Moving from South Africa to Portugal – Our DIY Experience

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So far moving from South Africa to Portugal has been easy!

A move we decided to make for two main reasons: 

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  1. The first is that we have children scattered across the northern hemisphere from the west US to Dubai. Being located centrally we believe that we'll see them more often. 
  2. The second is that the prospects in South Africa are not optimistic. Faced by weak, slow-moving leadership and massive social and financial headwinds the future looks quite bleak.

We had previously left South Africa in 2013 and lived in the Philippines. That move was easy. I had a work contract, and the company had a dynamic human resource manager who slid through the bureaucracy.

However, this move would be different. The first issue we faced was whether a lawyer was necessary. After doing some research (lurking in Facebook groups!) to me it looked like a fairly simple process. We had lots of time and years of experience with, sometimes difficult, bureaucracies. So I decided to do it myself.

Going it alone we’d find our answer to the question; "How easy is it moving from South Africa to Portugal"?

Our Situation

For me getting into the EU would not be a problem as I have an Irish passport but for my wife, Carol, on a South African passport there would be more of a process. 

We had planned to leave in January after our Christmas vacation, but Carol was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. The surgery, radiation and recovery took 3 months and we finally set off in April. 

Based on my interpretation of the regulations on the Portugal website I decided that our best option was for Carol to leave on a Schengen 90 day visa and then within the additional 30 day grace period we would finalise her residency.

So, what have we done so far and how has it gone?

Our Steps in Moving from South Africa to Portugal

Step 1 – Get Carol’s Schengen Visa

We applied at the beginning of January 2022 and I expected this to be the easiest step. But I was wrong!

It turned out to be a comedy of incompetence between VFS and the Portuguese consulate.  The UK had finally left the EU at the end of 2021 and confusion reigned in their minds regarding the status of Ireland. For 3 days I tried to convince VFS that the Republic of Ireland was part of the EU. For 3 days they told me the that the Consulate said it was not!

During these days incompetent arrogance ruled. Finally, after numerous emails, sending copies of my passport and telephone calls the confusion was resolved, and she got her visa. 

Although it’s now an amusing story, it certainly wasn’t then.

Sidebar: In my view VFS is a government sanctioned scam! A process that used to be handled efficiently by consulates is now  expensive, time consuming and bureaucratic. 

Step 2 – Gemy NIF

Getting the NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal or Portuguese Tax Number) is a critical first step. 

It is required for both residents and non-residents who want to open a bank account, do any real estate deals, get a residence permit, contract an internet provider, etc.

So, while still in South Africa I applied online through the E-Residence website for a NIF, paid €99, waited 10 days and it was delivered by email. This payment also includes fiscal representation for a year. E-Residence also provides other services for setting up companies and accounting,

With my NIF I could now open a bank account.

Step 3 – Open a Bank Account

In Johannesburg (Bruma Lake) there is a branch of the Portuguese bank Millennium Bank BPC. Arriving there with copies of my NIF, my passport and proof of residence (copy of bank statement with a residential address) I applied for a bank account. 

This was an unusually pleasant banking experience. Within 15 minutes the application was processed and completed by Flavio Bento

Waiting outside Carol hardly had time to finish her cup of coffee! I walked out with my bank Access Code and within a few days received an email with the account information.

With these 2 requirements complete we moved on to getting Carol's NIF.

Step 4 – Get Carol’s NIF

As my experience with E-Residence had been so good I also applied through them for Carol’s NIF. Again, the service worked as promised and after 10 days we received her NIF by email.

With these steps complete at a total cost of €198 we started our move from South Africa to Portugal on 10 April.

Our First 4 Weeks in Portugal

As we travelled around the world my priority when arriving in a new country was to get a local SIM card as soon as possible. Somehow it gives one the feeling of having some control with access to apps like Uber and Google maps.

So on arrival our first stop was the Vodafone office in the airport. Here I bought a 30 day Travellers SIM with 20 GB of data and 500 call minutes for €20. After 30 days I had to change it to a standard pay as you go contract. With basically the same data and calls this was €23.  

Since arriving in Portugal, we initially spent 2 days in Lisbon. Meeting up with a long time travel buddy and doing some quick sightseeing.

This was followed by 2 weeks in Sesimbra. Here we stayed in a tiny AirBnB (note that’s European tiny not South African tiny!). The apartment was in a narrow street in the old part of the city. Situated close to the promenade and less than a hundred metres from the beach it was a unique, authentic experience. 

For the last two weeks we’ve been staying in Santa Luzia. A small village about 3 kilometres from the city of Tavira. Enjoying the weather, the rural countryside, and the proximity to the coast. In 2 weeks time we move on to Vagos in the north where we'll spend the next year.

That’s all for now but there’s more coming on our house hunting and residency progress.

Follow our journey at RovingRetirement.com


Tags

moving to Portugal, Portugal for retirement, retire in Portugal, retire to Portugal


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  1. Thanks for sharing. Sorry to miss you in Portugal 🇵🇹. We loved Porto and Lisboa!

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