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


We just returned from a seven-day visit to Lisbon, where, among other things, we decided to go in-person to the Conservatória dos Registos Centrais on Rua Rodrigo da Fonseca to inquire about the status of my citizenship process. The agents there were very pleasant, despite the fact that the agency is overwhelmed with applicants. We were advised to come back to the agency the following morning, at least two hours before opening time, in order to get in line outside the door. We did this, and the wait was not as bad as expected. We got to meet with an agent, who pulled up our case file on the computer screen and showed us where our status was. Basically, the home page shows, at the top, 7 circles that indicate different steps of the process: Foi recebido; Foi registado; Aguarda consultas; Verificação documentos; Análise pedido; Despacho; Terminado. The circles are uncolored, and they turn to green color as each step is completed. On our form, only the first circle was green. The agent stated that, in general, it takes between 1 1/2-2 years for citizenship to be granted. She gave us a case number and a website address where we can continue to check from home on the progress. The agent was quite pleasant and helpful, and we felt glad that we made the effort to go to the agency. It was not at all as bad as we feared! :slightly_smiling_face:

Well, yes, that’s pretty good, actually :slight_smile: Long waiting time for that citizenship, though.

Our car broke down while driving on a dark, wet night. The insurance company arranged for us to be towed to the only garage still open (in Porto) and instructed us to get a taxi to the car hire company that would provide us with a courtesy car while ours was being fixed. The lady on the desk at the car hire company, however, had other ideas. As we didn’t have our passports with us, she said there was nothing she could do and there was no way of authorising us to take the car. And that was that! We found it hard to understand that there was no way of ascertaining who we were, based (for example) on our Portuguese driving licences and the insurance policy that had brought us there in the first place. Apparently there were simply no other solutions to be considered.

And last weekend, we bought a TV and because it cost more than 1000 euros, we were asked to provide full identification details, address, etc etc. When we explained we didn’t have our passports on us, the cashier shrugged and said we couldn’t buy the TV. And that was that. I managed to gently persuade her (in broken Portuguese – but I am working on that…!) to use my Portuguese driving licence as ID. But this insistence on knowing everything about you just because you are buying a large item strikes us as inexplicably intrusive.

(I hate to say this, but what the cashier and the car hire rep had in common was a kind of triumphant glint in their eye when shrugging and explaining that the situation was impossible to resolve…!)

The odd thing about Portuguese bureaucracy is that I am never sure what is really essential and what isn’t. I am still confused about social security, for example, having had conflicting advice. Is it compulsory to make payments? As a self-employed person with a private pension and various insurances against sickness, accidents, unemployment etc, I am not sure how I’d benefit from it. But I don’t want to end up with someone else wagging their finger at me, or rotting in jail for my retirement!

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Wow that’s annoying… I have never been asked for ID when buying something expensive, including a >€1000 TV at FNAC a few years ago. Maybe if you were to return and get a different person your experience would be different, which is often the case, whether you’re dealing with a store or the government :joy:

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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 :joy:

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 :see_no_evil:


O.M.G. …!!!

That’s insane!

I’ve often been mystified by the reluctance to get things done online here in Portugal. It’s as though nothing is real unless it’s done face to face. Maybe the long-term insistence on proving your identity in various ways has resulted in a deep distrust of the virtual world.


Portuguese bureaucracy is a game played with an infinity of unwritten rules. So much depends on where you are and who you have to deal with.

Reading through the examples above much of my experience in similar situations has been a lot smoother, but still extremely frustrating at times. I even had a police officer apologise as he gave me a 30 euro fine for leaving my car on the grass in the airport car park over Christmas and New Year. (Still cheaper than two taxi rides). It should have been in a marked parking place despite the fact they were all full.

My Canadian/Turkish wife had to go back to Turkey to get documents stamped in the Portuguese embassy there so that she could exchange her driving licence. The consulate in Toronto could not do it.

However house purchase was a big problem. It took two and a half years from offer being accepted to completion. Fortunately, my offer was subject to immediate access for building work - we got that after three months when we signed the promissory contract. However, neither the lawyer nor the Remax agent checked the registration documents against what was actually being sold. My registration includes a field that the family had sold in the 1980’s. The house plot was registered as 900 square metres when its actually 1500. I am in the process of trying to resolve these issues with an architect and a different lawyer having had to commission a Portuguese licenced engineer to make a survey. (Something that I can do but do not have the right licence).

But, as we choose to be here all we can do is smile and be polite.


I didn’t find our lawyer that good either. In fact I thought she was unprofessional. But she had the temerity to tell us off for expecting a higher standard of service - like answering an email within 3 months! We haven’t problems like you’ve had though. Tough!

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Oh, wow. Some lawyers are quite arrogant. Have you found a better one in the meantime?

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I thought I would add at least 1 anecdote of Portuguese bureaucracy going well for a change! For my husband’s citizenship, we gathered the necessary paperwork from July-November 2018, visited a Registo in Portugal in November 2018 with the paperwork, and had confirmation of citizenship in March 2019.

My husband’s family is Portuguese so he was applying for citizenship through his parents. This eliminated some difficulties for us up front - since they had already registered their marriage and my husband’s birth on their own Portuguese birth certificates, we only needed photocopies of their Cartões de Cidadão. I researched online what else would be required and went through the steps in the US, where we live, to get a copy of his certified birth certificate and have it apostilled. I also got a notarized copy of his passport, which we did not end up needing for the reasons described below. In Portugal we went to the Registo in Tábua (Coimbra district).

Because we were visiting a Registo outside of Lisbon or Porto, there were many fewer people and therefore shorter waiting times for walk-ins. The Registo explained that we needed translations of the documents, something you don’t need to do if they’re in English and you’re submitting through a US consulate. We visited a notário down the street from the Registo and paid a fee to have the birth certificate and the information from his passport translated into Portuguese. We would have needed the notarized passport copy if we were submitting by mail, but since we went in-person they just used his actual passport to take the information.

The next day we returned to the notário to pick up the translations, and brought them over to the Registo with the citizenship application. We waited there while all information was entered into the computer, and they also took a photo of my husband for his own Cartão de Cidadão. The Tábua Registo sent his paperwork directly to the central Registo for processing.

In March 2019, we received a letter confirming my husband’s citizenship had been granted and listing his Portuguese birth certificate number. In May 2019, we received another letter with the PIN required to pick up his Cãrtao at the San Francisco consulate and activate it. When we return to Portugal this April we will open a bank account to get his NIF, and that’s it.

For comparison, my husband’s brother also submitted his citizenship application in November 2018, but he did everything remotely and submitted through the Newark consulate in the US. This meant both that he paid an additional fee directly to the consulate, and that his application was put in the year-long line behind all other applications made through the Newark consulate to be processed and sent to Portugal. He is still waiting for any confirmation.


@spacemanbananas, thank you for sharing a positive experience. Those are hard to come by :laughing: Hope your brother-in-law gets his citizenship some time soon too.

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:slightly_smiling_face: Este artigo é muito encorajador para aqueles que ainda estão a esperar!