North Americans are welcome to visit Portugal for up to 90 days as tourists, but if you fall in love with the country and wish to remain longer, you’ll need to apply for a long-stay residency visa. The process is straightforward and begins in your home country.
By having a Portuguese visa, you’re entitled to travel freely throughout the Schengen Zone consisting of 27 countries. After you live in Portugal for five years you can apply for citizenship or permanent residency.
The most common visa for retirees or those living on passive income from outside of Portugal is called the D7. The new D8 visa is for digital nomads who have guaranteed employment from outside the country. The D6 visa is for dependent family members, like children or spouses, without a sufficient income of their own. Less common is the D1 visa for those who have been offered and accepted employment in Portugal. Students wishing to study in Portugal can apply for the D4.
The D9 or “Golden Visa” offers residency through investment without having to actually live full-time in the country. “You may have heard about the highly coveted D9, or “Golden Visa”, which offered residency through investment, without needing to actually live full-time in the country. However, In February 2023, the Portuguese government announced plans to terminate this visa. You can read more about this, from IL’s Chief Diversification Expert, Ted Baumann, right here.”
Video: Guide to Visa and Residency in Portugal
The aforementioned visas are considered to be “temporary” for five years and will need to be renewed periodically.
There is no short-term visa for tourists who wish to remain in Portugal for longer than 90 days.
After residing in Portugal for five years on a long-stay residency visa, visa holders may apply for permanent residency. This requires the ability to read, write, speak, and understand the Portuguese language at an A2 level. According to CEFR, The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, A2 is considered to be an elementary level.
Visa holders must adhere to specific “time spent in Portugal” requirements. During the first 24-month cycle, visa holders must be physically present in Portugal for 16 months with no absence lasting longer than six months, and not to exceed eight months during the combined period of validity.
During the subsequent temporary visa cycle, holders must remain in the country for at least 28 months during the three-year cycle with no absence greater than six months. At five years, the visa holder must remain in the country for at least 30 months of the next five-year cycle.
All residents of Portugal are entitled to use the public and private healthcare system once they receive their visa identification card and apply for a health number called, “numero do utente.”
Portugal allows for dual citizenship with other countries such as the United States or Canada without having to renounce citizenship in your home country.
The Portuguese passport is one of the most widely accepted in the world, allowing visa-free or visa-upon-arrival entry into 184 countries. Portuguese citizenship allows for free travel and the ability to work and live in any country in the European Union.
Becoming a naturalized citizen of Portugal allows for lifetime access to the state healthcare system.
Citizens of Portugal have the right to vote in national elections.
The process to apply for citizenship may be started after living full-time in Portugal for five years. Approval can take up to two additional years after the paperwork has been submitted.
Although both permanent residency and citizenship are similar in that they both require proficiency in the language, only citizenship offers a passport, the right to vote, and the ability to live anywhere in Europe.
Requirements and Documentation
Applying for a long-stay residency visa is a two-step process. The first step begins in your home country at a designated office assigned by the government of Portugal. This may be a Portuguese consulate, embassy, or for those applying from the US, a third-party company called VFS Global. After applying online, you will need to appear in person at a designated Portuguese consulate, wherein the location is dependent upon which state you live in. Once approved, you will need to turn in your passport, in which the agency will paste a visa stamp valid for 120 days. This will allow you to remain in Portugal legally until you have your face-to-face appointment with SEF, the border patrol agency that processes and approves visa applications. This process cannot be started from within Portugal.
There are eleven required documents needed to apply, BUT, more may be added by certain consulates or VFS.
- One: Application for National Visa, the same as the Schengen visa but specifically for Portugal. Every applicant must have their own packet of documents. Check the VFS website or consulate to see if they want this filled out online or in person. All documents will be taken to your in-person interview.
- Two: Passport valid for at least six months after your 120-day visa expires, two color passport photos, and a notarized copy of the main page of your passport. Passports must have been issued within the last 10 years and have two black pages left. Passports that are older than 10 years with extensions added will not be accepted.
- Three: If you are not a citizen in the country from which you’re applying you need to show proof that you are a legal resident in that country. (Some people have already expatriated but wish to try yet another country). This step does not apply if applying from your home country.
- Four: Personal statement from each applicant declaring why they wish to live in Portugal. This should be a short note, handwritten, dated, signed, and include: a description of yourself, such as your profession, and any ties to Portugal, like friends, family, or if you own property. Include where you plan to live, the name of the town, and the type of dwelling. Mention how you intend to get money for daily expenses.
- Five: Proof of financial means and/or sufficient funds. You must show that you have at least 100% of the current minimum wage in Portugal, $809.12 a month or $9,709.45 a year for the first applicant. For the second applicant, you must show $4,950.55 a year. Essentially you would need to show that you have $1,221 per couple each month to live on or $14,659 a year.
If bringing children, you need to have an additional $3,400 per year per child. Portugal wants to know that you have enough funds to live on so that you don’t become a burden on their society. It’s a good idea to show bank statements, investments, or other financial means too. If applying for the digital nomad visa, D8, you need to show a continual income of four times the Portuguese minimum wage, approximately $3,222 per month. You are allowed to work remotely on the D7 visa also.
- Six: Proof of a funded bank account in Portugal and a NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal), your Portuguese tax number. On your scouting trip, you may want to open a bank account and apply for your NIF while in the country. To do this from outside of Portugal, you will need to hire someone to do it for you. One such company is https://relocatorportugal.pt/, a full-service, English-speaking law firm that can assist you. It's a good idea to fund this account with at least two years of the Portuguese minimum wage or more to help your visa to get approved. SEF will reject any visa application that does not have these two items.
- Seven: FBI criminal background check, or police check if living in a different country, which must be apostilled, and left in an original unopened envelope. The FBI has been processing these requests in three to five business days and charges a prepayment of $18 to $50. Requests can be made online, and full details can be found at https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks. Children under the age of 16 do not need the FBI criminal record certificate.
- Eight: Request or release for a Portuguese criminal record check by SEF. VFS Global and other consulates outside of the US typically request this while other consulates do not.
- Nine: Proof of private health insurance that works in Portugal, or Schengen travel insurance with medical benefits and covid coverage. Every applicant must have medical insurance with a minimum of $30,000 in coverage, valid for 120 days (the duration of your visa), have no deductible, explain what it covers, and must include covid coverage.
Be sure to highlight that Portugal is one of the Schengen states that it covers. Once you settle into life in Portugal you will need to secure private health insurance to carry for the duration of your temporary visa cycle of five years. Private health insurance is affordable and high quality so no need to worry. Plans start around $30 per person and even a couple in their 60s can find a top-notch plan with no deductibles for around $300 per month.
- Ten: Proof of accommodations in Portugal like a rental contract for one year, or deed to a property. This must be in Portuguese but can be accompanied by an English version. The contract must include the names of all adults who will be residing in it, the address of the property, owner’s name, and other pertinent information. If you have purchased property, you can submit a home purchase agreement or Promissory Contract, if the sale is still in progress. If renting an Airbnb or similar property, they also need to issue a rental contract.
- Eleven: Copy of marriage certificate or children’s birth certificates, if moving with a family. VFS Global requires these for children or a spouse relying on the other for financial support. Two adults applying individually usually do not need these.
*Do not staple or clip documents together*
Timing is the most stressful part of moving to Portugal. The Portuguese government claims that a decision on visa requests should be made within 15 to 45 days from when the documents were submitted, but in reality, it’s not uncommon for approvals to take 180 days or more.
A good tip is to plan your move to Portugal backwards. Think about when you would like to arrive in the country and plan backwards, thinking about when you should start the process and submit your documents.
Applications to a Portuguese consulate or embassy should be submitted no more than 6-months from your intended arrival date. Those who apply through VFS Global should apply no more than 90 days prior to arrival. The FBI report cannot be older than six months. The start date of your rental lease or home contract can be the same as your arrival date, but if you are renting you will probably be paying rent for several months prior to your arrival to hold your apartment.
You must arrive in Portugal within 90 days of the valid date on your visa and then wait for your appointment with SEF to convert it into a Título de Residência.
Once your visa is approved, you will receive an email asking for you to submit your passport along with a prepaid return envelope. Your passport will return with a visa stamp valid for four months and allows you two round trips between Portugal and your home country.
Applicants from the US who inform SEF of their travel dates will have their appointment scheduled in advance and indicated as a URL on their visa stamp. Enter the URL into your computer browser for appointment details. It may be at a SEF office close by or at the opposite end of the country. You can find the closest SEF office to you here.
If your appointment is not indicated on your visa, you can schedule one for yourself. As expected, the call center does answer in Portuguese but if you hang on until the end an English-speaking person should pick up.
The SEF website lists everything that you need to bring to your appointment, including: the application form, your passport showing the visa, proof of entrance into Portugal (visa stamp or boarding pass if you entered the EU through another country), proof of accommodation, proof of bank account, proof of private health insurance, proof of financial means including bank statements or other showing the past three months, proof of registering with the tax authorities (your NIF), plus any other documentation that might help. Sometimes more is better just in case!
After your appointment you can breathe a sigh of relief and wait for your Título de Residência, your residence card, to arrive in the mail. Congratulations, you now live in Portugal. Let the adventure begin!
Applying for residency in Portugal can be done without hiring a lawyer but it also can be nice to have someone by your side to hold your hand along the way. A shoulder to lean on, someone who understands how Portuguese bureaucracy works and to get you over the hurdles, and most importantly, speaks the language.
Rosario Vital at Relocator Portugal comes highly recommended by many of her past clients. She can help you with the visa process, open your bank account, obtain your NIF, and help with rental contracts. She is fluent in English and has lived in the U.S. for many years before returning to her home country.
Concerned about paying taxes in Portugal and have questions? You’re not alone. Bruno Afonso is an English-speaking tax specialist that many expats use and recommend.