Portugal continues to be at the top of best-places-to-retire-abroad lists. This got my attention when I retired three years ago as a midlife woman of 59. I was intrigued by the thought of lowering my living expenses, and the possibility of being able to afford to live on the ocean as a single retiree. The month I spent living in Portugal in 2019 convinced me it’s the country for me to move to in retirement. After returning home, I planned to save money and move to Portugal at 65. But when my house sold unexpectedly late last year, I realized I could move this fall, three years ahead of plan. Each month I will share a Midlife Expat Learning post here as I navigate the complex process of immigrating to Portugal.
This month I’m sharing my timeline and out-of-pocket expenses for my application for Portugal’s D7 Residency Visa. I’ve included rent payments because a lease (or purchase agreement) is required as part of the visa application. So is proof of travel arrangements. I didn’t include the money required to be deposited in a Portugal bank account, which has to be opened as part of the visa application, because that money still belongs to me. Just remember you’ll need to transfer the money as part of the application process.
Everyone’s experience can be different, depending on circumstances and which embassy consulate has jurisdiction over your state in the U.S. My timing and expenses can be different from those of others applying for the same visa. I did not hire a visa consultant, expat relocation consultant, or a renter’s/buyer’s real estate agent, which can each cost thousands of dollars in fees. I did everything remotely from the U.S. without making any interim trips to Portugal.
My Visa Timeline
Began researching residency visa process and requirements.
Began researching accommodations.
Researched various Portugal expat online forums and resources.
Reserved and paid euros for a refundable VRBO beach apartment for six months, beginning in fall.
Embassy Consulate of Portugal responded to my email asking for clarification of accommodation requirements. Short-term vacation rentals are no longer accepted for residency visa applications. A one-year, non-refundable lease that is registered with the Portugal Tax Authority is now required by my consulate. I kept my VRBO reservation as a backup just in case I needed a Plan B.
Continued search for acceptable rental accommodations on the ocean.
Note: This process could have been easier if I weren’t looking for oceanfront property, which is almost always offered only as holiday/vacation rentals. Owners can make $2,000 or more a week renting out beachfront properties in high season. Additionally, one property owner explained to me that the Portuguese government taxes owners 15 percent for vacation leases, but taxes 28 percent for long-term leases.
Purchased one-way plane ticket to Portugal, a copy of which will be included in my application packet.
Applied for and received my NIF tax number through Bordr.io. The entire process took five business days. You must have a NIF to get a lease and to open a bank account in Portugal.
Applied for bank account directly at Atlantico Bank online. Submitted all required documents online and completed live video call with bank agent. Waited to hear back on approval.
Requested and paid for FBI background check report. Applied and paid online via FBI Website. Went to Post Office to get and pay for electronic fingerprinting that’s instantly submitted to FBI.
Warning: Be careful with timing! This report cannot be older than three months when you submit it with your residency visa application. I got my paper report in the mail in only three days. Turnaround was super-fast so be sure not to get this done too early in the process and risk it expiring before you get your complete visa application packet ready to submit.
Heard nothing from Atlantico Bank.
Continued search for acceptable rental accommodations on the ocean. Bid on and lost several rental properties that had multiple offers.
VFS Global (visa processing middleman used by Embassy of Portugal Consulate Office in Washington, DC – the consulate that has jurisdiction over my home state) released available appointment dates for June online. Made appointment for in-person visit in June to submit application. (Wishful thinking, but these appointments are hard to get.)
Opened an account with Wise money transfer service and signed up for alerts on currency exchange rates.
Remember: Fluctuating exchange rates can mean a loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars when transferring larger sums of money.
Atlantico Bank emailed me they could not open any of my documents (PDFs) submitted back in April, despite the fact the bank agent confirmed everything during our video call. I told them to forget it. They replied I needed to send a PDF form telling them to forget it. I replied…well…never mind…you can probably guess my response…
An oceanview townhouse I’d tried to rent in May but lost to another offer came back on the market. I began negotiating lease terms through the owner’s ReMax real estate agent, after a live video walkthrough of the property. I hired an attorney in Portugal to review the lease, which was 10 pages and all in Portuguese. This back and forth between my attorney, me, the owner, and the ReMax agency took two weeks. I had to cancel my VFS appointment because the lease was not finalized and signed in time for inclusion in my visa application packet. The lease eventually was executed and I received my copy for my application.
Note: Landlords typically ask for two months of rent as a refundable security deposit, plus six months of rent up front if you do not have a local guarantor or letter of employment. You will need a signed lease before you even submit your application. This means you will likely have to pay rent for an extra two or three months before you move to Portugal in order to get the lease, because most landlords are not going to hold a property and lose months of rent waiting for you to arrive. Some landlords will accept “reservations” for a leased property, though that involves paying a fee that can equal a couple months of rent.
VFS confirmed I could mail in my application without an in-person visit, despite having told me in February that I could not do so unless they already had my biometrics. (The agent who told me that in February was wrong. She confused the requirements for a Schengen Visa with what’s required for a Residency Visa.) I requested the mailing labels from VFS, as per their instructions.
Note: According to VFS, after the labels are requested online an invoice for the labels is emailed within 48 hours. Then, after the invoice is paid online, the labels are emailed for printing. I did not receive the invoice for two weeks. I paid it immediately upon receipt. I did not receive the labels for another two weeks, in July.
For an additional fee, my lawyer took care of opening a bank account for me with another Portuguese bank. I overnighted paper copies of all required documents. The bank mailed me directly my debit cards and account information, and scheduled a live phone call from Portugal with my dedicated bank agent. He walked me through setting up my online account app and answered all my questions, in English. He gave me his direct phone number, and even practiced conversing in Portuguese with me. The entire process took less than two weeks, and the cost was cheaper than other service companies that offer to open bank accounts for expats.
Used Wise money transfer service to fund my Portuguese bank account with 18,000€ as recommended by many expat visa consultants. This is approximately equal to two years of minimum wage in Portugual. You are required to have at least one year of minimum wage in a Portuguese bank account as part of your D7 visa application, but experts recommend having more than that if you are retired and without a letter of employment.
Went to a UPS Store to have visa application documents notarized, get color copies of my passport, and have two color passport photos taken, as per requirements.
Canceled my six-month refundable VRBO beach rental. I got a full refund of the cost in euros, but that amounted to a $200 loss due to changes in the exchange rate from February to June.
Purchased required travel medical insurance for a period of one year, to start in fall. Zero deductible and includes Covid coverage, per requirements. $250,000 maximum coverage for medical expenses. $1 million for repatriation.
Note: You cannot apply for private Portuguese health insurance until you arrive in Portugal, and going through an insurance broker in Portugal is recommended. After meeting with SEF immigration in Portugal to get your residency PERMIT, then you can also sign up for Portugal’s free public healthcare. It is recommended for expats to have both private and public healthcare coverage in Portugal. The cost of private health insurance in Portugal goes up once you hit 60 years old (some insurers don’t even offer coverage to new customers over 65), but the cost is a tiny fraction of what it costs in the U.S.
VFS emailed me prepaid FedEx labels a month after I submitted my request.
The day I received the labels I went to the Post Office to get three different money orders for VFS and the Embassy of Portugal fees, as per instructions. These fees change monthly and must be included with your application.
The same day I then went to FedEx with my complete, color-coded D7 residency visa application packet and shipped everything, with money orders attached, to VFS in Washington, DC. FedEx confirmed delivery, with signature, the next morning.
A week later, VFS emailed me they submitted my application packet to the consulate for processing. This means my application had everything in order and was deemed acceptable for processing. I also received an email from FedEx notifying me that VFS had created a return shipping label addressed to me.
Received email from the Embassy of Portugal in Washington, DC, informing me that my application had been approved – only 24 business days from the date VFS received my application packet.
Per the embassy email, I FedExed my passport to the embassy in Washington, DC, so they can stamp the residency visa in my passport. I paid an additional, optional courier fee to VFS so my stamped passport will be FedExed back to me.
My Visa Expenses
NIF + one year of fiscal representation 140€
Bank account opening fee 250€
Lease review by attorney fee 150€
FBI background check fee $18
Post Office fingerprinting fee $50
UPS Store notary fees $20
UPS Store passport photo fees $15
UPS Store color copy fees $2
DHL overnight bank documents to PT $92
VFS online FedEx label fee $35
VFS money order for return courier $37
VFS money order for processing fees $42
Embassy money order for application $97
FedEx overnight passport to Embassy $40
Verizon international call charges $10
Travel medical insurance for one year $1,900
Exchange rate loss to cancel VRBO $200
Rent for six months + security deposit 8,000€
One-way flight from CLE to LIS $500
Moving to another country is a complex process, and information can change quickly without notice. Everyone’s experience can be different. I’m remembering to take it all in stride, stay flexible, prepared, pivot-ready, and positive. Stay tuned. Thank you for reading!
Midlife Expat Learning Posts
February: Residency visa requirements
March: Finding housing in Portugal
April: Taxes & money in Portugal
May: World Portuguese Language Day
June: Healthcare in Portugal (postponed). See Cutting expenses to move abroad
July: Voting as an expat
August: Visa application timeline and expenses
September: Moving logistics
October: Meeting folks, making friends
November: Food, shopping in Portugal
December: Christmas in Portugal
Featured header photo sourced from real estate agency.
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