Experiences with Portuguese Bureaucracy

I just had a mini panic attack reading this, and we haven’t even gotten our residency visas yet!! :grimacing:


:slightly_smiling_face: :slightly_smiling_face: Hoje, eu recebi um email de Conservatória dos Registos Centrais em Lisboa, que diz que meu aplicação para cidadania português está, finalmente, a processar! Tenho muito esperança!


Progresso! Boas notícias :clap:

SEF is a difficult nut to crack. My advice is to be persistent.Also an advogado helped get my wife her NIF. All government agencies run on Portuguese time. Everything takes awhile.

Do you guys have any idea whether I could exchange a Swiss driving license for a Portuguese one more easily than exchanging a US one, once we have our residency permit? I have a US driver’s license, as we’re currently in Florida, but I also still have my Swiss license from 2006 (with no expiry date) from when we lived in Zurich.

@howardtheller Since Switzerland isn’t part of the EU or the European Economic Area (in which case, the driving license would also be valid here), it shouldn’t make any difference. Btw, here’s an official overview of the process: Exchange a foreign driving license for a Portuguese driving license

Thanks Joseph! That’s very helpful!

My friend finally got hers after the use of a lawyer. They were insisting on a document for each of her exs even though she had not seen them in 40 years. This is not a legal requirement and they dropped this when the lawyer got involved. This type of pedantic harassment is very common. How else could they justify all of their jobs? You will have to pass the Portuguese test. My friend did but the examiner gave the testees all the answers as the airplanes going over in Faro made hearing difficult. Pray you do not have to take the driving test…the head lady in Faro told me to go to the States and get a license as I was American. She avowed it was too difficult to pass the first time and I would end up taking the driving classes in Portuguese. She was very nice. They had refused my Qatari license as they insisted Qatar was not a country. No matter that I could show I had lived and worked in Qatar for 12 years and had the visas in my passport. I went to the States and had to commit a felony to get one as i did not reside in the USA despite being a US citizen. I never drove on the license but got rid of it right away to the intense satisfaction of the low official at the driving license place. Very smug. Good luck. Just smile a lot. I am 77 and it hardly helps.

Oh wow, @kateevans00. It’s as if everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was nice that your friend was able to push back, get a lawyer involved and sort things out. It shouldn’t have to come to that, though.

We bought a ruin in May 2016. A 200 year old farmhouse complex built of stone and mud with 60cm thick walls. It had been registered as a habitation in 1935. No electric, water, drainage. We employed a Portuguese Architect, engineer, builder, plumber, electrician etc. It took three years to get building plans approved, then about nine months for the rebuild and then another year to get a final habitation licence for the rebuilt project. We had to get military aerial photos from the 1970s, we had to mark non-existent water mains on the plans - we had to have our inside leg measurements independently medically certified (OK this one’s a lie). We love our home and living in Portugal but the bureaucracy has to be experienced to be believed.


Sounds like a labour of love! Not sure where you’re from Chris - here in the UK there’s a TV programme called Grand Designs whereby people save old homes - often in France, Italy, Greece, etc. Not sure I’ve seen one in Portugal, but your story sounds similar. Do you have photos?

1 Like

Hey David,

I hope I’m not too late to the party. Yes, I am experiencing the SEF bureaucracy right at this very moment.

First of all, it took the SEF a whole 3 months to process my online application for the ARI and my lawyer just recently received the letter of approval from them. It normally should only take them 3 to 6 weeks to process and 3 months is literally the legal maximum. The reason they gave for the delay was that the SEF had holidays in the summer. I’m basically speechless.

Now we are waiting to make appointments with the SEF to get my ARI Residence Permit. Due to the previous lockdowns in Portugal, most SEF appointments for the first half of this year have been delayed. So now the only available slots for me will be after June 2021, which are not even open for registration at this moment. This crazy mass delay at SEF has drawn attention from the news agencies as well: https://www.theportugalnews.com/news/complaints-against-sef-triple/53227

It’s just unbelievable to me that the SEF still had big holidays on their summer schedule after months of closure under the lockdown with tens of thousands of applicants stranded waiting for their appointments which may be life-changing for them and their family who have their life plans already completely messed up by the delays. Up till now this mass delay still has not been officially addressed by the SEF and no mass-scale initiatives have been taken by the SEF to alleviate the current situation.

These are so far my only experiences with them and I am already feeling a little mentally exhausted. I really hope the SEF could do something soon and also hope this is helpful for you guys.


1 Like

Yes, we’re Brits abroad, last UK home was in Brighton but now residents in Portugal. Always enjoyed grand designs and similar programmes. Loads of photos of our rebuild from start to finish, but no facility to post here. Here’s a link to a Facebook post I did about just finishing off a kitchen. https://m.facebook.com/groups/472882839549373/permalink/1629509357220043/

1 Like