Residency in Portugal – Travel Malarkey Get Our CRUE
It’s Thursday the first of October 2020 as I wake up for the first time as a legal resident of Portugal. The early morning sun is glinting through Iggy’s not quite shut blinds, and it is a pleasantly cool seventeen degrees. Autumn is well and truly here. And it is most welcome after the long, hot days of summer just been.
I am awake early to finish off this blog post before Jay blinks his way out of the drop down bed and scatters life and noise around the van. Like a dog shaking off water after a swim in the sea, our Jay splatters movement everywhere he goes. And much as I adore him for it, writing is not an easy task when he’s in full on morning “getting things done” mode.
I blink at the coffee pot. Wondering if I could make one without waking him, and decide it’s too much of a risk for now. Instead I turn my focus back to the page – and back to yesterday, the day that we finally got our five year temporary residency certificates.
We had intended to apply for them on Monday, but a last minute attack of jitters hit just as we were getting ready to leave for the financas ( the Portuguese tax office ). This time the jitters were Jay’s.
I’d well and truly jittered myself out over the last four months since I uttered the legendary words “Honey? How about we move to Portugal?”. Now it was Jay’s turn. Nineteen weeks of laughing at me every time I asked “Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” And now, suddenly, he wasn’t so sure after all.
My final jitters had passed the night before. We’d gone for a walk around Albufeira old town – figuring it would be quiet on a Sunday evening in late September, and hoping that Marley might be allowed on the beach. There was no luck for poor Marley, but I said goodbye to my “last chance to change our minds” worries somewhere out on those quiet streets.
And now, five minutes before heading out the door to the financas it was Jay’s turn. Marley was grateful for the reprieve from a couple of hours spent alone in the van as our plans for the day clunked straight to a dead stop. We talked over the pros and cons one last time. And it looked something like this.
- We would be living in a different country to our family.
- Wild fires.
- We still wouldn’t have freedom of movement – not for at least five or six years anyway until we got citizenship.
- We would have to stay in Portugal for at least six months a year – in the UK we could travel for eleven months at a time – just only 90 days in a rolling 180 in the Schengen Zone.
- We had a very limited amount of money for our land and eco, off grid, arts garden, quinta, camperstop project – It might not work out.
- If we had to spend too much time working in the UK we would struggle to be able to spend six months in Portugal and still travel.
- We might end up hating it.
- It was going to be an awful lot of hard work.
- We would have to learn Portuguese.
- We would be having a fantastic adventure.
- Eventually we would have EU citizenship again when we got our Portuguese citizenship.
- We would only have to stay in Portugal six months a year for the first five years.
- We would be able to thoroughly explore the whole of Portugal in those five years.
- We would have a place that our family could come for almost free holidays.
- Lizards. I love lizards.
- Living in a country where things like figs, oranges, olives, grapes and avocados all grow.
- Spending months every year in shorts and t-shirt.
- Getting our own plunge pool for the summer.
- Marley having her own land to patrol.
Having a bit of land here for holidays no matter what.
- We could always sell up and move if it didn’t work out.
- We just didn’t want to be in the UK after the withdrawal agreement ends on 31st December.
- We would have to learn Portuguese – I like learning languages.
Long before we got to the end it was pretty much definitely decided that we were still going to go for this. But the day was getting on and we’d waited this long so we decided we could wait a little longer.
The next day – Tuesday – was no good. The man from Dell was coming to put a new battery in my laptop and we’d have to stay in all day to wait for him. It would have to be Wednesday. The 30th of September.
And so it was that yesterday found me waking up in the early morning darkness of six a.m. Albufeira. Marley was going to have to stay in the van on her own for a bit while we went to try and get our papers done. Thankfully we have aircon so we didn’t need to worry about her overheating. And Parque da Palmeira is incredibly good value in summer at €6 a day with electricity included. But we very rarely leave our Marley Dog for longer than a supermarket trip, and I wanted to give her a really long long walk before we went out.
We prowled the parks and streets around the camperstop for an hour and a half as the sun rose steadily in the sky. Cafes were busy with working folk – eating tosta with early morning chat as they waited for their lifts. Stray dogs ghosted away to their daytime hiding spots as the human world took over from their nighttime one. And my stomach played host to some playful, dancing butterflies as we headed back towards the van. The time had come at last.
Jay and I had prepared the papers we needed before going to bed on Tuesday night. And we did one last idiot check that we had everything before saying goodbye to Marley and heading out the door. The financas and câmara were a straightforward fifteen minute walk downhill form Parque da Palmeira. We’d wandered down with Marley a couple of times over the last few days and knew exactly where we were going. We’d also done a lot of homework over the last few months on what we would need to do.
In principle becoming a resident in Portugal is a very easy thing for EU citizens to do. And although the UK left the EU on 31st January 2020 we still had our freedom to move and settle until 31st December. Nobody really knew yet what the requirements would be after then. But all official sources were in agreement that we would have less rights than if we moved now. And that the process would be more difficult and with no guarantees of success.
But for now – in principle – it was still a very easy thing for us to do. And the first step to permanent residency was to get our five year temporary residency certificates. Otherwise known as the Certificado de Registo de Cidadão da União Europeia – the certificate of registration of citizens of the EU – or CRUE for short.
It’s All About the NIF
But to apply for a CRUE one of the things you need is a NIF – the Número de Identificação Fiscal – the Portuguese tax number roughly equivalent to the British national insurance number. Only in Portugal you need a NIF for just about anything. From applying for a CRUE to purchasing a mobile phone contract. The NIF is the first, and crucial, gateway to a permanent life in Portugal.
Pre Covid-19 getting a NIF was a very straightforward procedure everywhere in Portugal. All you had to do was turn up at any tax office (financas) with your passport and proof of your UK address and you would be issued one there and then. Simple.
Since Covid though a lot of people were having problems getting their NIFs. Offices had been closed for a long time during lockdown. The financas had a big backlog of work to get through. And everything was being slowed down further by the precautions necessary to keep everyone safe in the public buildings. And so most tax matters now required an appointment to be pre-arranged by telephone before going to the office.
People were having difficulties getting through on the phone lines. The same Covid story that was making communication difficult everywhere. Systems overwhelmed by a surge of customers they were not designed to handle. The automated switchboard was – of course – in Portuguese. It was difficult to get through to the right place. And even if you did the chances were high that the call handler would not be able to understand you. And even if they did sometimes the system would get overloaded and throw you out before an appointment could be made.
Expat groups on Facebook were full of people looking for advice on getting their NIF numbers, and I read and cross referenced everything I could find. But we also had an extra, invaluable, source of information up our sleeves. The motorhome and vanlife community.
People staying in fixed accommodation have less choice when it comes to which local authorities they are dealing with. It’s hard to shop around the whole country when you are living in a bricks and mortar house. But friends in the Hymer community had told us that Albufeira was the watchword for the place to go to get both the NIF and the CRUE. The local motorhome parks were accepted as addresses for the CRUE and the financas was giving NIF appointments to people who presented to their office and asked for them.
And so it was that we arrived for doors opening at the Albufeira financas, armed with our passports and UK proof of address – driving licence for Jay, bank statement for me. A member of staff sat just inside the doors and there was a smallish queue of about twenty people in front of us.
One by one we all inched forward as people spoke to the receptionist and left after a few minutes holding pieces of paper with appointments. Every now and then someone with a sheaf of paperwork would be passed on into the office to be dealt with. Most people were here to deal with everyday tax matters. We were quite possibly the only NIF applicants among them.
Forty five minutes later and it was my turn. Jay waited behind me as I stepped forward and read out my carefully prepared statement in Portuguese.
“Good morning. Please can you help me. I am Scottish and I have come to live in Portugal. I need a number of identification tax. Thank you.”
I just about split the seams of my mask trying to smile big enough for it to be seen in the wrinkles around my eyes, and the woman’s eyes smiled back at me. Two minutes and a couple of questions later and she popped briefly away. Another two minutes and she came back with a man who spoke much better English than I do.
“Go to the other door.” he said. “Five, ten minutes and we will do it.”
I explained Jay needed his NIF as well, and the man waved us both on. Down to the other door where the people with appointments went. Four or five people were standing outside and all trying to talk to the rather harassed looking civil servant calling out names from a big print out of papers.
I clutched my passport noticeably in front of me and fixed him with my most hopeful gaze as, name after name, nobody responded. People not turning up for their appointments could only be a good thing for us.
Finally he raised an inquisitive eyebrow at us and asked something in Portuguese. I responded with my spiel about being Scottish and needing to get our NIFs. I had no idea how to explain that the other man told us to come here, but thankfully this official also spoke English. And when he asked me if we had an appointment I quickly explained what had happened.
Telling us to wait at the side the man disappeared back into the office behind him. Just a few minutes later and he opened the door again and ushered us inside and to sit down and wait. Moments passed and the man we had first dealt with came through into this office and took our passports and proof of address.
We watched for five more minutes as he tapped at a computer and took photocopies of our documents. Then, smiling, he called us over to the counter where he was waiting with our NIF documents. He asked us to check that our details were typed up correctly. Pointed to a place for us to sign. Kindly told us the câmara was just across the road to get our CRUEs from and welcomed us to Portugal.
An hour and ten minutes after arriving at the financas and we were back outside in the sun. Two enormous smiles and two NIF documents clutched happily in our sweaty little hands.
Time For Our CRUE
It’s hard for me to find words to describe how it felt to have finally got our NIFs so easily. Exhilarated, relieved, inspired to keep going. This whole journey to residency had been one that made our desire to live here stronger with each and every hurdle. Waiting for the borders to reopen so we could get here in the first place. Crossing Europe for the second time during a global pandemic. Researching what we needed to do to become legal residents. Getting our NIFs. And now there was only one more step to go. The CRUE.
Technically the CRUE should be very easy and straightforward. And, technically, it is. The only real difficulty comes from the fact that different Câmara ask for different things as proof of eligibility before they will issue one. Some insist on at least a six month rental contract. Some will not allow people to apply until they have already been in Portugal for 90 days. Some ask for proof of funds. And the only way to know what is needed is to ask at the individual Câmara itself. This is very important for people taking out rental contracts, because you need to know beforehand if it will be accepted or not. The basic list of things you might need is as follows.
- Proof of address in Portugal
- Proof of earnings/funds.
If you have those five things ( and the proof of address matches the requirements of the Câmara) then you will be issued a CRUE. It is as simple as that.
For Albufeira we had checked in advance that we could use the motorhome park as an address. And we had been told by many people that had recently got their CRUEs here that they did not ask for proof of income, and there was no requirement of minimum time spent in Portugal.
Still grinning widely from ear to ear we crossed the road and went up to the front door of the Câmara. A helpful, efficient security guard asked us what we were there for, and we explained with our carefully prepared speech in Portuguese.
“I am Scottish. I have come to live in Portugal. I need the certificate of registration for citizens of the EU. Sorry I speak only a little Portuguese.”
The helpful young woman handed us a ticket each – number eighty, and eighty-one – and asked us to wait. As one person was dealt with and left the building another was allowed inside. Four people inside at one time. Masks on, sanitiser used, and everyone socially distanced. One way system marked out with arrows on the floor and rigorously adhered to.
Time passed in a strange mixture of quickly and slowly until I found myself ushered in front of the official who would process my application.
She seemed to like my attempts to do everything in Portuguese. She spoke English pretty well. Not with the fluency of the men at the tax office, but well enough to manage any gaps where I couldn’t understand in Portuguese. And that was just about everything! But everything was really not that much.
She smiled a lot. Asked only the bare minimum of questions. I handed her my passport, my NIF, the receipt with my name on from Parque da Palmeira. And she took all the information she needed from these without bothering me with questions she didn’t need to ask. All that she did ask was:
Are you making Portugal your home now?
Can you give me your mother and father’s names?
Are you retired? No? What is your occupation?
Finally she was finished inputting the information on her computer. I handed over my €15 and she placed my shiny new CRUE into my hands.
“Welcome to Portugal!”
I was smiling so hard I was almost in tears as I dream walked my way back out into the glorious September sunshine. One hour and five minutes after I had turned up at the doorway of the Câmara I stood outside and waited again. This time as a legal resident of Portugal. Feet floating five inches above the ground for ten long minutes until Jay finished his appointment and joined me.
Nineteen weeks to the day since we had decided to escape Brexit. Pack up a parcel of dreams and not much more and take off in Iggy for a brand new life in Portugal.
There were many, many hurdles still to be crossed. But this one was done. We had the legal right to live and work in Portugal for five years. We were home.
( With very special thanks to fellow Hymer owners, and all round great people, Dee, Jill, David, Lois and Joanna. There are many more but little space. So you guys get the gold stars. Our eternal love and gratitude to you all.)
P.s. Here are some more links you may find useful for further information on gaining residency. Remember things can change quickly. So always seek up to date advice. We offer only our own thoughts and experiences and this should not be seen as legal advice. Please check with a legal expert if necessary for your own, personal situation.
Portuguese Immigration Department – Info for UK citizens on moving to Portugal by 31st December 2020. https://imigrante.sef.pt/en/brexit/
Pure Portugal interviews “Tig James of British In Portugal who works alongside The British Embassy and British In Europe and is a font of knowledge for all things residency related.”