Despite all the horror stories, for us moving from South Africa to Portugal has not been too difficult! Everyone knows that any move has its challenges and moving countries is no exception.
We decided to make our move for two main reasons:
- the first is that our children are scatterlings. Spread across the northern hemisphere from the western US to Dubai. So with us being located centrally in Portugal we'll see them more often, and
- secondly the prospects in South Africa are gloomy. Faced by weak, slow-moving leadership and massive social and financial headwinds the future looks bleak.
In 2013 we left South Africa and for the next three and a half years lived in the Philippines. That move was easy. I had a work contract, and the company had a dynamic human resource manager who slid everything needed through the local bureaucracy.
This time, the move would be different. We would do everything ourselves.
The first issue we looked at was whether we needed a lawyer. After doing some research (lurking in Facebook groups!) the move looked like a fairly simple process. We had lots of time and years of experience with difficult layered bureaucracies. So I decided to do it myself.
Going it alone we’d find our answer to the question; "How easy is it moving to Portugal"?
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 would be more of a rigmarole.
Originally we had planned to leave in January after our Christmas vacation, but Carol was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. With he surgery, radiation and recovery taking up the next 3 months we could only get away 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 tourist 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 of the local Portuguese consulate regarding Ireland. For three days I tried to convince VFS that the Republic of Ireland was part of the EU, for three days they told me that the Consulate said it was not!
For these few days incompetent arrogance (a characteristic of bureaucracies!) reigned supreme. The confusion finally resolved, after numerous emails, sending a copy of my passport multiple times and a head-bashing telephone call. Finally, after all the unnecessary hassles, granted her visa based on my EU status.
Although this is now an amusing story, it certainly wasn’t then.
Sidebar: In my view VFS is a government sanctioned scam! An uncomplicated process that used to be handled efficiently by consulates is now expensive, inefficient, time consuming and bureaucratic.
Step 2 – Get my NIF
Getting the NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal) or Portuguese Tax Number is a vital first step.
A NIF number is required for both residents and non-residents who want to do things like, open a bank account, do a real estate deal, get a residence permit, or contract an internet provider or utility provider. So without it there's not much you can do.
In light of this, I applied online while still in South Africa through the E-Residence website for my NIF, paid the €99, waited 10 days and it was delivered by WhatsApp and 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 number I could now open a bank account.
Step 3 – Open a Bank Account
From a Google search I saw that there was a branch of the Portuguese bank Millennium Bank BPC in Johannesburg at Bruma Lake. Arriving there with copies of my NIF, 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 my wife Carol, still hadn't finished her cup of coffee when I walked out with my bank Access Code. A couple of days later I received an email with all the account information.
With these two requirements complete we moved on to getting Carol's NIF.
Step 4 – Get Carol’s NIF
With these steps complete, at a total cost of €198, our move from South Africa to Portugal started on 10 April.
Our First 4 Weeks in Portugal
As we travelled around the world my number one priority when arriving in a new country was to get a local SIM. Somehow with this installed on my phone I had the secure feeling of having some control with access to apps like Uber and Google maps.
True to form, on arrival at Lisbon airport our first stop was the Vodafone office. Here I bought a 30 day Travellers SIM with 20 GB of data and 500 call minutes for €20. I then planned to convert this number to a standard pay as you go contract after the 30 days expired. With basically the same data and calls for 28 days this conversion cost €23. But this process didn't work too well and I had to pay again after about five days as the data had run out!
We initially spent 2 days in Lisbon. Meeting up with a long time travel buddy and doing some brief sightseeing.
A two week visit to Sesimbra followed our stay in Lisbon. 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 and authentic experience.
A perfect introduction to new life in Portugal.
From Sesimbra we moved to Santa Luzia, a small village about 2 kilometres from the city of Tavira, on the eastern Algarve. We stayed here for a month in a comfortable, spacious apartment, enjoying the weather, the rural countryside, and the proximity to the coast.
After this holiday environment it was time to move on Vagos in the north where we'd secured a one year apartment rental contract.
Read more about our travel adventures at RovingRetirement.com and please share them with anyone you know who may be interested.