It’s no secret that we discovered Portugal through Spain.
For fifteen years or so, we’ve owned vacation bolts in Olvera, one of the small “pueblos blancos” dotting Andalucía, not far from Ronda, where the provinces of Málaga, Sevilla, and Cádiz collide.
When we decided to emigrate and live our lives in Iberia, naturally we first thought about applying for long-term Spanish residence visas.
However, rather than welcoming our interest and desire to live within its borders, Spain put up roadblocks and obstacles to apply for the visas. After trying to deal with its Chicago consulate, we finally decided that “enough is enough” and considered our options and alternatives.
Friends and neighbors in Wisconsin who moved to Portugal a year before we did advised us, “You really should consider Portugal!”
So, we did.
In the process, we learned a lot about Schengen nation visas (most of the European Union comprises the Schengen zone) and the differences between how one country evaluates immigration visas sought by non-EU nationals and how such requests are handled by other countries.
It’s all in the interpretation.
Basically, the components of your visa request – an official Schengen application, FBI background check, confirmed housing, birth certificates and marriage licenses, financial wherewithal, health insurance, etc. – are the same, regardless of which country you’re applying to for a visa.
Spain, however, has decided that every page of the documentation you’re submitting must be translated into Spanish … and only by a $40-per-page translator on its officially-approved list. (Portugal doesn’t.) Spain interprets “financial wherewithal” to mean that an applicant must meet a minimum annual income threshold that the government has set and specific additional amounts for each designated dependent, as verified by Social Security and/or pension income. (Portugal doesn’t.) Spain may grant you a retirement visa, but require that neither you nor your dependents work—“sin fines lucrativos.” (Portugal doesn’t.)
I could continue, but you get the point.
We were made to feel that Portugal wanted us to come and live there; Spain demurred and imposed a lengthy list of criteria and conditions.
So, imagine our surprise when we learned from the Spanish consulates in Lisbon and Porto that simply by going to their offices with our USA passports and Portuguese residency cards (and, presumably, other papers), we could be granted non-lucrative residency status in Spain. Rather easily. Evidently, there’s agreement among Schengen countries that, if one grants you residency, it can be transferred to another.
If we wanted, it appears that we could move to Spain and legally live there now full-time. Wasn’t that what we had wanted all along?
After Portugal granted our residency visas and first residence permits, we took some time to get settled. About six months later, we went for a month’s vacation (and some housework) to our place in Spain.
The differences between the two countries were striking.
While Spain and Portugal can both soothe the soul and lift one’s spirit, there’s a certain calm and sense of tranquility – a sweet sorrow – that permeates Portugal. There’s also a kindred serenity to Portugal, a balm that’s conveyed through the least likely of sources: its language!
Despite Slavic-like pronunciation, Portuguese has a softer “shhhhh…” sound than lisping Spanish. It’s as if Spanish words were blended, like French, with a sprinkling of something foreign and strangely exotic.
I doubt I will ever master Portuguese or be comfortably conversant in the language, since I stumble over my Spanish mentality. No matter how I try to understand the rules and logic behind Portuguese, I can’t. With rhyme yet without reason, the language makes no sense to me.
But I’ll keep trying and working on it.
Because, without realizing how or when it happened, we’d put down roots in Portugal. And language is one of its strongest supports.
Much as we love the place and its people, Spain has always been our home away from home—and it will continue to be … only more often and longer now, thanks to our Portuguese residency.
Maintaining our residence status requires us to spend at least 183 days within a 12-month period in Portugal. Conversely, we can be outside the country for 177 days during this period … a heck of a lot more than the 90 days allowed for USA passport holders to stay in Schengen zone countries.
Yet, who’s counting?
Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.