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Moving to Portugal with a family when you’ve never visited before

Jamie and Constance on beach in Foz

Mia was living in California before her move to Portugal. From a young age, she had dreams of traveling the world, but having married in her early 20s and started a family, she thought those dreams would be delayed until after her kids would grow up until she found the Portuguese D7 Visa and realized another life was possible.

Both Mia and her husband had been talking about leaving California for years, and they had been considering other states in the US, but were struggling to find the right place.  Their ideal place would be safe and diverse, but also they wanted to be able to work on the things they love and have time to spend together as a family.

The problems of racism, gun violence, expensive health care, and the 24/7 work culture in the US are well documented, and Mia wanted to see what life would be like without those stressors hanging over her and her family.  After a year of living in Portugal, she says: 

“Living in Portugal has dramatically improved my sense of peace and overall mental health and wellbeing.

The D7 Visa and a chance call with some Lisbon lawyers changed everything

Having only two weeks a year to travel on vacation can feel really restrictive.  When Mia discovered the D7 Visa, she and her husband realized that another life could be possible.  She could make a living from the remote work that she was already doing, and they would have the flexibility to live in and explore a completely different country. 

But they weren’t sure they would qualify, and they didn’t know much about the application process.  They set up a free 30-minute consultation with some lawyers from Lisbon, which changed everything. 

“I thought, there’s no way I’m going to qualify, but during that call, they told us we could easily qualify, and we found out that the process was actually a lot simpler than we’d thought.  We literally said yes to the attorneys on the phone, and I think they were shocked that we didn’t want to talk about it more, but Portugal just ticked all the boxes for us.”

Applying for the visa as a family

Mia worked with the lawyers during the visa application process, who helped a lot with checking all the documentation and keeping to a timeline.  She didn’t find it hard, but at times she recalls, it was quite tedious, because every week, she had to check in on the visa documentation list.  For them, the process took about six months, as the world was just coming out of the pandemic, but the standard timeline is about three months.  

If you’re considering working through the visa application process, Mia warns that you have to be detail oriented and diligent and that there is a lot of waiting around for documentation to arrive from official departments.

Applying as a family meant that Mia and her husband did their applications individually, and got NIF numbers for their children, and then submitted their paperwork together as a family.  If you need to get a NIF number, Bordr can help you with that process for both adults and children alike. 

Choosing somewhere to live and finding a school for the children

Mia and her family live in the Faro district in southern Portugal.  When applying for the visa, they had to decide where to live, despite never having visited Portugal before. They initially considered Lisbon, but found the prices expensive, so they looked at the Algarve and found Faro. 

Their decision on where to live was partly driven by the location of good schools for their children. Mia knew they wouldn’t have a car, so living in a rural area was also off the list. Faro has good public transportation, major grocery stores, and department stores, which makes it a very easy place to live in.  It’s also on the coast, and although it can be touristy at times, that works in their favor, because they have access to things like Uber.

One of the requirements of the D7 visa is to secure 12 months of accommodation in advance. However, following the advice of their lawyers, they were able to provide proof of six months’ accommodation, plus a personal letter stating that they intend to secure 12 months of accommodation as soon as possible. Mia explained in the letter that because they were moving with children, they really needed to be able to visit neighborhoods and schools before they secured a 12-month lease. The authorities approved this approach.

The SEF appointment

Anyone who obtains a D7 visa has to schedule and attend a SEF appointment within four months of arrival in Portugal. SEF stands for Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteira (Foreigners and Border Service) and at this appointment, if you still meet the requirements, you will receive your Temporary Residency Permit. 

For Mia, it was during this appointment that she had to prove that she had indeed secured 12 months’ accommodation by showing the authorities the lease agreement, a bank statement, and a utility bill.  Everything was approved, and they’re really enjoying their time in Portugal.

If you’re considering moving to a place you never went to before:

Mia had never visited Portugal before she and her family moved there, but she did do research to screen for the important factors they were looking for.  She found that there is so much information online, on social media and YouTube, that she had a good idea what the place would be like and whether it ticked the must-have checklist they had. She knew she couldn’t know whether it was the right place long-term until they dived in and she knew they could always return to the US if it really wasn’t working. 

“Nothing is permanent, and there's so much to gain from trying something new, especially when what you currently are experiencing is not working for you.”

How is Portugal different from the US?

Compared to California, Faro is very similar in temperature and weather-wise, but in Mia’s opinion, the beaches in Portugal are much better!  The public transportation system where they live is good, so unlike in the US, they’re able to live without a car. 

What surprised Mia most is how family-oriented Portugal is, and this has been one of the most positive elements of their move. In the US, Mia sometimes found that parents and children aren’t given the patience that they need, given that everyone is rushing around from place to place.  In Portugal, Mia told us that every time she gets on a bus, people get up and give her a seat.  She recalled one experience in an Uber, when her daughter was unwell, and how worried she was that she might throw up in the car.  The Uber driver told her “Don’t worry! It’s not your fault your baby is sick. If they throw up, I’ll just get the car cleaned.”

Moving to Portugal with children

Mia’s children were three and five years old when they moved to Portugal, and they have certainly had some homesick moments in their first year of living in Europe. But Mia feels that overall, they’ve adjusted to their new home and have been enjoying discovering so many new things. Both of the children have started school, and that has been a positive experience - a place they look forward to going to each day. The school teaches predominantly in English, but they’re also learning Portuguese.

Mia’s Recommendations if you’re thinking of moving to Portugal:

  • Have some savings:
    When you move to a new country, you have no credit rating there, and that takes time to build up. So try to have some savings to help you in that first year, for example, if you need to put down three months of rent in advance. There are always unexpected things that come up, so have a little buffer when you move.

  • Focus on the positives:
    For parents as well as anyone who is thinking of moving countries, Mia recommends that you focus on what you will gain from spending time abroad, and when it comes to children, even more so.  Think of it as an expansion of your roots, rather than an uprooting of you and your family.  Always remember that you’re not “leaving it all behind” - if it doesn’t work out, you can always return to your home country.

  • Be diligent when you apply:
    The process can take 3 months or more for a D7 visa, so make sure to have some time set aside every week to check in on the process, make sure that documents are correct, contact departments that are sending you documentation, and so on. Having time set aside helps your chances that you don’t miss anything.

For more recommendations, Mia has a YouTube channel and also an e-book - 25 Things You Should Know Before You Move to Portugal.

Jenny Teasdale
November 29, 2022

Jenny Teasdale

Blog Author