I mean, on what other blog are you going to receive such useful (ha-HA!) advice? Yes, sometimes the titles are sweaty, but this is this week’s topic: the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras, or SEF. Within SEF’s areas of responsibility, the granting of visas for temporary residents is what we’re interested in. See, when we went through all that fuss and bother to get our visas some months ago (detailed in “It Was a Rough Couple of Days Today“), as exciting/traumatizing as it was, it was actually just the prelude of our visa story. Portugal’s D7 visa is basically permission to enter the country while you wait for your appointment with SEF. It’s this second meeting where the status of your residency is decided. Heads – you’ve got a two-year residency visa. Tails – pack your bags. We’re not even going to play the “did they or didn’t they” game – we received our visas! That doesn’t change the fact that it was a trial and a half.
For starters, we didn’t have ONE appointment this past Monday, we had two. Two appointments, but only half an hour apart. . . 30 minutes and 225 kilometers apart. How this happened will always be a mystery (although Lisa took an entertaining stab at trying to guess a few weeks ago) but that was the hand we were dealt. “Didn’t you try and get them changed?” you might very well ask, but here’s the thing: there was recently an election in Portugal, and one of the hot-button issues in the country was <drumroll> the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras! We can’t begin to explain why it was a problem, not the details anyway, but there was (and is, actually) a movement afoot to disband SEF and distribute it’s responsibilities throughout other agencies. Because things surrounding the agency were so fraught this past winter we were advised by many folks to just leave the appointments alone. Try to reschedule, they said, and there was a non-zero chance that our appointments would be pushed out several months. The odds might be low, but the stakes were enormous. We decided to make these appointments work.
The plan in a nutshell: Lisa took a train on Sunday afternoon to Lisbon. She got a hotel in the city, and from there she killed time until her 3:30PM appointment on Tuesday. MEANWHILE, John picked up a rental car on Tuesday morning, drove to the … er… town of Portalegre. (It’s a quaint little town, really, but for a 3-hour drive a fella might want something more) for his 3:00PM appointment. Fun fact: John had the times mixed up, and if not for an off-handed conversation with his dearest bride while killing time in a grocery store he would have com-PLETE-ly missed it. Yikes.
The very common advice given to folks in our situation is not to sweat your SEF appointment. If you were going to get turned down it would happen at the D7 stage, back in the United States; your documents are pretty thoroughly reviewed at that time. And here’s the kicker – the whole point of that review is to make sure everything is in order for your eventual SEF appointment. The D7 Visa, in and of itself, doesn’t really have many requirements to satisfy, they only put you through the ringer at that stage to weed out folks who would fail at the SEF level. While it feels like the D7 can be very demanding, it’s actually just the sieve that you’re being squeezed through in anticipation of the residency requirements. And so it follows, if you got your D7 (or other visa), your SEF appointment it’s probably going to be a piece of cake.
So, not to drag this out tooooo much, a tale of two appointments. John gets to the office in Portalegre about a half hour early. There are signs on the door advising visitors to wait outside until they are called, but a security guard sees him and waves him in. He is seen immediately. A nice lady with very little English (usual caveat applies: this is not a bad thing, we’re just being descriptive) communicates that she will simply take all the documents John brought, which include a bunch of extra stuff we weren’t sure we’d need. No problem, she seems to say. A few minutes later he is called over to have his picture taken and his index fingerprints scanned. A few minutes after that he is called up to pay and given a temporary copy of his residency document, and told that the actual card will arrive in the mail in two to four weeks. All told, he’s done in about 20 minutes and has basically zero interaction during the whole process. Lisa’s experience is slightly more complex – she is actually asked to present three documents (out of the 15 or so that we had prepared for each of us). Neither of us was asked about proof of residence / a current lease, which if you read our last post you know was a source of consternation for us. Oh well. Unsurprisingly the Lisbon office is busier than the one in East Bumble@#*(&@ and she takes maybe 30 minutes to get the same process finished.
In other words, the people giving advice are right, and it was a piece of cake for both of us. If you are reading this because you’re hoping to glean some guidance for your own SEF appointment, all we can say is this: over-prepared beats under-prepared, because there are stories of people being asked for more than we were, or that their documents were scrutinized with great diligence. Take nothing for granted. BUT, if you are genuinely sure that you’ve got everything they tell you to bring, you can probably get as good night’s sleep knowing that it’s going to work out for you. For us, the end result is that we have both been approved for our residency visas and can now reside in Portugal for up to two years if we would like. The future is now as wide open as it has ever been for us… which, naturally, presents its own challenges. But that’s a story for another time.