search online resulted in the suggestion that applying Corn Husker’s lotion the night before could make the fingerprint ridges more distinct. We’re not saying it does but we didn’t have to go back for a third attempt!
A Copy of Our Lease as proof that we had a place to stay in Portugal.
Tip – You can also have a resident of Portugal write you a letter of invitation that includes the address where you will be staying.
Notarized Copy of our Passport’s Information Page
Tip – We copied the pages with our photo, address and the dates the passport was valid and had a notary stamp and sign underneath.
Proof of Health Insurance This is by far the most expensive part of the whole application process.
Tip – We’ve carried policies with high deductibles from IMG (imglobal.com) since we began traveling. Richard’s covers every country but the US and did not require a doctor’s exam ($1,836/year) and Anita’s policy includes an allotted time in the US and required a physical exam ($3,895)
And … The Approval!
Never ones to pass up a chance to visit one of our favorite cities, Washington DC, we decided to submit our applications and the supporting documents in person. We also wanted to ensure that everything was complete as well as address any problems immediately versus a slow back and forth through the mail. We met with our contact, Ms. Dina Silva, at the end of August for a 30 minute appointment. She examined our applications and told us that they would be sent to the Service de Estrangeiros e Frontiers in Lisbon, Portugal. And then we waited… On October 6th we received a note from Ms. Silva and a form requiring our signature to authorize a criminal background check in Portugal. And finally, in mid-October, three months after we had returned to the US to initiate the process, we received an email saying that our residency visas had been approved. We mailed our passports to Ms. Silva to receive our official visa stamps and registry numbers. Our departure is imminent!
“What’s next?” is another post altogether as we move forward with the visa application in Portugal. Our initial visa is valid for 120 days and we’ll be working through the next steps with our attorney for a Permanent Residency Visa.
For those of you who made it to the end of this long post … thanks and we’re done for now! So many people have expressed interest in how a Portuguese Residence Visa can be obtained that we wanted to write about our experience as well provide some tips. We’ve tried to be as complete and accurate as possible but, despite receiving approval on our application, we’re no experts. It only looks simple in hindsight!
By Anita and Richard