Experiences with Portuguese Bureaucracy

I have seen numerous vlogs and read a good number of posts on Portugal-related websites that mention the bureaucracy that seems to be prevalent in the country. Do any Practice Portuguese members have experience with this, in any aspect of daily life, and care to share? This can be related to anything, e.g., renting a car, renting housing; obtaining a NIF; making purchases or getting refunds, etc.

I, myself, am just beginning to experience this in applying for Portuguese citizenship. Having already submitted, a few weeks ago, the required documents and paperwork, I have not yet gotten any acknowledgment of receipt of these, or even an email of some sort that would let me know of a “case number” or something, by which I could track the progress of the application. What’s beginning to scare me are the posts I see on the website, Fórum Cidadania Portuguesa, (http://forum.cidadaniaportuguesa.com) where many people are expressing their complete frustration with the bureaucracy that they run up against.

This is just one area of experience. It would be interesting to hear the experiences of other members regarding bureaucracy in Portugal! :slightly_smiling_face:

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I have two experiences I could draw on. The first was when applying for my NIF, which actually went really smoothly. Waiting time aside, I was done in about 15 minutes or so. The lady I was dealing with didn’t speak a lick of English, but she just took my pile of documents, handed back what she didn’t need, took copies of what she did, had me verify details, and then sent me off. It was honestly more efficient than I thought it would be!

My second experience was at SEF, which wasn’t all that great. I think the main reason behind that was that nobody I was dealing with spoke English (which, for an organisation that largely deals with foreigners is just really bad). As a result of that, I didn’t know who was being called in and when, or even what was being announced. When seated across from the agent, there was visible confusion as to the documentation required (I’m on the StartUp Visa which wasn’t something they were used to dealing with, I assume), which dragged the process on and on. It all worked out in the end and I didn’t have to go back for a second appointment (this time), so I guess the experience could have been worse. Having said that, I really think bodies like SEF should have better informed people who speak at least a little bit of English.

Those were my experiences, though I will admit I wasn’t really faced with much bureaucracy. I’d be interested to know where people face issues, and what I should potentially look out for. :slight_smile:


@David2019, make sure to call/follow up just to make sure your paperwork isn’t forgotten altogether, because it does happen!

In my case, I lost my wallet this summer, with some of important/useful documents (driving license, ID card, public transport card for Lisbon).

  • Reissuing the driving license was a breeze - I could do it within minutes online and got a new physical card on my mailbox after two, three weeks. In the meantime, a printable document was instantly provided to serve as a temporary replacement and proof or order of the new card. 10/10

  • Reissuing the ID card was more difficult. It can be done online, but only under certain conditions. A lost/stolen card is one of them, so I thought it would be fine, but you actually can’t reissue an ID card without cancelling the previous one. For that, you need one of a few codes that are mailed to you when you get your ID for the first time. So, you have to hold on to that letter for years on end, basically. I obviously lost mine, so I had to reissue my ID in person. When I tried making an appointment online for the closest desk on my part of town, the next available date was only two or three months later :open_mouth: The alternative was showing up with no appointment, which could mean a full day waiting and skipping work because of it. Instead, since I had planned to visit Tomar around that time, I did it over there very quickly and then received my ID in Lisbon a couple weeks later. 5/10

  • The Lisbon transport card (Lisboa Viva) is the least critical document I lost, but was the hardest to recover. There are only two places in central Lisbon where you can issue a card with urgency (max 1 day waiting), and one of them only issues so many cards on a day - you have no way of tracking this from a distance, so you risk showing up after the daily limit is reached and wasting your time (happened to me). Because of this, the other place is even more overcrowded. I had to go there and wait for over an hour on two separate days - one to make the order (which also requires filling an extensive form and providing a passport photo that they often refuse to let you just print from your computer on regular paper) and another to pick it up. Then, I needed them to recharge the card with the ticket I had already paid for that month. Because I previously paid on a train station, the underground service wouldn’t recharge it and directed me to the train company. The train company only has one help desk in the whole of Lisbon that provides this service and it closes around 5pm, so no one on a regular working schedule has any way of ever going there. This is also not the sort of information you can know in advance, so again I went there and wasted my time. Meanwhile, with the number of single trips I had to pay across different means of transport, I had already wasted so much money that I gave up on recovering my still valid monthly ticket. I waited until the next month to charge the card. 0/10

Thanks, @Joseph! That is quite a process you had to endure! Regarding my citizenship documents, we are actually visiting Lisbon in early December, so, if we don’t hear anything before then, we will go, in person, to the agency where we submitted the documents and inquire. But, we may also call them before that time. Thanks for your advice!

Maybe you can call them in advance so that, if anything else is needed, you can come prepared!

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Hi David, I had mixed experiences, just getting my 5 year residency this week (using UK passport).
Firstly I had to get my NIF, which was super-easy at Financas in one of my two local towns; although queues are long, so get there early to grab a number to be seen.
Then I had to get a statement of where I lived, which had to be done in the other town as my residence fell in this jurisdiction… THIS was a problem, as I moved in with my partner, so had no rental agreement, utility bill etc. I also needed 2 voting residents to sign for me, and the person who OWNED the house had to provide the plan of the house, as well as sign the documents (I also needed a copy of the passports of all these people… who were strangers to me). I tried to lodge, but two of the people, despite living within a km of the Junta de Fregsia were not registered to VOTE in that town, but the neighbouring ones, so they would not accept them. We had to find two more. Once all paperwork was provided (which took several days to do, and I have no idea how I would have found people to sign for me if I did not have a Portuguese partner);, it was super fast and cheap to get the document.
I needed both my NIF and that document to be able to get a Post Office box, a bank account (as well as proof of a job for the bank!), and even to apply to attend language classes in the area.
With both of those, I then had to go back to Financas in the other town, to change the address on the NIF to the correct one in Portugal, rather than UK. Once again, very fast, once you get through the queue.
Then with all this documentation, plus proof of income or bank balance, I went to the City Municipality office, also in the same town as the NIF, to get my 5 year residency; which only took about 30mins including waiting time.
All the people were very nice to me, but very frustrated I could not speak much Portuguese. I noticed their overall tolerance level and kindness varied a lot depending on the nationality they were serving; but I think that is normal in any country.
I am in a country area.
My son was on an Australian passport and in Lisbon, and he had a much harder time and I don’t think he would have got it completed without his bosses in attendance with him. But in the city offices he could book appointments online, which I couldn’t, but they were months in advance too.
So I think it varies a lot from place to place.
Personally, Unless you have to, I would not rely on much online… I just set aside days to walk in and deal with it all. But I understand that many people don’t have that option. Good luck!


Thanks, @melindawaddell9, for your post! Your experience might be “uma imagem perfeita” example of “bureaucracy!” You must have been exhausted by it! :see_no_evil: In the few days we will be in Lisbon, we will try to address things in-person and get more information. Luckily, my spouse is a native Portuguese speaker! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Mine was born in Lisbon, it didn’t help a lot because he had never had to do through the process. And yes, while it was long-winded; I have to say I have spent MANY more hours sitting in similar Government departments in Australia, and being told one thing by one person, and something different by another. So I found it comparatively good. Hope it goes well for you