I’ve got a good one to add to the mix, related to exchanging my Canadian driver’s license and getting a “número de utente”. Since I’ve been in Lisbon for years now, I’ve obviously exceeded the 3-month grace period for exchanging my license, so I’ll have to take a practical exam…
One of the things on the list of requirements was a doctor to sign-off on me being fit to drive. Medical results now need to be added digitally to a national database, so that IMT, the Portuguese driving authority, can go retrieve them when you apply for your license.
Whether that medical was to be done at a private or public clinic, as a non-citizen, I needed to get a “número de utente” from the public clinic, (centro de saúde). It turns out that at the Alameda center (in Lisbon), which is where I was required to go as it’s closest to home, they only give out 20 tickets (senhas) per day to take care of this process. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t at all compared to all the people who need them every day. And this ticket category is exclusively for foreigners – Portuguese citizens already have this number. Because of the area this centro de saúde is located, most of the people were from India, Nepal… Asia.
This will sound like exaggeration, but I promise it’s true… at that clinic, people line up every day at 1am the night before and sleep in the street, to make sure they get one of those first 20. (I’m ashamed to admit that I arrived there and managed to find someone who would accept €50 cash for their spot in the line, and even then, there was only one person who hesitatingly accepted the offer).
The doors opened at 8am, and there was yelling and absolute chaos, Black Friday style. “You left the line, this isn’t your place” / “No, I just left to go home to feed my child, but I got here at 2am!”… the 2 annoyed and unfriendly workers dealing with this threatened to tear up all 20 tickets and send everyone home, if the chaos continued.
They had us all waiting in a room, I was ticket 12. There were mattresses, blankets and pillows sprawled everywhere from the people who spent the night in the street, (some of them with kids).
The attendants would only call our tickets when there were absolutely no other tickets left from the other categories. That meant that if any Portuguese person walked in off the street, they’d get immediate treatment over over those who had been sleeping in the street all night, regardless of what kind of help they needed.
2 hours went by and only 3 or 4 of these estrangeiro tickets had been called. Most of the time, the person would get lectured for not speaking fluent Portuguese yet. (Some of them had just arrived). A transgendered Brazilian woman kept getting intentionally misgendered by the attendant, and loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear.
After about 6 hours, my ticket #12 was finally called, and the process was simple. (It could have been easily done online). If I had been one of the poor souls sleeping in the street since 1, that would have meant about 11 or 12 hours, or even more for ticket #20.
I learned that at other centros de saúde, they give out 40 instead of 20 of these tickets per day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those areas have fewer immigrants. These tickets are definitely artificially limited in the Alameda area.
The kicker is that I didn’t even intend to use the centro de saúde, (although I pay as much or more taxes than the citizens that do). This process is required just to get registered into the system, as one of the steps to get my driver’s license taken care of.
A Portuguese native might say “Bem feito! They need to take care of Portuguese patients first, before accepting more foreigners and further stressing the health care system”. But the fact is that we’re all required to pay the same taxes, and if they are going to allow us to be residents, then they need to find a way to let the tax we all pay improve the system for everyone. For example, if these 20 people per day could register for this number online (and use technology to improve other similar bureaucracy) then that would free up resources to take care of other patients.
With that easy step out of the way, I went to IMT with all of the required papers (and then some), and applied for the license exchange. They confirmed that I’d need to do a practical driving exam. However, they strangely recognized my Canadian license as being legit enough to give me a temporary 6-month driving permit, which begs the question: why am I being allowed to drive before I take the practical exam? (Not that I’m complaining).
About 4 months later, I got a big formal and confusing letter which basically said for me to go back to IMT to pay 30 euros, to be on the waiting list to take the practical exam. The lady said that it will then likely take at least a year for my exam to be scheduled. In the meantime, they would just keep renewing my driving permit indefinitely every 6 months
I can’t drive manual transmission well enough, so I’ll be getting a driver’s license that only allows me to drive automatic transmission. The lady said that for the test, I’d have to rent an automatic car from a driving school and bring it to the test centre, but that she isn’t aware of any driving schools that have automatic cars. So… they have a special category for automatic-transmission only, but no cars to able to be test for it. So that will be another fun bridge to cross a 1 year + from now when they decide to test me.
IMT Tip: Don’t even think about going to the IMT in Lisbon unless you hate yourself. It’s likely another ‘sleeping on the sidewalk’ situation that will have you there all day. Unlike the Centros de Saúde, you can go to any IMT regardless of where you live. I have been going to Setúbal, and using the Siga App to take my “senha” at 10am sharp, before leaving home 40m before. That brings the wait down to about 3 hours instead of 7 or 8. (After about 11am I think these “T” senhas run out). I think the farther you get from the city, the less wait time there will be at the IMT. (For me, Santarém would probably have been even better than Setúbal). I prefer to spend an extra 40m driving to save 4 or 5 hours of waiting time.
Ok, rambling done, good luck out there