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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in Portugal

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2015


EEA and Swiss Citizens wanting to stay in Portugal for more than three months must register their presence. They do this by apply for a registration certificate at their local city or district council. For family members of EEA or Swiss citizens there is a different registration certificate to apply for; proof of the family relationship must also be provided. Registration certificates are valid for a maximum of five years. Note also that, if you enter Portugal by road, you need to register your vehicle with the local police within 2 working days of entering the country.

As this suggests, different registration certificates are needed depending on the immigration status of the person immigrating. Links to the various types of registration certificate and temporary residence permits are given on this Immigration and Borders Service (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras – SEF) webpage.

Citizens from all other countries (including their spouse and family members) who hold a residence visa must apply for a temporary residence permit (autorização de residência) instead. To obtain this permit, applicants need to provide evidence of accommodation in addition to the documents needed when applying for a residence visa (see Visas and Passports). After the initial validity period of a year, the permit can be renewed for two-year periods. After two renewals – a total of five years’ residence – third country citizens have the option of applying for permanent residence.

Within 30 days of entering the country, all immigrants must register with government services, including the National Insurance Office and National Tax Office. To do so, they will need either a registration certificate or temporary residence permit, as applicable.

According to the UN Population Division, in 2012 there were approximately 900,000 expats living in Portugal. The highest numbers of expats are from fellow Portuguese-speaking countries of Angola and Brazil. Immigration into Europe is increasing, and xenophobia is rising in many countries too. Nevertheless, Portugal remains one of the most welcoming countries on the continent. There are only minor official barriers to settling in Portugal (other than the endemic bureaucracy, that is.) The government’s policies show a commitment to promoting equality and racist organisations are illegal.

The cost of living in Portugal is considerably lower than the European average. Food and local wine are particularly cheap, and clothes and other essentials are also often inexpensive. Prices do rise somewhat in popular expat areas such as Lisbon and its environs and the Algarve.


EEA and Swiss citizens may apply for a permanent residence permit once they have been resident in Portugal for five continuous years. Citizens of other countries may also do so if they have held a temporary residence permit for at least five years and have sufficient ability in the Portuguese language. The same applies to family members of EEA and Swiss citizens.


After gaining permanent resident status, you may decide to throw in your lot with your new country of residence and become a Portuguese citizen. As is the case with most countries, obtaining citizenship by right of Portuguese ancestry or birth in Portugal is relatively straightforward. The former is favoured. If you have a Portuguese parent or grandparent, you are considered Portuguese. If you were born in Portugal and can confirm that one of your parents has Portuguese citizenship, you can also easily become a Portuguese citizen. Similarly, if you have other family or marital links with Portugal or one of Portugal’s recent former colonies, acquiring citizenship will not take a very long time.

If you do not have any such links to Portugal, you will need to apply for citizenship by means of naturalisation. To be eligible for this, you need to have been resident in Portugal for a minimum of six continuous years. You also need to have sufficient knowledge of Portuguese and a clean criminal record, though these additional requirements may be waived in certain circumstances. Note that when you become a citizen due to naturalisation, your underage children also become citizens. This also happens once your child has completed one year of education.

Dual citizenship is recognised in Portugal. This means that the only way you can lose your original citizenship is if your home country does not allow dual citizenship.




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