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Immigration lawyer to help establish residency: pros and cons?

Hello, fellow expats-

My husband and I recently arrived in Lisbon from Mexico, and we're looking forward to our second expat adventure here in Portugal. We're signing a lease on an apartment in the next few weeks, and beginning the process of establishing residency.

We are both American citizens, but my husband has dual US/UK citizenship (his mother was English). 

We got an estimate from an immigration lawyer to handle the residency process, and it seemed quite high to me. Perhaps naively, we're thinking of handling the residency request ourselves, but I'd like to hear about pros and cons or potential pitfalls of doing so first (and maybe find out if the lawyer's estimate was indeed on the high side, or if 1500€ is normal for 2 residency permits. Nothing is more expensive than disappointment!).

We handled most of our own residency visa obligations ourselves in Mexico, where we lived for 8+ years, but of course, every country is different and I'd love to hear about your experience here.

In particular, if there are any other couples out there with one EU citizen and one non-EU, I'd love to hear from you :-)

Many thanks,
Missy

Hi Missy,
I'm also looking for an apartment in Portugal,especially in the east Algarve (Tavira)
I just called the portuguese Ambassade in Romme and they gave me the name  and ph number of an italian lawyer which has an office in Lisbon to help new residents to get all the papers necessary
to apply for a residency in Portugal.
I'm sending an email to him right now and he will reply to me within 1 days to answer to all my questions regarding me and my wife and,how much he will charge us for his work.

I will let you know asap his answer on this matter.
Ciao from Italy
Sandro

Hi Missy,

Save your money!!! Generally speaking, unless you have a complicated asylum case or something, you either qualify for residency, or you don't. Assuming you do, a lawyer is simply going to work as an overpriced secretary. Unless your time is worth more than 1500€, my advice is that you do it yourself. And remember this, that price is for only ONE residency permit - as an EU citizen (still), your husband doesn't even need one.

In our case, I am American and my wife is Brazilian, with four girls at home, born in Brazil, Slovenia, and Portugal. So our situation is not quite the same, but maybe the loose thoughts in my head will be of some use. I am NOT an attorney, so know that my counsel comes with no guarantees, but I have lived in several different countries, including another EU state, and probably have more experience than your average Joe with such things. In this group though, maybe that is not very unusual...

Portugal actually has a negative growth rate right now, and is very accommodating of foreigners that want to live in Portugal and spend money, especially if you bring that money with you!

In the case of your husband, since he is an EU citizen, he has a right to live in Portugal simply by choosing to do so. He should obtain a NIF (tax ID number) from Finanças, and register at the Freguesia, but I am pretty sure he does not need to even notify SEF. He is, by agreement, "essentially" already a citizen. However, YOU do need to obtain proper residency. As a UK citizen, I'm sure your husband could sponsor you for residency in the UK, but not sure whether or not he can sponsor you to live in another EU state. If so, that would probably be the simplest avenue. Definitely an appropriate question for SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras).

Let me clarify something that many seem to not fully understand - forgive me if you already know. EU citizens from one country can freely move to another EU country and take up residency there, but simply having legal residency in one EU country, as a non-EU citizen, does not allow you the same freedom. Essentially, you are a "ward" of Portugal until you obtain citizenship. As such, even once you have a título de residência from Portugal, you will still be required to show your passport to travel by air to other EU countries. Your Portuguese ID card will not be sufficient. (I travel a lot for work). Your husband will have to show some sort of national ID, but it does not actually have to be a passport - because he is an EU citizen.

Are either you or your husband employed in Portugal? If so, an employment contract, with a salary that meets the minimum requirements (very low), and you are set. As long as you find employment, you can obtain residency (my case). Alternatively, if you are retired with adequate pension income, or have some sort of income from a business (even if it is in another country), you are also good. I don't know all the details in such a case, but I do have some American friends that were (recently moved back to the US) essentially self-funded. If that is your case, I might be able to put you in touch with them to learn more. Also, Portugal has been granting "Golden Visas" for a few years now, to anyone that purchases property for at least 500,000€. I think that you have to actually use your funds for that, and that financing doesn't count. This avenue certainly doesn't apply to me!

Unlike US immigration services, SEF does not bite. Don't be afraid to call them with questions. Your título de residência will cost about 180€. The first one is good for one year, and subsequent permits are good for two years. After five years of legal residency (of any kind) you can apply for permanent residency. After six years of legal residency, you can apply for citizenship. I am not aware of any requirement for permanent residency before obtaining citizenship, just any form of legal residency (even a student visa counts). From what I understand, most apply straight away for citizenship at the five year mark, as the process takes some time. I don't fully understand how the gap year is covered, but from what I understand, as long as something is in process with SEF, you are good to remain. You can also leave and reenter, as long as you have an appointment with SEF, and the appointment sheet to prove it. This actually happened with us when our older girls went to Brazil to visit their "other" dad (they are actually my step-daughters). We were unable to obtain an appointment with SEF prior to them leaving, and our residency permits were to expire before their return. I called SEF to ask how to handle it. "No problem, make the appointment for the first available date, then when that date is approaching, call to reschedule." Then I just emailed the appointment confirmations for them to reenter the country.

I'm sure I haven't opened the heavens and clarified the whole world for you, but hopefully that helps in some way. If you have any further questions that you think I might be able to help with, fire away. I'm always happy to steer you in the right direction when I can, and not afraid to say "I don't know" if I can't.

Cheers,
Shane

Many thanks, Shane, for your thoughtful and thorough response!

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