RACE TO S.E.F.
We arrived to Portugal on Saturday, April 22 so we’ve been in our new country for three weeks now. Our “Race to S.E.F” began that very Monday. S.E.F is a branch of immigration that is responsible for granting us our residency permits. The residency process starts in the United States at the consulate. We were approved for a residency visa which has a duration of four months. A residency visa is different than a permanent residency. This visa allows you to appear to S.E.F and receive a temporary, year-long residency permit which must be renewed. After five years with a residency permit we will be eligible to become permanent residences.
Before S.E.F can grant us our permits we have to show them that we live in the country and that we are contributing financially. This means that we need to have an address–a place to live–and a bank account in Portugal. That’s easy enough, right? Not quite. Important business transactions and contract agreements require us to have what is called a NIF. This is almost like a social security number but not always used in the same way. The good news for us was that it is not that hard to get. The bad news was that we had to find a permanent resident who would agree to go to the office and wait for hours with us to get the number. The brother who sponsored us with the consulate in the United States was not able to help us get our NIF numbers. So we had to wait for a sister who was able to help us but not until the following week. In the meantime, we decided to continue to look for apartments and put our trust in Jehovah that this would work out.
The challenges with getting an apartment in Portugal are several. 1. We need a NIF to sign a contract. 2. We need a bank account and we can’t open a bank account without a NIF. 3. Most landlords require a co-signer to sign the contract with foreigners. The other challenges have to do with the condition of the apartments and what the landlord is willing to do. For instance, in the first apartment we toured the kitchen was just awful. The agent told us that the landlord would not be doing any repairs to it, but he would allow us to repair the kitchen the way we wanted it. Hmmm… doesn’t that mean he gets a brand new kitchen for free, plus our rent money? Next! One landlord told us that he does not clean or paint; he leaves that up to his tenants to do because he does not know what color paint we prefer, but we must leave the apartment clean when we vacate. Who wants to clean up someone else’s mess? And in addition to all of that, most kitchens do not come equipped like they do in the United States.
We started our apartment hunt on our first Monday, day 3, in Portugal. We saw three apartments. Two we did not like but the last one we did. The last apartment was a little bigger than we expected with 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms (yass!!!). It did not require a co-signer, but they did require a larger deposit as protection if we leave without completing the lease. We heard of this before we came so we did not find it strange. Day 4, Tuesday, we saw one apartment that we really liked, 2 bedrooms/1 bath, and it did not need a co-signer if we paid for a full year (Not ideal but possible). On Wednesday, day 5, we saw about three or four more apartments and then Alfredo and I decided to tell the agent that we were interested in taking the 3-bedroom apartment; so I sent the agent an email and he sent me a message telling me that the owner accepted our terms. Fast forward to now as I am sitting on my couch in my apartment writing this blog. A sister helped us by reviewing our contract and making sure everything was ok. The owners are a sweet, elderly, Portuguese couple. The wife gave me two European kisses when we met and when they left. We knew Jehovah was with us; it only took us a week and half to find a place. Proof of Jehovah’s hand was that they allowed us to sign the lease without a Portuguese bank account and NIF. Fortunately, we got our NIF 30 minutes before our meeting with the agent and the owner for the signing. This was on Wednesday, day 12.
On our 13th day, Thursday, we were able to open our bank account with our new NIF numbers. Now that these important things were finished we could “run to S.E.F.” Not exactly. I found out that we had to call and get an appointment. We needed to get in before the end of May when our visas expire. I finally got someone on the line at the S.E.F office and we were given an appointment for November 21st! I was very concerned but the agent told me that they are behind; however, since we called before our expiration date we would be ok. Phew!!! We received an email with our dates that we’ll have to carry with us all the time after this month.
All that’s left to do now is get a car and organize and furnish our apartment. Oh yes… and start to work because we’ve already spent a lot of money.
Patience… patience… patience
Everything in Portugal takes time. You have to make an appointment or take a number and wait or make an appointment and when you get there take a number and wait. So even though it seems that the tasks are few, they can take hours to finish. For example, getting our NIF took three hours; signing the lease took an hour and a half; getting a bank account took another three hours; getting internet took an hour, etc. Portugal does not do much business over the phone or online like in the states, where in 20 minutes you have a bank account open and utilities in your name and you’re good to go. This was the challenge in trying to get everything done as quickly as possible. Every country has it’s challenges but Jehovah keeps proving to us that he is behind this move. If you’re reading this blog because you are also looking to serve where the need is greater, don’t fear. Jehovah will help you. You won’t t be alone.