Moving to Portugal

As many of you are already aware, Brady and I are moving to Portugal in about a month. These are both exciting and incredibly nerve-wracking times. While I have lived all over the United States (NJ, NY, VA, GA, CA, MT, CO), I’ve never moved internationally, and because it’s overseas, it’s not like we can just load up a U-Haul and drive over. 

There are tons of logistics involved, of course. Every move is a pain in the ass, but international moves are obviously exponentially harder. Visas, selling our condo, time-zones, language, apartments, bank accounts, shipping our stuff, shipping ourselves and our animals, the simple process of figuring out how to pay your water bill, and so on.

We obviously did a butt-ton of research before embarking on this journey so we knew this was going to be a long and complicated process. For a rough timeline (I’ll get into more of those details later), we first visited Portugal in March 2022. We had planned on visiting years before, but then the whole pandemic hit and nobody was going anywhere for a while. We stayed for 6 and a half weeks, and then needed a few weeks to mull over whether we actually wanted to move there.

We decided we did want to go ahead with the move, and we were prepared for this to take a while. And boy did it. 

We hired an immigration lawyer to help with the visa process, who also facilitated hooking us up with Portuguese companies that could assist with other things, such as opening a bank account, filing for a NIF, a real estate broker to find an apartment, etc.

A few quick notes: If you are planning on moving to Portugal and are there to visit, DO THESE THINGS FIRST:

  • Get a NIF number. The NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal) is basically the equivalent of your Social Security Number or Tax ID (except it is far less private) and you’ll need it for just about everything. It takes a little while for the paperwork to go through, and it doesn’t cost anything to have one, so get it done right away, as all of the other things you need to do will require it.
  • Open a bank account in person. To do it remotely requires a MONTH of paperwork back and forth, and will require an apostile notary, which is way more expensive and harder to find than a regular notary. (It cost us over $1,000 in notary fees to open our bank account!) Also note: Banks in Portugal don’t generally pay any interest and they cost several hundred dollars a year to maintain, but most services require an in-country account, as IBAN transfers are typically how you pay bills like rent, utilities, etc. Wise (formerly called Transfer Wise) is a great option for a lot of things and they provide excellent exchange rates, but for some things, you need to prove you have a certain amount of money in a 🇵🇹 account.
  • If you’re planning on bringing a car, PAY IT OFF. Portugal requires you to have owned your car for 6 months in your country of origin in order to import it. We’re still debating whether to bring ours, as it’s a real pain, but cars are very expensive over there, and it’s possible we can’t even do it, as it doesn’t meet some of the criteria (rear fog lights, orange turn signals, etc.)

Anyway, back to the timeline. We returned from Portugal the first time in May 1, 2022. We contacted the immigration attorney and applied for our NIF in early June, 2022. 

The next month or so was a metric buttload of paperwork and documentation, then we flew up to San Francisco to apply for the visa. (You have to do that in person at a consulate or company authorized to act as a consulate.) That appointment was on November 23, 2022. We received our passports back with our visas in them on April 4, 2023.

Our one-way flight to Lisbon is May 31, 2023. So it took about a year, and we were pretty aggressive about it. 

There is a thing we affectionately call “Portugal jank” – that is, everything takes forever, and somehow is always a little bit wrong. For example, my NIF number shows me as “masculino.” I emailed the lawyer about it, and she said she’d get it fixed, but I have no idea if she ever did. For a country that loves paperwork and bureaucracy, they’re kind of bad at it. For another example, we don’t know what kind of visa we have. We applied for a D-7, but nothing on the visa itself indicates which one we actually got, and there were some big changes to the visa programs in the year it took to get ours. The golden visa program was discontinued, a new digital nomad visa was created, etc. So, beats the shit out of me which one we have. 

The visa gets returned to you with a URL in it that shows you the date of your SEF appointment. SEF is short for Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, and is their immigration agency, where you can apply for your residency card. Brady and I managed to get appointments for the same day, but unfortunately at the exact same time in two very different cities. So that’s fun. The lawyer you engage with should also be providing with translation services if you’re not fluent in Portuguese (which we are not yet). This kind of paperwork is not something you want to half-ass.

Interesting note: Our lawyer advised us to NOT leave Portugal until we have our residency cards. The visa gives you two entries to the country, one of which being the actual move, but she strongly recommended not using the spare. No visiting the rest of Europe, nothing. Not until we have our residency cards. 

Timeline Recap:

  • March 15, 2022 to May 1 – first visit
  • June 2022 – NIF number application filed
  • June 10, 2022 – bank account application started
  • July 15, 2022 – bank account successfully opened
  • July 8 2022 – NIF number received
  • July 2022 – real estate agent contacted for rental
  • August 2022 – apartment shopping starts
  • October 2022 – apartment lease signed 
  • November 1, 2022 – visited the apartment
  • November 23, 2022 – consulate appointment for visa
  • April 4, 2023 – visa received
  • May 31, 2023 – one-way flight
  • June 1, 2023 – SEF (residency) appointment (ack!)
  • July 23, 2023 – SEF (residency) appointment
  • October 19, 2023 – Brady received his residence card
  • February 12, 2024 – Alison received her residence card

Some notes on renting an apartment:

Apartments in the larger cities in Portugal go VERY fast. Your real-estate agent will likely send you WhatsApp video walkthroughs, but for us it’s an 8-hour time difference, so by the time we could answer her back, the places we liked were already rented. 🙁 

For the visa application, they will want to see that you have a lease. In the before-times, folks could get away with using an AL (Alojamento Local), which is what they call short-term rentals, however our lawyer strongly recommended we have a year lease, as some consulates are not permitting short-term rentals anymore. 

Most rentals in Portugal use a 3-year lease, however you can break the lease without penalty once a third of the lease is up, so they are effectively one-year leases.

I have lots more advice and learnings from this process that I’ll be able to share with you as this process continues. 

Até breve!
Alison (aka “snipe”)