July 18

Moving to Portugal – Follow Our DIY Journey


 Moving to Portugal has been an engaging challenge most parts went well but exchanging my driver's licence was a frustrating bureaucratic failure.

 This is the second part of our story, with the link to the first part here.  

 Our personal situation is that I have dual citizenship for Ireland and South Africa, but my wife is South African. 

In the first article I wrote about what we did before arriving in Portugal which included: 

  1. getting my wife's Schengen visa,
  2. our NIFs and 
  3. opening a Portuguese bank account.
My Admission; I'm a Plan B freak!

Looking back getting an Irish passport was the best Plan B move I ever made. Although I did this over 30 years ago Plan B's are more essential today in this messy world, and who knows about the future, with many countries on slippery downhills.

I recommend that anyone who can get another passport does this—especially younger people who may have limited options with ancestral options.

My initial incentive to have another passport was to make international travel more accessible during the apartheid era in South Africa. Our company had business interests worldwide, and international travel was much easier using my Ireland passport. Then in 1994, when the regime changed, another reason arose. The South African passport started to lose its status, and visas became necessary for many countries. 

A recent example of the advantages of multiple passports is Brexit. Another is the pariah status of Russia, with many other examples around the world.

In conclusion, it has provided me with the right to move to Europe, saved me a lot of money, facilitated international travel and saved many of the hassles in getting visas!

Back to the story of our move. 

Proof of Residence

I planned to complete the process once we were in Portugal. So as a start, I downloaded the English translation of the requirements from the SEF (Servicio de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) website.

The next essential for acquiring residency was proof of residence. We had read stories of applying for this with a 3-month AirBnB contract, but the consensus was it needed a one-year lease. 

Finding a property was time-consuming and frustrating. 

 You can read about it here. It is a mission, which is why I suspect that many people resort to paying a lawyer, estate agent or some other "expert" to do it. Or hope to find the magic pill in some Facebook group!

With a lot of persistence, emails and phone calls, we succeeded ourselves. Sight unseen, we secured a one-year lease through ReMax for a one-bedroom apartment in Vagos. 

Our Arrival in Vagos via Aveiro

To get to our new home in Vagos, we first took the train from Faro to Aveiro. The 5-hour journey was comfortable and relaxing.

Its tranquility not preparing us for our arrival! As the train pulled into the station, we collected our worldly belongings and stood at the door. The train stopped, but the train door wouldn't open! 

After frantically punching buttons for a few seconds, we realised it was in vain. So grabbing our bags, we bumped our way through a carriage full of passengers. But as we got to the next door, it slammed shut, and the train started moving. On its way to Porto!

My wife was freaking out. But after a few seconds (which felt like minutes), the train stopped again, and we saw the conductor heading toward us. Relief! He opened the door, and clutching our bags; we fell out of the train onto the welcoming platform. 

We stood there for a minute, collected our breath, and took a photo! We'd arrived in Aveiro!

Move to Portugal - Aveiro

The next step was to get from Aveiro station to Vagos. The first option was Uber, but I couldn't connect to the internet, so that was out. We walked outside, couldn't see any taxis, no obvious bus stop, and light rain started. 

What now? 

We knew there was a bus service somewhere, but with our luggage and the ugly weather, we quickly rejected this option. After a few minutes, we asked a young man for directions, and he directed us to the other end of the station building where the taxis were waiting!

On arrival in Aveiro, I spoke to the estate agent who was to meet us at the apartment in Vagos. An urgent personal issue now delayed her, and she would be an hour and a half late! 

This arrival had become a bit messy!

Anyway, we decided to go to Vagos and wait. We took a taxi and were on our way.

On. arrival, more confusion. The building looked like the picture from the advert, but there was no obvious entrance. 

Moving to Portugal

Sitting on the steps in Vagos! 

The weather was foul. Blustery and spitting rain! So, I found a sheltered stairway off the street and sat down on a step with our bags while Carol went off to find coffee!

An hour and a half later, the agent arrived at the same time as the property owner and his wife. who don't speak any English. We finalised the paperwork, and they gave us a rundown of what we needed to know about the property. 

We now had a home!

Utilities – Electricity, gas and water 

After realising that I had not paid any of these accounts myself since September 2013 and I had no clue how the system worked in Portugal I was apprehensive about opening them myself. Fortunately, I was saved by our new landlord, Jorge, who offered to come with me to set them up. 

He arrived the following day.

As the water department office was across the road from the apartment, we made this our first stop. We walked in and came face to face with an unhappy-looking lady who made it noticeably clear that there was 'Não ingles' with her. Confronted with her attitude, I was pleased that Jorge had come with me. Not even a smile or attempt to speak Portuguese would thaw her frosty face. So, Jorge handled her "Monday-and-I-hate-work-and-foreigners" attitude with diplomacy as she processed the transfer.

Our next stop was the electricity and gas department in Aveiro. On arrival, I had my first experience of the endemic mandatory machine-printed appointment slip. After taking one, we waited for our number to come up on the display. I've since learned that these exist in many (sometimes unexpected places like the butcher in the supermarket), and not taking one will result in a long wait.

After opening these accounts, it was on to Vodafone. 

Vodafone – Glicinias Plaza Shopping Centre

Here I wanted to open an account for home internet and also to sort out the ongoing mobile data network connection problem with my phone.

After getting our numbered slip we were directed to the kind of customer service assistant we have come to expect in Portugal. Helpful, competent, and pleasant, she sorted out our internet package and then, with some help from Google, resolved my network connection problem.

Sightseeing - Aveiro down the coast to Vagueira

On our way back to Vagos, Jorge took us through Aveiro, past the canals where the multicoloured boats are taking visitors. From here we travelled down the coast, through the beach areas of Praia da Barra and the colourful houses of Costa Nova. And finally, through Vagueira, our nearest beach town, situated about eight kilometres away from Vagos.

My Certificado de Registo

With the accommodation step complete, it was now time to apply for my Certificado de Registo. This is required for EU citizens wanting to live in Portugal who must get this within 120 days of entry into the country.

I had the specified documentation:

  • Passport
  • 12-month property lease
  • NIF
  • Proof of my Millennium Bank account

Note: The SEF site doesn't mention the NIF or Proof of the Local Bank account. But dealing with bureaucracy, I've found that it's better to have too much than too little.

After a weekend of settling into our new surroundings, we walked down to the local municipal office, only to find it closed. We were confused as it was not a national holiday. But, as we later found out, it was a public holiday for the town. So an event one needs to be aware of in Portugal.

We returned the next day, and in faltering Portuguese, and with the aid of Google translate, I submitted my application.

At times like this, I try to learn relevant phrases in Portuguese. Then repeating them repeatedly before they're needed.

Unfortunately, up to now this process hasn't worked.

At the critical moment, my brain freezes, and the words get jammed deep down in my throat! The result is that all I can manage is a spluttering, indecipherable gurgle coming out of my mouth and a very red face!   

Despite my communication handicap, we came to an understanding and after entering some information into the computer, the agent handed me a form. The document was my "Declaration, under Oath", that either I;

  1. 1
    carried out a subordinate or independent professional activity in Portugal; or;
  2. 2
    have sufficient resources for myself and my family members, as well as health insurance.

She told me this had to be certified at the Junta de Freguesia, or Parish Council office. So off we walked to this office. 

Arriving at the office and completing another form, they informed me that they also needed Carol's passport. So leaving her sitting there, I walked home and fetched it. 

I handed it in and received an official-looking Atestado de Residência form signed by the de Freguesia President a few minutes later.

I was now a registered resident of Vagos. 

Then back to the Municipal office with my certified declaration. More information went into the computer. 

At this stage, the one positive outcome was the amount of walking we had done!

By now, it was midday; lunchtime had arrived. As the agents packed up, they told me the application was going upstairs.

I had read somewhere that after payment, you "walked out" with the Certificado. 

But this was not to be in Vagos. 

So optimistically thinking that 'upstairs' was a formality, I returned to the office the following day. As I walked in, the agent gestured that it was still upstairs, and I'd get a phone call when it was ready. 

Collecting My Certificado 

Ten days later, I received the call that it was now ready. Pleased that the wait was over, we planned to collect it in the afternoon. 

When we arrived, at about 1:40 pm 'our' customer service lady was still at lunch. So two other agents completed the process. I paid €15 and received the document. With a contented smile, I walked outside and showed it to Carol. 

There was only one problem – it was for the wrong person!

As I returned to the office, 'my" lady was arriving back from lunch with her assistant. After some chattering in Portuguese, with a 'humph' and look of disdain, she grabbed the documents and gestured for me to sit at her cubicle. In a back-and-forth with me, she completed the input on her computer. The next step was then to adjust the previous incorrect payment entry. 

It wasn't a quick process. Finally, she indicated she was all done, but now needed a signature. But from where? You've guessed it – 'upstairs'!

Told it wouldn't be long, I went and sat in the waiting room. People came and went, and after an hour, 'upstairs' eventually came downstairs with my Certificado.

I was now a legal resident of Portugal for the next five years.

Although this took some time, the municipal staff handled it with a great attitude and smiles. I cannot complain, and our saving grace was that our SEF appointment was only in September.

Move to Portugal - Vagos

Our apartment is in the top left corner!

Carol's Certificado de Registro

As my requirements were complete, I went online to make an appointment with SEF to finalise Carol's residency. 

We had left Africa and I mistakenly thought we'd left slow bureaucracy behind. With this in mind, I thought we would get an appointment in the next week or two. This turned out to be wishful thinking. The first appointment we could get was at 17:00 on the 8th of September – 4 months away! Thinking I could beat the system I tried the option of nearby cities, but their earliest available dates were October or November.

This delay left us slightly concerned as we thought the process had to be completed within 30 days of the visa expiry. However, we learned that the current requirement was that applicant must have made their appointment with SEF within this period. 

We had one final hurdle with this application. It required a copy of our Unabridged Marriage Certificate with Apostille. We requested this from the South African authorities using an external agency. This requirement was expensive and is a complete overkill for this document. Anyway, that's what the rules demanded, so we complied.

Converting my Driver's Licence

This was not a priority because we didn't have a car, so I left it to last. 

After getting all the requirements, the application was delayed as the conversion application needed confirmation of the licence from the issuing authority. This would not be a problem in many countries, but I had doubts about South Africa. Despite my skepticism they surprised me when it arrived as promised within the promised three-week lead time. 

As the South African licence department will not email the document, I used a local company, Community Couriers, to collect it. Their service was outstanding, collecting the confirmation letter from the department and delivering it locally for the tiny sum of R109 (€6.33). (Update: Unfortunately this company is closed). 

Another requirement for a driver's licence conversion is a medical clearance. I made an appointment and saw a local doctor, where I passed a cursory exam. But, as he was trying to enter the results into the computer system, there was a problem. It needed my user identification number from the Portuguese medical system. 

I didn't have the number, so the next day I went off on another walk! This time to visit the local Centro de Saúde. The hurdle this time was that Google maps was wrong! After arriving in the obviously wrong place, I remembered that on one of my many walks, I had seen a Saúde sign, so we headed off there.

Once we found it, the registration was another uncomplicated process. I was registered on the system and out of the office in 20 minutes. With this number, I made another appointment to finalise the medical certificate.

A few minutes after arriving in the doctor's waiting room, it started filling up with older people. It struck me that, like in many Western countries, there are too many unhealthy old people. However, I was first in line and soon left with my medical certificate.

I could now complete the online application with the required the medical report, the Certificado de Registo and my ID. After initially looking so good, all attempts have failed. The online entry system was also extremely frustrating, as it requires entering all the information from the beginning each time. 

In addition this department has some very arrogant and unhelpful staff. 

Eventually my my most viable option was to return to South Africa and get a current licence card. An expensive trip just to get a drivers licence card! 

A year later (understanding that after 2 years this exchange could not be done) I applied with Apostille endorsed documents meeting all the specified requirements - including the ones that had been added!!  

By this time I was vaccinated with the Portuguese bureaucracy vaccine and time delays were more easily accepted. 

So where are we now in our move to Portugal? 

  • I have completed all the requirements to live in Portugal for the next five years. 
  • With Carol, we're now waiting to finalise her residency at SEF on the 8th of September. 
  • We hope we have not been too optimistic ... as so far everything has gone too well!
Move to Portugal - Bacalhao

Some observations from our moving to Portugal

As strange as it may seem to some people the most important positive is that we feel safe! We can walk around anywhere, any time of day or night without any safety concerns. 

Most of the process is simple and is clearly defined on the English version of the SEF website. Although practices in various offices can differ. 

Some steps are online, while others need making appointments and visiting offices. While the system is transparent, in some cases, like with the amount specified for subsistence, more is better. Although these are legislated requirements, most of them are in Portuguese. And another problem is that there is a degree of discretion.

One can understand the reason for the legislation, as Portugal has enough of its own social problems without immigrating "passengers".  

In most cases, if you do your homework, there is no need to hire lawyers or "immigration consultants". Although in cases involving investment, business or tax, it is advisable (as anywhere else in the world) to consult with an accounting professional. A specialist in the application of the legislation, also one who is recommended and who speaks English.

Overall it's a trudging through mud step by step process - one that needs patience and good humour. 

We are happy that we decided to come and live in Portugal. We now look forward to learning the language and adding value during our time here.

Tchau, até a proxima vez!


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