For me, it was two years of various stages of lockdown in Canada. The winter weather didn’t bother me before the pandemic, since I’d been legally able to leave my apartment and interact with other humans. The thought of another winter in lockdown in a cold place was too much for me. Plus, Canada sent me a letter telling me they weren’t giving me a new PR card because they didn’t believe Toronto was my home…and I had to admit they were right. I was ready to go somewhere else. Ideally, to a place where it’s warm enough to sit outside and have a conversation with someone during the winter.
So, I updated my escape guide and started evaluating my options. Given my income and the fact that I know I wouldn’t put in the effort to learn another language without the possibility of staying there for more than a “digital nomad visa” would allow, things narrowed themselves down pretty quickly.
I’d already started the process of moving to Portugal by the time I took my Canadian oath of citizenship. I had my residency in Portugal not long after. People love to complain about Portuguese bureaucracy. I suspect they simply don’t have much to compare it to, since bureaucracy in Portugal doesn’t seem like anything special compared to my experiences in the US, Canada, and Germany.
Is this a digital nomad visa?
This is not a digital nomad visa. Nor does it allow you to live anywhere you want in the EU. This program is designed to allow people with foreign income to live in Portugal.
There is much debate online about the exact physical presence requirements and whether they’re enforced. Still, you’re supposed to be in Portugal for at least 16 of the 24 months of your residence permit. Canada didn’t approve my PR card renewal even though there was no question I met all the legal requirements (ie. I was in Canada enough days and hadn’t been charged with a serious crime), so you just never know.
Portugal is launching a digital nomad visa. This won’t have a pathway to PR or citizenship. It’s new, so stay tuned for more details.
- About €300 in fees for each applicant
- Reasonable income requirement
- Approval typically within 60 days
- Residency in 3-9 months
- Pathway to PR status and citizenship
- Dual/multiple citizenship allowed
- Family can accompany you
- Access to national health program
- Can enroll in Portuguese education programs
- Can work as an independent contractor within Portugal
- Can work remotely for foreign companies
- No investment requirement
- No language exam
- No medical exam
Who qualifies for a D7?
The D7 allows people who meet a minimum income threshold to move to Portugal. Many other nonlucrative visas have high income requirements, while in Portugal the amount is based on the minimum wage. The monthly amount is misleading if you’re used to 12 monthly payments, so focus on the annual amount. The income requirement is adjusted based on how many family members are accompanying you. You do not need to be legally married to a partner who is coming with you.
2022 annual income requirements:
- Individual: €8,460
- Two people: €12,690
- For each additional person: add €2,538
The D7 was originally intended as a temporary residence program for retirees. It’s often referred to as a passive income visa. However, SEF considers all foreign income for the purposes of a D7 application. That means foreign income from a salary or other earned income can be used to fulfill the requirements.
Oddly, people frequently have the other concern — they worry that they won’t meet the requirements for a D7 because they’re not working. Plenty of people have been approved based on savings, rental income, royalties, stocks/bonds, annuities, pension funds, social security, or any combination of income types.
With the launching of the digital nomad visa, people are now worried that they won’t be approved for a D7 if they’re not retired. The real question is: are you looking to spend a year in Portugal as a digital nomad? Then you are a digital nomad and should apply for the digital nomad visa. Or are you planning on establishing a home in Portugal and staying for several years? Then you want to apply for the D7 in order to become a temporary resident.
For rental and business income, they look at the gross income. They don’t ask for any paperwork showing expenses. Thus, even though my apartment in Toronto is not a particularly profitable rental, it would qualify me for the D7 visa. Of course, relying on that wouldn’t be a very good plan, since I wouldn’t have enough money to live on! While life in Portugal may be less expensive than wherever you’re living right now, it might not be. Lisbon isn’t a cheap city and many people use the difference in the cost of living to upgrade their lifestyle while spending about the same amount.
Applying for the D7 can seem confusing because it’s not neatly defined with a points system, like immigration programs in Canada and Australia. You can’t calculate your score and know you’ll be approved. Much is at the discretion of the immigration agent evaluating your application. For every American with a $100k a year passive income fretting over whether or not they have a strong enough application, there is someone else with much less impressive financials who’s already applied and been approved.
From what I can tell, the people whose applications are denied have precarious income without savings to tide them over. This means people earning a lot of money in online advertising and people just transitioning to freelance work in a new field. Precarious or highly variable income isn’t a deal breaker, it just needs to be accompanied by savings or other income sources.
There is no medical exam required of D7 applications. While there is a police check, it’s only for the country you’re currently living in.
How does it work
Applying for a D7 visa is simple. Most applicants do it on their own, without an attorney. If you need an attorney to fill out a two page form and print out your bank statements…you should reconsider whether moving to another country is right for you.
- Apply for your D7
- Move to Portugal
- Get temporary residency
- Renew your residency after two years
You apply for a D7 from the country you’re currently living in. In most cases you’ll apply for your visa in person and then wait for an answer. You can spend this waiting time in Portugal as a tourist if you want. You’ll generally hear back with a decision in three to eight weeks. They will either mail back your passport or require you to come in to get the visa put in it. Your visa will come with a SEF appointment, generally two to six months after the arrival date you mention in your application.
Once you’re approved for your visa, you enter Portugal. You need to enter Portugal before your D7 visa expires, generally four months after the arrival date you mentioned on your application. Your D7 visa gives you two entries, meaning you can leave Portugal and return once before the expiration date on your visa. If your visa expires before your assigned SEF appointment that’s fine, as your status in Portugal is automatically extended to your SEF appointment, you just need to stay in Portugal.
You become a temporary resident of Portugal during your first SEF appointment. At this point you’re free to come and go from Portugal. You can travel before your residence card arrives, you’ll just want to fly into Portugal directly and bring your temporary residence paper (which you get at the SEF appointment). You need to spend at least sixteen months in Portugal during the two year term of your temporary residency permit.
Your first temporary residence card is valid for two years. A month before it expires you can generally renew this online. The second card is valid for three years.
As a temporary resident, you have access to the national health service. You can also go to school or work as an independent professional.
How do you apply?
You apply through the consulate serving your current place of residence, regardless of your citizenship. If you’re living from the US, you’ll need to apply through whatever VFS office manages your region. If you’re applying from Canada, you’ll work directly with the consulate. If you’re currently a digital nomad, you’ll need to decide which country you qualify to apply from, most likely your country of citizenship or the last place you lived (assuming you can resume residency).
Some offices require you to attend an interview in person. This basically means people travel to an office in order to hand someone their paperwork, watch that person flip through it, go to a window to pay, and leave. Some offices allow you to skip watching them flip through the paperwork and just mail in your application, especially if you live far away.
Each region has slightly different requirements. You can email the VFS office or consulate and they’ll send you their list of requirements, along with all the forms you need. They may also have this information available on their website. If you email, ask what documents need an apostille, if any. I did not have to get an apostille on anything, nor did I need to notarize anything. This is also the time to see if you can get out of applying in person.
It’s not necessary to translate any documents into Portuguese if they’re in English. Any documents not on the list and not deemed relevant by the consulate/VFS staff will either be shredded or returned to you.
You only need a police check from the country you’re applying from, regardless of your citizenship or where else you’ve lived or traveled.
Half my documents had my married name and half had my birth name. I included copies of my birth, marriage, and divorce certificates. It was a non-issue. When I changed the name on my US passport, SEF updated my name in their files.
Each person needs a separate application. You may need a separate appointment for each person, if aren’t able to mail it in. You can use the same documents (such as bank statements). If both names aren’t on an account, you can include your marriage certificate and/or a TOR form. You might need to get an apostille for your marriage certificate or the birth certificate of your children.
Some attorneys advise people to submit one D7 application and then to bring the rest of the family over through family reunification. They neglect to mention the current wait time for family reunification applications. It’s a long time, during which applicants must stay in Portugal (or wait outside the country). Research the implications of your choices before you apply one way or the other.
You’ll get a response to your application within 60 days. My application was approved in just under a month.
If your application is rejected, you can make changes and resubmit.
Many people spend hundreds or thousands of dollars preparing their application. They’re translating documents from English into Portuguese, getting everything notarized, and getting apostilles. They’re paying attorneys thousands of dollars to guide them through things that take ten minutes to do. I paid a small fee to get a NIF and I paid to print my documents at the library. It cost less than $50, not counting the application fees themselves.
Proof of accommodation
The biggest hassle of applying for a D7 is meeting the requirements for proof of accommodation. Previously, applications were approved with hotel or short-term apartment bookings, giving people time to find a place to live long-term. Now, applications aren’t being considered without a six or twelve month lease, depending on where you’re applying from.
This means many people are renting apartments they know will sit empty for the time between when they book their appointment and when they actually move, which is several months. Those who can will generally move into their new places in Portugal on a tourist visa and then return to get their visa.
There is no minimum requirement for how much you’re spending on rent (or on purchasing a home). Your lease will need to be registered with the government, which is standard for any landlord who is paying income taxes on their rental income. I’ve heard of people renting cheap places in the countryside for their application, with plans to use it as a vacation home for the duration of their lease. You can also rent a room, as long as you make sure the landlord registers the lease and declares the income.
Another option is to stay with friends or family in Portugal. If they have space to host you and are willing to complete a terms of responsibility form, you can use that as proof of accommodation for your visa application. Once your visa is approved, you can go ahead and start looking for a place of your own. By filling out the form, they’re telling the government that they’re willing to provide you with free housing for the two year term of your temporary residency.
It’s perfectly fine to show up at your first SEF appointment with a different address than was on your TOR form. It’s normal to stay with friends or family while you get settled and find a place of your own. It’s not okay to use a stranger’s address or pay someone to provide you with a TOR.
I was told by several people that SEF no longer accepts TORs for non-family members. The Portuguese consulate I applied through assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.
A few steps need to be done ahead of time or in a specific order. That doesn’t mean they’re difficult or complicated. Most of these things involve writing a three sentence email, attaching some PDFs, and waiting a week or three for someone to do whatever it is I’m asking them to do.
It seems like you need to have your application ready to submit in order to make an appointment, which is why things need to be done so far in advance. In my experience, no one looked at the documents I submitted online and the file size was so low that I couldn’t include more than a few documents, anyway.
Appointments are a hot commodity, so you rush to get everything ready and then find that there are no appointments available. It’s normal for people to check every day for appointments, hoping for a cancellation or a release of new slots.
My suggestion is to see if you can go ahead and submit your application form and whatever documents you have ready in order to schedule an appointment. Then you can continue to gather the paperwork, since you’ll likely have to wait a month or two before your appointment.
3-6 months before target moving date
- Get a NIF (pay a 3rd party service, takes somewhere between a week and a month)
- Open a bank account. Millenium, Caxia, Santander, and other PT banks have US and Canadian branches for international business and partnerships with North American banks. Go to their website, pull up their locations page, and see which bank has a branch or partner branch close to you. I made an appointment, signed some forms and showed my IDs, and then they mailed me all my documents. If they ask you for stacks of notarized documents, go to another bank.
- Get proof of accommodation (TOR form, lease, or sales contract)
- Purchase travel insurance that’s valid in Portugal and covers at least 30k euros in expenses.
- Show a flight you could take in order to indicate your date of intended travel. There’s no need to actually book it or take this exact flight.
- Submit your preliminary application online in order to book your appointment.
- Show proof of steps in progress for anything incomplete.
- The acceptable file size is tiny, so you’ll likely only be able to include a few key documents.
- Chances are that no one will look at any of this, only the actual documents you bring to the appointment.
If you’re applying from the US
- Get your fingerprints done with your local police station. You can get two sets of fingerprints when you go, just to be safe
- Submit FBI background check request. This is only valid for six months, so if you do it too early you’ll have to do it again
- You might need to get an apostille for this, depending on the whims of VFS
Every adult applicant needs a police check. Getting a police check from countries other than the US is generally much faster, so it doesn’t need to be done far in advance.
Your visa appointment
- Put money into your PT bank account. Word on the street is that they like to see two years of the minimum amount.
- Write a personal statement. Don’t mention anything you can’t verify with documents. Include:
- All your information: what type of visa you’re applying for, your personal data, contact information, your travel insurance details.
- Why you want to move to Portugal. Keep this vague and short. This isn’t a college application essay or a therapy session. Popular reasons are the culture, the weather, and the landscape.
- Some people say to include a bio. I provided a few sentences, basically what I’d include in a conference bulletin.
- How you’re going to support yourself. I provided a list of my income sources, savings, and investments that served as a key to the financial documents I included.
- Where you’re going to live. If you’re staying with friends, include all of their information, the TOR form, and a copy of their PT ID (both sides). Briefly explain how you know them and how long, so they know they’re not internet randos you’re paying. Confirm that they actually have space to host you, like a guest room.
- Fill out the application. You’ll sign this during your appointment.
- Photocopy your passport (all pages with stamps)
- A passport photo
- Permission for SEF police check (this is just a form you need to sign)
- A police check from the country you’re applying from
- NIF paperwork (the two page letter they send you when you get your NIF)
- Flight itinerary (still no need to book a flight)
- Three months of statements for ALL financial accounts (checking, savings, and investments). Highlight pertinent information (like the total amount, the statement date, and income you mention in your personal statement). If you have income from rental properties, royalties, pensions, social security, disability, etc. include it. You can also include your future social security earnings estimate downloaded from the IRS website and future pension earnings.
- Supporting documents for any current earned income that will continue when you’re living in Portugal (letter from employer granting permission to work from Portugal, copies of freelance contracts, etc).
Once you’re approved
- Book actual flights (if you have pets, be sure to include them in your tickets)
- If you have pets, get the paperwork to import them and purchase airport approved carriers.
- If you’re moving belongings, get the paperwork to import them. If you just have a reasonable amount of luggage that you’re going to fly with, you can skip this step.
- Figure out when and where your SEF appointment will be. This will either be on your visa itself (it will include a URL) or a printout included with your visa. Make a SEF account so you can verify this, since it can change.
- Port your current phone number to Google Voice or iPlum if you want to cancel your phone plan while keeping your phone number.
- Switch to a bank that refund foreign ATM fees or otherwise works well for international banking.
- Get a certified drivers history from the jurisdiction you currently have a license with.
- Request a copy of your medical records.
- Get a Portuguese phone plan.
- Get private health insurance. You may be asked to show this at your SEF appointment.
Your first SEF appointment
This is largely a formality. You do need to be early for this appointment, as if you show up after they call people for your appointment time they’ll mark you as a no-show and it’ll be a hassle to get another appointment.
They’ll flip through your paperwork, take your photo, take your fingerprints, get your signature, have you pay the fee, and then give you a letter that’s your temporary proof of residency. Your card will arrive in the mail in the next ten days to six weeks.
If anything is missing, you’ll have ten days to resubmit it.
- Printed appointment confirmation (so they’ll let you in the building without having to find you on a very long list)
- Application (don’t sign until you’re in front of them during your appointment)
- 3 months of bank statements for your PT bank account
- NIF letter (this can still show your representative and your foreign address)
- Proof of accommodation (TOR, lease agreement, proof of purchase, or atestado de residencia). They may not ask for this. You get an atestado de residencia from your local fregusia, each of which has slightly different requirements but generally requires a lease or utility bills.
- Proof of health insurance, which they may also not ask for.
- Your passport (they’ll scan all pages with stamps).
- They may ask for your boarding pass from when you entered Portugal.
After your first SEF appointment
- Exchange your drivers license before your current license expires
- Enroll in PT classes
Things that can be done online
- Remove your representative from your NIF
- Enroll in the public health system (ie getting a numero de utente)
- Apply for NHR tax status
- Set up a living will for Portugal
Living in Portugal
- Each time you move, you need to update your address with SEF within 30 days. Or at least that’s the rule. This can’t be done online and getting an appointment is basically impossible.
- Giving your NIF when you make a purchase can get you money back when you file your taxes. It can also demonstrate to SEF that you’re really living in the country.
- Speak.Social offers pay-what-you-wish beginner classes in Portuguese and conversation groups.
Where to find help with your D7 application
Many of the best resources for information on immigration are on social media. People regularly share details of their experience in Facebook posts, which are a great way to understand what to expect and how to handle different situations. The American group has extensive resources in their files. Just note that the American group errs on the safe side, which tends to mean extra steps that are not required by SEF.