It’s a humbling experience to wait in the SEF Immigration office, in Porto, surrounded by dozens of people seeking immigration status for one reason or the other. There are stories to be told. Stories of personal choices, such as ours, and stories of trying to gain or maintain work or student visas, or perhaps even desperate stories of life saving pursuits of residency. It’s humbling to have choices knowing that so many do not.
A Tale of Residency
Our story continued with our SEF appointment at which we applied to renew our temporary Portuguese residency. If approved, we would glean two more years. Funny, we sat before the same woman who processed our application for our 1-year residency in 2017. She, of course, sees hundreds of people each week so she didn’t remember us, but we remembered her. A very kind and helpful woman who speaks just enough English to help us through the application process.
Hurry Up & Wait
Having gone through the process in 2017, we felt fairly certain we had all of our SEF-required documents in order, but we still had our share of jitters. Did we have everything? We booked an appointment online and arrived at the SEF office 30 minutes early. Dozens of people were waiting in line; waiting for the doors to open at 8:00 a.m. Once inside we showed our confirmation of appointment and we were given a number and told to wait. Hurry up and wait, it’s the name of the game.
Our number was called within minutes and as we sat before the clerk, we remembered this was just the first step. Basically, they checked our residency status and then handed us a new number so we could hurry up and wait some more. In 2017 we had an appointment at 11:30 a.m. but it was actually 1:00 p.m. before we were called. This year, having booked an early morning appointment definitely paid off as we were called within 15 – 20 minutes.
The Porto SEF Office
The Porto SEF office is incredibly busy. I tried to count the number of people waiting, but it was like a game of musical chairs. People kept moving about so it wasn’t long before I gave up counting. I would guess though, that there were at least 80 people waiting with maybe 40+ chairs in the waiting area. People stood leaning against the walls and/or spilled out the door where mostly smokers waited for their number to be called.
Sometimes it pays to have gray hair. A young woman who had a chair offered it to me. I smiled and refused because I don’t think of myself as someone who is old enough to be offered a chair, but she insisted so I accepted. Truthfully, I was happy because I figured we had a long wait in front of us, based on last year.
Once seated in front of our SEF agent, we began to make our way through the process. Our application packets included:
- A completed application
- Proof of accommodation
- Proof of income in the United States
- A signed statement that we do not have a bank account in Portugal and we access our money with an American card
- US passports
- Portuguese residency cards
- 162€ each in cash
- A photo and fingerprint (taken in the office)
All in all, our appointment went very smoothly. We actually had a couple of documents that we didn’t need. For example, last year they wanted proof of medical insurance, but this year it was not required. We believe it’s because once you have residency they assume you will access the public health care.
A Logistical Hiccup
What has changed is that we can no longer arrange to have someone pick up our new residency cards at the SEF Office. It turns out that just last month SEF changed it’s process and now only mails cards to the address on the application. This presents a bit of a logistical hiccup for us because the cards won’t arrive for up to two months and we have to return to the US long before that.
So, instead of making arrangements for a friend to pick up our cards at the SEF office, like we did last year, we’ll make arrangements for a friend to pick up our mail. That’s the game plan anyway and hopefully, the stars will align and it will all come together.
SEF & The Expat Journey
At this appointment, we gleaned enough information to understand what the process will entail should we decide to move forward in this expat journey. We started with a 4-month visa, followed by our 1-year renewal and now we’ve completed our 2-year renewal.
In two years from now we’ll need to apply for our second 2-year renewal. Once we reach the end of our second 2-year renewal we will have a total of 5 years of temporary residency on record. The next step would be to apply for our 5-year permanent residency card and at that time we’d have to demonstrate basic language proficiency.
One Road at a Time
At this point, in our expat journey, we will continue to just travel One Road at a Time while we position ourselves as best we can for this chapter of life known as retirement. Our path has changed course several times but that’s why we call it redefining retirement. For now, we’ve established our home base in the US and we’ve gleaned two more years of temporary residency in Portugal. We don’t know where this Portuguese road will lead us, but we’re looking forward to the journey.
To read more about our expat journey and how we gleaned our Portuguese residency:
A Tale of Two Portuguese Residency Permits
Immigration offices are nerve wrecking, but it has paid off and you got your visa extension…fantastic result. Let’s see where this Portuguese road is going to take you next 🙂
Yes, they are, Gilda. It’s so interesting for us (but me especially) because I’ve never in my life had to deal with such things as immigration offices, but I’ve found the whole experience to be a valuable life lesson.
It is indeed, “humbling to have choices knowing that so many do not.” So many people take the myriad of choices available for granted but all you need to do is sit in an immigration office, watch the people around you, and imagine what may have brought them here. A huge congrats on extending your Portuguese visa! i go on Thursday to do my two-year renewal for a second time and am assembling all the documents now. P.S The jitters never fully go away, no matter how many times you visit the SEF office!
Thank you, Anita. We just keep taking it one step at a time, not knowing where it will lead us. It definitely makes life a bit more interesting! And, we do so love Portugal. I’ll check in with you to see how your appointment went. And, aren’t we fortunate to have these choices in this chapter of our lives?
Exciting! One day you guys will be Portuguese permanent residents. That’s very cool!
Frank recently posted…Going from travelling full-time to having a base. Memories of the Good, the Bad and the Complicated.
If the stars align, Frank!
It actually sounds like this went smoother than I’d ever expect with anything official/government. So glad it’s working. Such an interesting experience already.
Thanks, Gaelyn. So far it’s working. By reputation it’s our understanding that Spain and Portugal are two countries that have relatively straightforward policies and are “easy” to work with. It’s a matter of patience and jumping through the hoops.
Patti, I have been through this residency process you describe, in three countries now: America, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. The hardest and longest process requiring a good lawyer, money and patience, was the U.S! Not to say the others were easy, but easier than the U.S. And just to put things in perspective, this was years years ago in my twenties!!
As you say “one road at a time”. As long as you can stay, and live there, the process, albeit a huge pain in the butt, is of course well worth it. Sometimes depending on the country and our intent, we just leave and return and extend visas as we are doing now… just to avoid the process! Ha
Best of luck you guys!
Thank you, Peta!
I’m not at all surprised the US proved to be the most difficult process for you. I think we share similar opinions on the state of affairs today in the US so I’ll just leave it at that, other than to say I am holding my breath for change in November.
Life has so much to offer, having options just makes it all the more interesting. Right?