Expat Essentials

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

Once you have gathered all of these documents, you can go to your Portuguese embassy and apply for the residence permit. Once you obtain it and arrive in Portugal, you need to make an appointment with SEF for an “interview”, where you show your original documents, get your fingerprints taken, and take a photo ID, so that you can receive the residence card. Finding an appointment slot is not easy, and it can take months before you can get an appointment, sometimes up to 6 months or more.

In the meantime, you can work legally.

If you already have a residence permit for another EU or EEA state, or are married to an EU/EEA citizen, you simply need to call SEF to inform them that you are in the country, and make an appointment over the phone and set a date to submit your documents.

As a spouse of a citizen, you will not need a job offer to live in Portugal, nor a social security number, but the other requirements still apply. You would also need to bring your official marriage certificate.

Applying for a residence permit after you’ve arrived

If you are applying for the residence permit once you are already in Portugal, the process is a lot longer. You will need to create a user account online, where you will submit your documents and application, and then wait for SEF to email you to say that your documents have been reviewed.

This email can take anywhere from two to seven months or more. Once you receive this email confirmation that your documents have been accepted, you will then be allowed to make an appointment from your online account.

But because of the general state of Portuguese bureaucracy, you might not be able to get an appointment for a year or more. With this procedure, it’s recommended that you not travel outside Portugal, not even to other Schengen states. If you absolutely have to leave Portugal, you might be asked to pay a penalty fee at SEF on the day of your interview, depending on whether you were still within your tourist visa limit of 90 days.

You will also have to show proof of your new entry date in Portugal, in the form of a stamp in your passport. If you’re flying into Portugal from a non-EU/EEA country, you would automatically get a stamp in your passport at the immigration border at the airport. However, when you travel to other EU countries, there is no stamp in your passport, hence no entry date.

In order to get a new entry date, you would need to make an appointment at SEF, which again can take months.

Note: Make sure to keep proof of travel, including flight tickets.

An easier (but more costly) option is to check into a hotel and have them notify SEF and ask for a printout of the notification to SEF.

Note: Though all hotels are required to inform SEF of their foreign guests, not all of them do, and in fact not all of them are aware of this rule. So make sure to check with the hotel before booking a room.

How to chose an immigration lawyer

Applying for a residence permit in order to work in Portugal as a non-EU/EEA is not easy. However, if you follow all the steps above and have the patience to wait for months or even years to get the residence permit, things should go fine. Theoretically, you can do the process all this on your own without the need of a lawyer.

If you do decide to hire a lawyer, do some research first and check out their credentials. A general lawyer who has dabbled in immigration law is not a good option; it’s best to go with an immigration lawyer who specializes in immigration. But make sure to also check their reviews if possible, and contact a few lawyers and ask for quotes to compare their fees.

Inquire about whether the lawyer can get an appointment for you or whether you will have to do it yourself online. Some lawyers do the necessary to obtain appointments for their clients and also accompany them to their SEF appointment, while others let their clients handle everything themselves.

Make sure you have a legal contract stating exactly what the lawyer will be handling regarding your case, as well as a breakdown of the fees and services you are paying for.

Note: Keep in mind that even though you have an appointment at SEF with an allocated time slot, you will still have to wait for hours there on that day, so it’s best to take a whole day off from work.

About the author:

A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.

Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon. 

See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.

See our Lisbon archive here.

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