People often say that moving is stressful.

People are not wrong.

No matter how we did this process, it was going to be a stressful endeavor, but Thor’s gold plated transport made everything that much more nerve wracking.

Once his flight was booked, we had a deadline we had to meet. If we didn’t get our visas in time, if our paperwork got lost, if his paperwork had an error, if any of us got sick or injured, we were out of luck. There was no way to reschedule his flight or switch to a different flight. A bunch of money would simply vanish and we’d be back to square one trying to figure out how to get him to Lisbon.

In order to avoid a disaster, we did our research, checked and double checked our understanding of the rules and requirements, reached out for expert advice when needed, and got everything done very, very early.

And none of that made a bit of difference.

It was still a remarkably trying process full of fits and starts, highs and lows.

Uncertainty

The entire visa process is shrouded in uncertainty.

The Portuguese government says they will give you an answer within 45 days of receiving your application…but it could be 60 days…or possibly as much as 90.

And some people get stuck waiting weeks or even months beyond the outer 90 day limit.

Even worse, there is absolutely no discernible rhyme or reason to why some people speed through the process while others are left to languish.

Get on Facebook any day of the week and someone will happily announce that they were just approved with X, Y, and Z documents after waiting 30 days. Scroll down a few entries and someone will post a panicky entry saying they submitted the exact same X, Y, and Z documents 90 days prior and have heard nothing.

People sign 12 month leases or buy property in Portugal – which is a requirement for applying for the visa – sell their houses, pack up their belongings, and send their stuff across the ocean, not knowing if or when they’ll be approved. (The alternative of waiting until you have the visa in hand before doing all these things means you’ll be paying for housing in two countries even longer, and waiting 3-4 months after you arrive for your belongings to show up.)

The best you can do is make sure you meet or exceed all the listed requirements, quadruple check that all your paperwork is correct, and apply as early as possible – but no more than 90 days before your projected arrival date.

Knowing Thor’s flight was scheduled to arrive on September 13, we sent our applications in on June 14.

VFS – A Black Hole

One of the things newcomers to Portugal are often warned about is bureaucracy.

Portuguese bureaucracy is legendary.

But before we could even deal with actual Portuguese bureaucracy, we had to get through the bureaucratic cluster that is VFS Global.

“Who??”

VFS Global is a private company that many countries use to process visa applications. So, if you’re trying to get a student visa for France, a work permit for India, or a residency visa for New Zealand you will often submit your paperwork to an office of VFS Global who will do an initial assessment before forwarding your paperwork to your target country’s consulate for approval.

The only problem is VFS Global is a lousy company. They don’t pick up their phone, they don’t respond to email, the information on their website is oftentimes outdated or incorrect, and their personnel are known for being unhelpful. Just take a look at their online reviews and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Another complication stems from the fact that there are multiple VFS offices – each associated with a different Portuguese consulate – and each location has different requirements and processes. Which VFS/consulate you apply to depends on what state you reside in.

For us, as Florida residents, we were required to apply through the D.C. office. That ended up being pretty convenient because D.C. allows applicants to mail in their applications. Had we been residents of Arizona or Nevada or Washington State, we would have applied through the San Francisco office. The San Francisco office requires you to snag a (hard to find) appointment on their (hard to use) website so you can (spend a bunch of money on a flight and hotel all so you can) enter the VFS office in person, and hand over those very same documents to a VFS staff member.

What people look like when navigating the visa process: worn out and weary with a tiny sprinkling of “WTF??”

In any case, all of these differences in process and procedure, the tendency for things to change with no notice, and the near impossibility of getting anyone at VFS to pick up their phone and answer a question, is why people rely on the ‘Americans & Friends PT’ Facebook Group for guidance on how to handle this whole thing.

Visa Requirements

So, what was in this pile of documents we had to submit? The requirements are really pretty straightforward.

  • A Shengen Application – a standard form containing biographical information. The form must be notarized.
  • Color copies of your passport. Copies must be notarized.
  • Your NIF – basically a Portuguese tax ID number
  • Personal statement – a couple paragraphs explaining your interest in moving to Portugal.
  • Financial information – bank/investment/pension information to prove you can support yourself.
  • Proof of a funded Portuguese bank account
  • Proof of housing – A 12 month lease or documents demonstrating property ownership in Portugal.
  • Travel insurance – proof that someone will be paying your medical bills should you get sick during your initial (4 month) visa.
  • Release for a criminal record check in Portugal
  • FBI criminal record
  • 2 passport sized photos
  • Multiple money orders

While the list seems straightforward, it’s an exercise in hoop jumping and there is zero certainty on some items.

Because different VFS offices and Portuguese consulates require different things, and, sometimes, one office will suddenly adopt a requirement from another office, we were repeatedly faced with the question of whether to take an extra step to make sure we didn’t run into a snag.

For example, at the time we applied, the SF office was requiring that applicants get their FBI criminal record apostilled before submitting it.

Kevin getting his fingerprints taken last Spring. In order to get your FBI criminal record, you go to a U.S. Post Office and electronically submit your fingerprints to the DOJ. DOJ immediately e-mails you your record and then sends a hard copy through the mail.

If you’re not familiar, an apostille is a fancy stamp like a notary stamp that says a document is what it says it is. You basically take your document (in this case, our criminal record from the FBI), attach a money order, add a prepaid FedEx return envelope, and FedEx the whole package to the State Department who opens your envelope, looks at your criminal record and says: “Yup! That’s an FBI criminal record!!”, puts their fancy stamp on it, and sends it back to you.

It’s a huge waste of time and money.

Technically, the D.C. office wasn’t requiring the apostille, but these offices are notorious for not requiring something right up until the moment they require it.

And we couldn’t afford to have our applications be rejected. So, we just did it anyway. Better to jump through the hoops unnecessarily than have our applications held up.

Things You Never Want to Say: “WHERE Are Our Passports?”

A couple weeks before we submitted our packets, Kevin noticed that the D.C. VFS website now said applicants should mail in their actual passport with their applications (not just a color copy). According to the new information, VFS would verify our passports and then immediately – within five business days – FedEx the passports back to us while continuing to process the rest of our applications.

The Facebook folks still deemed this step unnecessary.

What to do? Follow the instructions from the company that actually works with the consulate and processes the applications, or follow the instructions of a bunch of strangers on Facebook?

The correct answer is to follow the advice of a bunch of strangers on Facebook.

Unfortunately, we did not do that.

A couple days after we sent in our applications – including our actual passports – we got an email from VFS saying we had to pay a fee to have our passports FedExed back to us. The email included a link to pay the fee.

We thought we’d already paid that fee with a money order (you submit several different money orders for varying denominations with your application), so Kevin responded to the email and asked if this was a different fee or if we misunderstood the fees.

Big mistake.

Huge.

Never ask a question.

Just give them whatever they want.

They want money? Give it to them.

They want snacks? Give it to them.

They want your kidney? Give it to them.

Because if you ask questions or push back on any part of the process, what you will likely get is what we got: Silence.

Day after day. Silence.

Kevin went back, clicked on the link, and paid the fee.

Silence.

5 days passed and we didn’t get our Passports back.

6 days….

7 days…

8 days…

Kevin emailed again: “Hey – just to let you know, we paid the fee. Let us know if you need anything else…”

Silence.

Kevin: “Hey there! Just checking in to see if we can get an update. We haven’t received our passports back and are not sure where they are”

Silence.

Kevin: “Hello?????”

Silence.

Kevin: “Has anyone ever told you that you are a charismatic, intelligent, capable, and damned good looking person who others should strive to emulate in their personal and professional lives?”

Silence.

“Dammit!”

In the meantime, other people who had applied during the same week we applied, were reporting that their documents had cleared VFS and been forwarded to the Portuguese consulate.

For us? Silence.

I imagined our envelopes sitting on the corner of some VFS staffer’s cubicle desk under a half eaten bag of Cheetos.

Not only was time being wasted, but we now didn’t know where our passports were.

Ya know what’s not good? That.

Eventually, I deployed the nuclear option (which is very strongly discouraged by the administrators of the Facebook group), and reached out directly to the Portuguese consulate to ask if they knew where our passports were.

I didn’t get a direct response, but the very next day, VFS sent us an email saying our paperwork was being forwarded to the consulate and our passports were being returned to us.

Sometimes it pays to speak with the manager.

Pretty picture to remind ourselves why we did all this.

The Big Moment That Wasn’t

For most people, getting the email from the consulate with their application results is momentous. Either they’re told their applications have been approved (“Break out the champagne and let’s post this shit on Facebook!!”), or they’re told their application has been rejected – which starts a 10 day clock during which they can appeal the results.

Either way, it’s a big moment.

Once we’d been assured our applications were moving along, we took a deep breath and relaxed for several weeks. But then we started seeing posts from the people who’d applied when we applied talking about their results.

Once again, we were getting nothing.

Uh oh.

Recognizing that VFS had sat on our paperwork for several weeks, we maintained our calm and assumed we’d hear something soon.

Silence.

So much silence.

In the meantime, one day I had to look at my passport for something else and I found, stuck inside the pages, one of the two passport photos that I had submitted with my visa application. VFS somehow managed to send one of my photos back to me instead of including it with the rest of my application when they forwarded it to the consulate.

Was that bad? I dunno. The application required 2 photos and mine now only had one.

Great… Thanks, VFS.

After waiting and worrying and waiting some more, I reached out – again – to the consulate and asked a) if they needed the missing photo, and b) if they had any idea what was happening with our applications.

“Oh, you were already approved.”

Sigh…

Apparently, they had sent us an email which we never received. Or they never sent it, but who knows?

More to the point, who cares?

We’d been approved.

As you can see, the whole visa application process significantly aged us.

Next Up… The race to the finish line.

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51 COMMENTS

  1. Yikes! What a nightmare. There’s nothing worse than the silence. That whole “white space” of “is everything okay or not?” Too bad they don’t have the Dominos Pizza tracker to help you know where your visa application is along the way!! Glad it finally worked out.

    • You’re exactly right: there’s nothing worse than the silence. It would certainly be nice – and it would certainly be easy enough to do – to have some sort of real time tracking, rather than having to rely on all this crowdsourced information, but sadly, that’s just not how it works. 🙁

  2. Your Nightmare Before Christmas is well written with a bit f mirth and humor, but can only image the nightmare it was for you. Glad that is now history and you are free to continue with your futures.

    • Honestly, if not for the Facebook group making some sense of the process, I think many more people would give up. There would simply be no way to figure this all out on your own. It’s just crazy.

  3. Oh my, I can see why that would be a stressful process. We got a letter last year from the IRS saying that we owed them $1,500. I pondered “Do I pay it or dispute it?” Without hesitation, I paid it just so we did not have to go through the hassle of ending up on someone else’s desk and God knows what happens.

    • Yup, sometimes it’s worth just paying the money to help maintain your own sanity. It’s just not worth spending hours going in circles and tearing your hair out.

  4. Uncertainty makes me CRAZY! Like you, I don’t want to leave anything to chance and when I’ve done it all and them some, I get aggravated, frustrated and PO’d when it all now rests in someone else’s hands. Just do your job already!! Those of us who follow you on other platforms can surmise the outcome, but what a process!! Maybe if those people were paid by the visa and not hourly, things would move along quicker, maybe you should suggest that! lol

    • The craziest thing to me is that VFS is used by so many countries. This isn’t just a problem for people trying to move to Portugal, but for pretty much any country. I guess they just have a monopoly and, as is often the case, companies that have monopolies don’t have much incentive to improve their offerings.

  5. Isn’t is mind-boggling how many hours (and chewed fingernails) are wasted on bureaucratic stuff like this — and for a process that the country is using to actively attract new residents? Imagine what it’s like for people who might be less welcome, like refugees. Heartbreaking.

    Your description of the apostille reminds me of working in Miami. We often did transactions with Latin American clients, and they were typically shocked by their first transactions in the U.S. They would show up with, basically, DNA samples and family bibles to prove their identities and expected a lengthy process, and were amazed when I said, “Yeah, just show me a driver’s license or something and I’ll go ahead and notarize that for you right now.” People here think the US government is bureaucratic — and it can be!! — but it’s nothing compared to Europe and South America (in my experience). In any event, you made it through the gauntlet of pencil-pushers. Yay!

    • Yep, we were definitely fortunate to have access to this Facebook group that helps explain so much of the process. I don’t think equivalent groups exist for other countries, so people coming from other places have many more mysteries to solve. There are specific offices that help refugees, but I have no idea how well they work. I think everyone, everywhere is just overwhelmed.

      As for the paperwork, I think you’re right. I was just reading this week that, if someone dies here, their spouse needs to present their original birth certificate and their original marriage certificate in order to get anything done. I imagine many people have lost their originals over the years, but here, the expectation is you have them. If not, best of luck…

  6. What a high anxiety nightmare! So glad everything worked out and that you are settled in. As a side note, we booked our flights for our visit to Portugal, including Madeira. We will be there for 3 weeks in April. So excited. Working on the details, with an emphasis on landscape photography spots.
    We depart today for South America and Antarctica. Our December Antarctica cruise was cancelled due to a rouge wave damaging the ship (and killing a woman). Very tragic. We are now on a sailing in Jan, following the Chilean Fjord cruise.

      • Interestingly enough, I have been following a couple on Instagram who just did one of the cruises to Antarctica and their photos were just jaw dropping. Soooooo many penguins!!! But yes, she mentioned that situation with the rogue wave as well. So strange and so sad for everyone. It really is such a wild place.

        I’m glad to hear you’re all booked for April. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Madeira too, and hope we can make it out there at some point. I think you’ll enjoy your visit and look forward to meeting up when you’re in Lisbon. Just let me know when you have a date!

    • Sorry Laura. But it serves you right for leaving us all behind. Our feelings are SO hurt that we’re trying to get you banned on Twitter. We’ll think of a reason. Hopefully, it will be more than 7 days for what you’ve done. Oh! I almost forgot. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Even if you ARE in that non-American place. How sad.☹️😁😎

      • LOL, thanks Ed. I know, we did most definitely bring this on ourselves. Luckily, we are (now) having fun and enjoying our time here, so it all worked out. Just had to go through some aggravation to get there. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year too!! Stay well!

  7. Yikes, my stomach was in knots from the very start of this post. I remember trying to get a China visa a few times, ah, the stress of that! I’m glad the paperwork (finally!) got done and yep, always pays to be the one person who goes to the manager 🙂 Can’t wait for your next post, even though I know you’re in Portugal now so things must work out.

    • Yeah, I guess all this would be a bit more interesting if I wasn’t months behind on my blog, but I am terrible about keeping this thing up to date anymore. Ah well. I think it’s still helpful to share with folks the reality of the process since, according to some folks on Instagram, it’s all so easy breezy. LOL.

  8. Bravo/a to you and Kevin! What an ordeal…
    Based on your experiences (and other things) I don’t think we’ll be relocating to Denmark…at least not in this lifetime.
    I’ll live the ex-pat life vicariously…Thanks!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I don’t know anyone who has moved to Denmark, but if they too use VFS, yes, I think the better choice is to just give up hope now. LOL… I’m just kidding. It can all be done. Thousands of people successfully go through the process each year, and it’s easier now than ever before given all the online resources that exist. But, there’s a lot of uncertainty, stress, and waiting, which is never fun.

  9. That was a lot of hoops to jump through! Lucky for you that both of you are in excellent shape to do such things. Thanks for the adventure story. Merry Christmas and all that jazz..

    • Thanks, Tami. It was a lot of hoops, and we are very happy to be on the other side now. Fortunately, things are working out pretty well and we’re happy we made the decision to jump through all of them. We wish you and Scott a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year as well!!

  10. What a giant PIA.. I suspect it took many pints of beer to get you through it! Luckily for you and Kevin, there are great rehab programs in Lisbon. 😂😂

    • LOL… ‘a giant PIA’ is an accurate way to describe it! And yes, I think I am understanding more and more why alcohol is so cheap in this country. 🙂

    • Yep, they sure do make you work for it, but like you certainly know, anything worth having takes some work and some stress. Hopefully, it’s all worth it in the end. At this point, we’re optimistic that it is!

  11. That is a CRAZY saga. Am I understanding correctly that the only way to get a visa for Portugal is to go through VFS Global? WTH? It makes no sense at all that they make it so difficult, when supposedly they’re trying to attract people.

    You guys are incredibly tenacious. Seriously, I don’t know how you kept it together though that process. I laughed at the image of someone brushing Cheeto dust off of your paperwork, LOL. But mostly, I was pissed and stressed reading about what you went through. Maybe it’s all part of a desensitization program to prepare you for dealing with the Portuguese bureaucracy?

    • In order to move ANYWHERE, you need to go through VFS. That’s the whole problem – the vast majority of countries use them, and I think they have a monopoly – which is why they can be so awful without consequence. And I agree, it would make sense for Portugal to make things as easy as possible, but I think they remain overwhelmed with everything – between the increase in immigrants, fallout from some scandals involving immigration issues, the consequences of Covid, and the war in Ukraine, they are just buried in work with not enough resources to get it all done. I hope it improves, but I think people have been hoping for that for many, many years.

  12. Would GenVisa had been an option?
    Anyhow, you guys, are tenacious, patient, brave and crazy! Lisbon better be a great city to live in or I ‘ll be darn. I can’t handle your stress and if we did this Steve and I are already divorced.

    • I’m pretty sure the way we did things is the only way to do them. You can hire some of these “full service” immigration companies and law firms, but at the end of the day, it’s still on you to pull all the paperwork together and go through the process. And really, getting our stuff together wasn’t all that hard. it was just the uncertainty of the timing and the fact that VFS went silent on us. Unless one of these other companies could help solve those kinds of problems, they wouldn’t be worth it.

      Anyway, things are going well now, so, at least for the time being, we are feeling good about our choice to embark on this little adventure!

  13. What an ordeal! I clicked the link to look at the reviews. I guess a few people get lucky but the vast majority don’t. It hard to believe anyone has good service from this place. But I guess you can be that bad if you are the only game in town.

    Oh! And your passports. I’d totally freak about not having a passport. I sent mine off to get renewed before Covid got big and was so afraid I’d never get it back.

    Hope all is good now and you are settled in!

    • Hey Duwan,

      Yes, things are much more settled now and we are enjoying life here. As for the passports, it has always made me so nervous to send them off in the mail, hoping for the best. This was even worse. Though, we did learn a helpful thing as a result of all this: it is actually possible to get a secondary passport on an emergency basis. You have to fall under one of a few specific situations, but one of those is if your regular passport is being held up for visa purposes. So, if all else failed, we could have at least tried to get a duplicate. Fortunately, we got them back.

      Hope you have a nice holiday and Happy New Year!

    • Thanks, Pam. CBD gummies certainly could have helped. Fortunately, the wine here is cheap, so we just rely on that. 🙂

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  14. What an ordeal, guys! Sigh. Silence is the worst. And you two have the same approach as us: better safe than sorry, better to provide too much than too little, trying to be over prepared and diligent, research, research, research, weigh options and outcomes, read and compare, and yet… we, responsible and diligent people, always seem to draw the shortest straw.

    Honestly, I can compare all this to the processes and approaches we took to “move” to South America. So much stress. So much frustration. So much patience. So much endurance. So much research. So much planning. So much money. And then, to meet others who were in the same boat (literally) breeze through everything without stress and within days (instead of months) just feels unfair.

    But, how can we be sure that things will work out if we relax about the hole thing and count on it working out, especially when all this paperwork is required? You got me. It’s in some people’s genes, though, and they most often get away with it. Or, they meet people like us, who tell them exactly what’s required and how to achieve their goals and results. 🙂

    • It is definitely odd that some people breeze through these processes while others seem to hit every roadblock. Of course, it’s all relative: Just recently, the procedures we used were changed again and now the process is that much harder. And people are reporting longer and longer wait times for all kinds of things. In fact, we met a couple people who came here on a different type of visa who have been completely stymied – so much so, they had to move back to the U.S. while they wait for the bureaucratic traffic jam to clear. So, there are always people who will have it easier, but also people who will have it harder. It’s just frustrating as hell when you’re in the midst of all of it.

  15. I’m so glad the worst is behind you and I’m sure that now you can see the pain was worth it – but just wait till you have to apply for SSI benefits. I’m supposed to have my first check in three weeks and I still haven’t even been approved.

    Hugs to Thor!

    • LOL… I think the chances of Social Security even being around by the time we’re in our 60’s are pretty slim, but on the off chance it is available, I guess we’ll be well primed for the hoop jumping involved in getting it. I hope they surprise you and get your money rolling soon!

    • I’ve wondered about stuff like that too. There are services that exist that will help usher you through the immigration process, but at the end of the day, gathering the documents really isn’t that hard. It’s waiting for the other side to do their part, or wondering what roadblocks they’ll throw up. It’s hard to know whether hiring a third party would help in some of these situations.

  16. Ever since that Slovenia border guard tries to deport me for overstaying Schengen, our motto is “Shut up and pay.” The fee was said to be 500€, but they were running a special on this day. I got to stay and enter Croatia for a one-time, very low offer of 250€. We went from the threat of deportation to taking selfies with the guards and the border cat. I tried to take a photo of the guards waving around the money. Although they thought it was funny, they thought better of having such photo posted on social media and declined.

    • Yeah, I’ve heard some stories about stuff like that here too. Bureaucracy and corruption are everywhere, and when you’re outside of your country, and you don’t speak the language, sometimes you just gotta accept you’re gonna get took. Sometimes you can get a tiny bit of revenge though. The other night we were at dinner and the waitress offered us and our friends “free” shots in exchange for (positive) reviews on Google. Then she stood over us waiting for us to write nice things on our phone. So we did. And we enjoyed our free booze. And then we deleted the reviews.

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