Expat Essentials

Liina Edun in Lisbon: Everything – and we mean everything – non-EU/EEA citizens need to know to live and work in Portugal

If you’re a European Union or European Economic Area citizen, moving to Portugal can be a fairly simple process. For a non-EU/EEA person moving to Portugal, the conditions are a bit more complex, and you will need to apply for a residence permit. The residency permit is valid for one year, and then is renewable for successive 2-year periods.

After that you can apply for permanent residency. Assuming you don’t have an online business, are not married to a Portuguese or EU/EEA citizen and are not retiring in Portugal, you will need a job in order to move here. In this case, the residence permit you are looking for falls under the category “Manifestaçao de Interesse,” article 88 (2).

Ideally, it’s better to have a job offer prior to moving to Portugal, prepare all the documents, and apply for the residence permit at the Portuguese embassy in your country. But it’s also possible to enter Portugal on a tourist, and apply for the residence permit once in Portugal, and start working while your process is ongoing.

Either way, you will have to deal with SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras), otherwise known as the Portuguese Immigration and Border Service. However, the latter option of applying after having already entered Portugal will take much longer. And after your tourist visa expires, you would not be allowed to leave the country while your residence permit is in process, which can take a year or more.

Below is an explanation of the process and the required documents:

A certified criminal background check

You will need a criminal background check from your country of origin as well as the country you’ve lived in for the past 12 months. That background check has to be certified, stamped and signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country it originates from, meaning that it’s best to get this done before arriving in Portugal.

Bear in mind police records are only valid for three months in Portugal, so it must still be valid when you submit your residence permit application. The good news is that once you’ve submitted the application, your document can expire but will still be accepted when you go to your SEF appointment.

An official rental lease in Portugal, or a valid proof of accommodation

In order to receive your residence permit, you need to prove that you have a place to stay in Portugal. The best option is to get an official rental agreement from a landlord.

An NIF number

This is the tax number associated to you in Portugal. It’s fairly easy to obtain a NIF in Portugal: Simply go to any Financas office and apply for one, and you should receive it immediately.

In order to register as a tax resident in Portugal, you will need a Portuguese address. Otherwise, you can register as a non-resident taxpayer and you will have to give your home address from another country. But you will have to show proof that you live there (a utility bill or letter in your name sent to that address should suffice).

You will also receive a password so that you can login online, but the password is sent in the form of a letter to the address on your file.

• Note: If you are applying for your NIF from abroad, you will need to have someone represent you in Portugal in order to get the NIF, usually a lawyer.

A social security number (NISS)

If you are planning to work in Portugal, it is mandatory to contribute 11 percent of your paycheck to social security, especially if you want access to things such as public health care and unemployment benefits.

Note: You will not have access to any of this until you obtain your residence permit in Portugal, even though you’re still paying for it in the meantime.

In order to pay your 11 percent, you need to have a NISS; that is, a social security number. It’s easy to apply for it, you just need to go to a Seguranca Social office. But the process of obtaining it takes a while – from two weeks to a few months. In some extreme cases, some people have waited longer than a year to obtain their social security number.

There is no reason or explanation for it; it’s just a matter of bad luck.

Generally speaking, applying for a social security number in the big cities (Porto, Lisbon) takes longer. The official letter with your social security number and details will be sent in the form of a letter to the address on your file, so make sure the address is correct and still valid.

The letter takes one month to be mailed out.

You can usually take care of the application for the social security number yourself, but if you require assistance, your office should be able to help. Otherwise, the best person to contact is an accountant.

• Note: You can start working and get paid a salary even if you don’t have your social security number yet. You would just have to pay all your contributions later, but late payments usually have a penalty fee.

A job offer

This needs to be in the form of a job contract, or an official promise of a job offer. The contract has to be legally recognized, and signed by you and your employer, and has to be original. A contract signed electronically and sent via email will not be accepted by SEF on your interview day.

Proof of sufficient funds

You will need to show a bank statement that proves that you have sufficient funds to live in Portugal. However, this is often not mandatory if you have a job contract, but it’s best to bring a bank statement of the last 3 months, just in case.

SEF application form

You will need to fill out the SEF application form which can easily be obtained at the SEF office, a Portuguese embassy or online.

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