Immigration is a long and painful process. Most of the time we go into it blind and have no idea what we need to know. This post is a guide for anyone moving to Portugal.
A Quick Word
This guide is based off of what I have experienced in moving to Portugal. Always do your own research.
But most importantly, I highly suggest that you use immigration lawyers for this process. They help with all of the things mentioned in this guide and make the process 100 times easier than it would be without them.
How to read this guide
This guide has sections relating to different aspects of immigration and general processes for settling into Portugal. I have ordered the sections in terms of importance. That being that the first section is the most important, etc.
I moved to Portugal in March 2021 with my wife. She came on a South African passport and obtained residency through the family reunification visa. I will explain more about her visa application process later in this guide.
I have a Portuguese passport but was born in South Africa. I also had never lived in Portugal before so moving to Portugal in 2021 was the first time I went through all the immigration processes. Before immigrating I already had the Cartāo de Cidadāo (an ID card), as well as an SNS number (social security health number) and NIF number (tax number). But I will still explain how to get these numbers as we had to do these processes for my wife.
Applying for a Visa
At the time of writing it is unpredictable as to whether Portugal is issuing travel visas. When we applied for a visa they were only issuing "emergency" type visas which included family reunification. Family reunification basically allows for spouses and children to obtain a visa through a family member having an EU passport.
I will write specifically on the family reunification process as that is what we went through but there are other types of visas such as the D7 visa and D3 visa that I suggest to read up about.
Family Reunification Visa Process
The immigration process consists of 2 steps:
- Apply for a Schengen visa with the reason being family reunification. This means that you will be going to Portugal essentially as a tourist. In our case the visa was valid for 3 years. Once you've got the Schengen visa you can fly to Portugal and start living there but not being allowed to work.
- The second part of the process is to apply for residency through family reunification. Once you've arrived in Portugal the first thing you want to do is book an appointment at the immigration offices, SEF. Note that this can take months to even get an appointment. Due to COVID and restructuring of SEF it is really unpredictable as to when you'll get the appointment. We called frequently and also had the help of lawyers for this step. Our lawyer helped a lot on the day of the appointment. There are some documents and requirements for the residency to be approved:
- A bank statement from the EU passport holder showing at least €12000 to essentially provide for the person obtaining residency.
- A rental agreement proving that you are living in Portugal
If everything goes well you should receive the residency card within 2 months.
First Steps in Portugal
Once you've arrived in Portugal you're going to want to get some basics setup:
- Get a sim card from nos or meo.
- Find a place to rent for at least 6 months. You can negotiate with some places for 6 month contracts. We used idealista to look for apartments. It is important that you stay somewhere for at least 6 months because of all the documents you'll need to receive.
- Open a bank account with Wise. Wise lets you open bank accounts in pretty much all the currencies you could need. It's also free. You can get the debit card delivered to your address in Portugal. Note that some small businesses do not accept international cards so you will need to withdraw money in some cases. You can also open a bank account at one of the Portuguese banks but there are a few things you'll need to be able to open the account. Wise only requires a copy of your passport to open an account, hence it's much quicker to just go with Wise. Revolut is another option.
The first process to get done is your NIF (tax number). This is something lawyers can do for you. To do this process you will need a tax representative (someone who is living in Portugal), or you can pay more for the lawyers to be the tax representative. You'll also need a proof of address (use your rental agreement). This process doesn't take too long. You should have the NIF number in about a week.
Change Your Tax Address
This is arguably the most important step because it is not something required by any processes but if your tax address is not in Portugal you will not be able to apply for any of the more important things like the NHR or drivers license.
You will need to create an account on the Portuguese tax portal; Portal das Finanças. When you create the account you will need to enter your NIF number and your address. This part is quite confusing because in my case the address that was linked to my NIF was my tax representative's address - not my own address. Once you've created an account the government will then send you a letter which has a security code that you use to verify your account. It takes a few days for the letter to arrive. Note that the letter will be not be sent to your address. It will be sent to your tax representative's address.
Make sure that you keep the letter!
Once you verify your account you will then be able to login and do all sorts of things on your tax portal.
The next step is to have your tax address changed to your current physical address. In my case because I was living in South Africa, my tax address was still set to an address in South Africa and needed to be changed to the new address in Portugal. The process for changing the tax address was slightly different for me compared to my wife so I will outline both of them.
Changing Tax Address as an EU Passport Holder
Ironically the process is actually more difficult for EU passport holders than immigrants. My lawyer needed to make an appointment at the government offices to change my tax address. The lawyer needs to provide your ID card (Cartāo de Cidadāo), a proof of address document and a signed Power of Attorney. The appointment date was set in 2 weeks so it's not a very quick process. Once the appointment is done your tax address will be changed.
Changing Tax Address as an Immigrant
This process is actually completely online and easy. The lawyer will change the tax address on your Portal das Finanças and most likely just requires the proof of address and Power of Attorney. It's completely online and once it's done, the address is changed.
An SNS number (social security health number) is required for vaccinations and is important to have when going to health centers and hospitals. You just have to send an email saying you want to apply for an SNS number. You need to provide all of your personal details like date of birth, cell phone number, email and physical address and as well as your NIF number. They will ask for any other information required. We received an email with the SNS number 6 weeks after applying.
We emailed the general health center: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also read this article: How to get an SNS Number
If you've never paid tax in Portugal you can take advantage of the NHR status to minimise your taxes. This is a very big subject and I won't be able to explain everything about it so I suggest doing a lot more research on it.
When it comes to applying for the NHR you will need to have your NIF and your tax address changed to your physical address in Portugal. Again, this is a process handled by the lawyers so they will ask you for any required documents.
Read this for more information on the NHR: NHR Tax Guide
There is a list of countries that have agreed to a drivers license standard. If your country is one of those countries you will have an easier time exchanging your license for a Portuguese license.
These are the requirements to get a drivers license:
- The original driving license
- Cartāo de Cidadāo or Residency card
- NIF number
- Electronic Medical Certificate, issued by any doctor. For this you need to schedule an appointment at a health center or hospital for a health certificate for IMT (IMT is the driving license organisation in Portugal).
- Document proving the authenticity of the driving license. In my case I needed to contact the Road Traffic Management Corporation in South Africa and email them requesting a confirmation letter of the driving license. In my case they notified me 6 weeks later to come collect the document.
Read more on the requirements to exchange a drivers license
I recommend going with ActivoBank. They are the most modern bank in Portugal and also have very good English support on their website. They provide all the traditional bank services like car loans, mortgages etc. One of the main benefits for getting an account with a Portuguese bank is that you can use your card for MBWay - the local payment network. It's very convenient and many businesses accept payment via MBWay.
Health care is provided by most of the banks in Portugal. See ActivoBank health insurance.
Summary of Living Expenses
For those that are interested in the cost of living, I've broken down our costs. This is for two people, a dog and a cat in a two bedroom apartment in Oeiras, Lisboa. Here are the monthly costs for us:
- Rent: €950
- Electricity: €100
- Water: €50
- Food: €350
- Travel: €80 (a monthly pass for public transport is €40)
- Health insurance: €60
- Wifi: €30