It’s a strange adjustment to go from three years of nomadic living without a fixed physical address, no utility bills and long and short version answers to the question “Where do you live?” to being tethered once again with a lease agreement, an address and a postal box which receives our utility bills and occasional bank correspondence. We managed to live virtually paperless for three years since we had to carry everything we owned and now we have folders neatly organizing the papers that tie us to an address once again.
We wrote here Setting Up House in Portugal about the small frustrations of settling into our apartment and the strange acronyms NIF, our fiscal numbers which establish our financial existence in Portugal, and NIB, which shows that we have a bank account. Carrying these acronyms on their separate pieces of paper allowed us to get connected at one of the local businesses, MEO, for phone, cable TV and internet. And we were really on a roll when we rented a car to take us to new and fascinating places.
Next up on the tasks of settling in came our mission of changing the utilities from the landlord’s name to ours. Fortunately, we weren’t pressed for time as finding the appropriate buildings was somewhat equivalent to the mythical snipe hunt. It was difficult to program into the GPS directions we had for the city water company, Camara Municipal, which were, “It’s a big white building on the second roundabout on the way to Pingo Doce (a grocery store), across the road from the burned out building …” When we finally found the building which, despite its size blended into the background due to its totally bland exterior and that we’d passed by almost every day, we almost high-fived each other. Upon setting up our water account we asked the English-speaking clerk where we could find the electric company, EDP, and she pointed us in the correct direction. Another place we wouldn’t have found on the GPS as there was a small space back in the corner of the Miele appliance store where two lecterns with accompanying paper shufflers stood: one for receiving payments due and the second for new accounts. Success again and we were on our last and final leg, Rolegas. The next day, energized by how relatively easy our changing our accounts had been so far we set off in search of the gas company following nebulous directions which read simply, “About six kilometers out of Lagos.” Having googled the address we had a hazy idea of which way we needed to drive and a picture of what the building looked like. We sailed by the building three times before we finally saw it using the roundabouts to change direction, missed the entry lane, retraced our route, finally arrived and carried out our business.
Since we’ve lived here we’ve learned to bring all of our folders because we never know what paper might need to be produced. Each utility company needed our NIB and NIF numbers, our lease agreement and phone number, pictures of the corresponding meter (which we had stored on a tablet), passport information and a previous bill from the owner. And, except for Rolegas where we ended up with a translator over the phone, everyone we dealt with spoke English and was polite, friendly and bent over backwards to make sure we got signed up with a smile. Finally, all was done – until and when we decide to find a more suitable apartment and have to redo the whole process!
We’d arrived in Portugal in November with our freshly stamped “long term” visas, good for a period of four months and due to expire in February of 2016. We wrote about the documents that we’d gathered in the US to procure the initial visas that would set us on our path toward a Portuguese residency in this post, The Great Document Roundup: Starting the Portugal Residency Process. Now we needed to start gathering the documents we’d need to extend the initial temporary Residence Permit on the Portuguese side. We checked the internet for a list what US citizens needed for this second step but once again we found the information to be inconsistent with what our attorney, Duarte was telling us. Since it’s simply easier to go with the flow we put our trusting selves into Duarte’s hands.
First off was making the actual appointment with the Servico de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) aka the Foreigners and Borders Service or immigration, a police service responsible for border control and the issuance of residence permits to foreign nationals legally residing in Portugal. Since we live in Lagos our appointment with the SEF was in nearby Portimão and we scheduled our appointment about 30 days before our visa expired in case there were any glitches that needed to be resolved.
We gathered the following documents to bring with us:
- Passports with our current resident visa
- Three-months of our most recent bank statements for an account that is in both our names
- Rental lease agreement
- The document with our NIF (fiscal) number
- Proof of health insurance
- Statement from the Centro Regional de Seguranca Social de Algarve This is Portugal’s version of Social Security, Social Services and Unemployment Insurance in the Algarve Region. Finding this office was another snipe hunt story where it was near the bus stop and behind the Maritime police station, etc. Basically this document shows that we are not relying on income from the Portuguese government nor are we employed. We presented our NIF number, our passports for identification and the employee gave us each a signed statement that said a record search showed we weren’t in their data bank.
We also brought a copy of our marriage certificate and 2 passport sized photos which were not needed.
On the day of our appointment we took the train from Lagos to Portimão and Duarte came down from Lisbon to Portimão by train to make sure all went smoothly. We arrived within 10 minutes of each other and then shared a taxi to the SEF. Our wait was no more than 5 minutes and soon we were chatting amiably with the SEF officer who spoke English. He filled out forms, made sure we had the required documents and then we stood in front of a kiosk which collected our biometric data: taking our photos (no glasses and no smiling so we look rather dour), scanning and recording our left and right index fingerprints and finishing with a retina scan. We signed forms, one part of which authorized current background checks and then sat and chatted with a second officer who collected €157,80 from each of us, a total of about $350 USD for the both of us. Note: The SEF only accepts cash or a Portuguese bank card. After receiving a receipt, we were told that we should receive our Titulo de Residencia cards by registered mail within two weeks.
And so, ten days after our appointment the postman rang our outside bell a couple of times and we signed for our new cards which declare us to be bona fide residents of Portugal. WHOO HOO! We have the country’s permission to live here for a year at which time we’ll go through the process once again and renew our cards for a two-year period. In Portugal (as in the US) when things work, they work well!
By Anita and Richard