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It’s been a while since I posted. Long enough that people may have wondered if I had done a disappearing act and left Portugal, never to return.
Well, strangely enough, it came pretty close. We had so much difficulty renewing our Portuguese residency that, for a time, we thought we may have to leave to return to the UK, or have another go at life in the sun over the border in Spain.
Well, I’m pleased to report that all is good again now, but I can’t overstate how tricky the past few weeks have been.
We knew before we moved that the bureaucracy here in Portugal was going to be difficult. Nothing, however, prepares you for just how difficult, frustrating, illogical and inconsistent it really is.
As an EU citizen, you have freedom to live and work wherever you like in the EU. “Getting residency” is really only a simple question of registering in the country where you have settled – it is in fact called a “Certificado de registo de cidadao da uniao Europeia.” According to both the EU’s own website and the SEF (Portuguese immigration authority) websites, all you should need to do is take your passport to the SEF office and be prepared to sign to say that you either have a job, are studying, or have funds to support yourself. You should then be given a five year document which can be exchanged for permanent residency after that time.
Sounds like a five minute job doesn’t it? This is what we had to do:
1. Visited the SEF within 3 months of settling here as instructed. Were told that the camara (town hall) now handles residency.
2. Went to the camara with necessary documents, they also insisted on our rental contract and fiscal numbers (neither was a problem). However, they also required us to go to our village hall and get an “atestado” to prove we lived where we said we did (even though we had a tenancy agreement).
3. Went to the junta (village hall) to get the atestado. Told we need two local residents registered as voters in our local village to sign to vouch for us–an interesting challenge when you have just moved somewhere and don’t know anyone.
4. Awkwardly asked a local bar owner and the lady in the corner shop to vouch for us on our atestado.
5. After a wait of a few days managed to get a signed atestado from the junta.
6. Went back to the camara who now seemed like they were willing to give us a residency. Paid 15€ and were told to return in a couple of days.
7. Returned a couple of days later and were told to come back again after the weekend.
8. Returned to the camara after the weekend and joyfully collected our residency. Strangely though, it was only for one year and not the stated five years. Decide to worry about it again in a year.
9. Visited our bank to get our accounts changed to residents accounts. Big fail. It turns out the camara have put the wrong addresses on our precious new one year residency documents.
10. Go back to the camara, told to return in two days to collect our new residency papers.
11. A year on, our one year residency is near to expiry, so we need to renew it. Confident, as we now feel like very legitimate Portuguese residents, having done a full and honest tax return involving us contributing a significant sum of money to the faltering Portuguese economy, we return to the camara with our heads held high.
12. The camara insist on copies of our work contracts. This proves difficult as my wife works for a UK company and they won’t accept her contract, saying it must be translated into Portuguese. I am self-employed and don’t have one. The tax return document we proudly proffer is shuffled back towards us with a sneer. They also want a “declaracao da segranca social com os descontos efectuados,” which is proof we don’t owe any social security here. This is also tricky, as there is no mechanism for my wife to pay it here–my wife is not employed by a Portuguese company or self-employed here. I have recently become self-employed here, but I am not liable for any for the first 13 months. We return home downhearted.
13. Turn to the expat forums for advice – a lot of which amounts to people saying it is near impossible to do everything legally the way Portugal works and that we should have “stayed under the radar.” A lot of people did offer helpful suggestions and offers of assistance, for which I am very grateful.
14. We contact our accountant for help but she refers us to a document agency in Almancil. We’re not up for this as we tried one of them last year and they wanted more paperwork from us than the town hall did. Exasperated, we decide to involve a lawyer.
15. We visit the lawyer. He suggests that as our family members applied in Olhao and were given their residency in 5 minutes that we should pretend we have moved there instead. Not the kind of legal advice we expect from a lawyer! He then suggests we bypass the town hall and go to the SEF instead.
16. We go to the SEF. We show them a print out from their own website stating the residency requirements. The printout is dated May 2011. They tell us the law changed–in 2007. They send us away empty handed, and with a bit of a smirk.
17. We go back to the lawyer. He says we should come back in a few days and that he will come with us back to the town hall to try again.
18. We go to the lawyers office. He has passed our case onto a new trainee. She knows none of the details. We spend an hour taking her through what we have done so far. We decide to first visit the social security office to see if they can give us the document the camara want. We arrange to meet her at the social security office later that week.
19. Arrive at the the social security office. Trainee lawyer is 30 minutes late. Needless to say social security office cannot provide the document. They do at least confirm that we are correct that there is no mechanism in place for my wife to pay social security in Portugal and that she should continue to pay National Insurance in the UK under the EU reciprocal agreement.
20. We sign a form so the lawyer can go back to the camara and discuss the case on our behalf. The lawyer contacts us to say that they have dropped the requirement for the social security declaration and instead want three months of bank statements and a translated work contract. This sounds a bit better. Unfortunately they also say we can’t renew it until the day after our old 1 year document expires. This means we are in a position where we have to wait, and not know if our staying in the country is authorised until we are already “technically” illegal.
21. We go back to the camara on the appointed day. The lady there this time is not remotely interested in our newly translated (at a cost) work contract. They do, however, have a good look at our bank statements. They then request photographs and proof of our private medical insurance. Given that this is the first mention of this, it is a happy coincidence that we happen to have it, and carry the cards around with us at all times.
22. The lady in the camara goes and photocopies everything. We start to get excited. Have we done it?
23. Camara lady returns and tells us to return in a week for the answer. Yes, another week. We are now onto week 4 of sleepless nights. They stamp our form so we are legal in the country while we await the paperwork.
24. One working day before we are due to return, which happens to be my birthday, my wife secretly arranges for the lawyer to go back and ask about our documents. We now, finally, have residency for another four years, to add to the one year we were originally granted.
So there you have it. The 24 step process required for an EU citizen to be permitted to live in the EU. We are legal, legit taxpayers, and once again we can go in the pool or to the beach without worrying that it will be the last time we have the chance. Normal posts about beaches, sardines and wine can now resume.
As this post proves, if you plan to move to Portugal, it’s impossible to do TOO much research. I highly recommend this book: