The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

Professor/pastor probing media, religion, gender, international living, and allied cultural norms.

These words inscribed on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites profile how I imagine myself.

So, there: now you know enough about me.

Reading between the lines, however, would inform you that we had moved around the USA quite a bit – living in New York, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, Florida – as career changes and professional opportunities beckoned. Fluent in Spanish, I traveled throughout Mexico, South and Central America, as a liaison for international adoption agencies.

As mentioned, my better half and I had long considered living in another country and experiencing a different culture. Learning a new language to converse and communicate, we believed, was an admirable goal. Some people are so defensive of their own ways and means that their sense of identity and nationalism is threatened when other ways are engaged in and embraced.

With credentials from the University of Madrid, a vacation bolt in Andalucía, and a growing circle of friends there, Spain seemed a natural first choice for us. But the process of applying for and being granted retirement residency in Spain can be onerous and demanding at best, next to impossible at worst.

Many countries of the European Union are also part of what’s known as the “Schengen” zone. The same Schengen application form is used to apply for residency in any of its 22 EU nations. But the interpretations of myriad functional requirements often vary from country to country.

Take finances, for example.

All Schengen countries want to know that you have the financial means to provide adequately for yourself and your dependents, without being a burden on the country and its economy. All countries seek proof that you have the necessary wherewithal—albeit from Social Security, other pensions and annuities, investments and savings, bank accounts, even credit immediately available via “charge” cards.

Spain dictates specific annual earnings expected retirees must receive: “The minimum income required is 400% of the IPREM (Public Income Index) annually plus the required percentage per each additional family member.” At the time, that meant, for a retirement visa and residency in Spain, one was expected to receive no less than $2,500 per month or $30,000 a year. Add $7,500 more for each dependent. I’m told that now, for some reason, those amounts are slightly less.


How many Spaniards – especially those living in small towns throughout the country – earn that kind of money? Very, very few! For a country where the cost of living is so relatively low, I maintain Spain is shooting itself in the foot by requiring such high income levels from prospective retirees who would likely support the economy by spending money on their homes, food, and lots of leisure time activities.

Consider Portugal, now: €14,000 annually is an approximated income you have to make to get a “D7” residency visa in Portugal. But it can change depending on the number of “dependents” (wife, children, etc.). That amount is basically considered 100% of the minimum wage (MW) required for the husband/or wife (the visa’s owner) + 50% of the MW for his wife/her husband. For each child, it’s 30% of the MW. Portugal’s 2018 monthly minimum wage was 580 euros … although in 2020 it’s almost 700 euros..

Unless it has changed, financial means or financial subsistence in Portugal doesn’t require proof of income, simply proof of access to funds. Savings, bank accounts, investment funds, etc., all count as money to which you have access.

“You can qualify for permanent residency in Portugal simply by showing a reliable minimum income of at least 1,100 euros per month,” U.S. News & World Report reported. “This program is not intended specifically for retirees and is open to anyone. You can apply and qualify at any age, and the income you show can be earned or passive.”

In other words, money in banks … savings and retirement accounts … investments … even a line of credit on your “charge” card will count towards meeting your financial means in Portugal, as long as you have access to the money. The same holds true in many other EU countries: Italy and France are particularly popular, among others.

The process of applying for the right to reside in a Schengen EU country includes completing and/or acquiring much time-consuming paperwork, lots of patience, and more money than might be imagined. Included among the documents (some only available for a fee) required to be submitted with the official visa application: Original passport, a copy of the passport, and another accepted form of identification (driver’s license, state ID, or voter’s registration card). Plus a copy of this. A notarized document explaining why you are requesting the visa … the purpose, place, and length of your stay (and any other reasons you need to explain). Proof of permanent retirement income from an official institution (social security and/or private source) to live without working. Proof of accommodation: either a lease or title deed of property you own. Proof of other sources of income or properties (if applicable). Proof of health insurance with full coverage, necessarily including repatriation coverage. Criminal History Information/Police Background Check, which must be verified by fingerprints. It cannot be older than three months from the application date. The certificate must be issued from either the State Department(s) of Justice from every state you’ve lived in during the past five years. This document must then be legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the corresponding Secretary of the State. Alternatively, FBI Records, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and legalized with the Apostille of the Hague Convention by the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC, are acceptable. (A local police background check will not be accepted; but you must also get a police record from the countries where you have lived during the last five years.) A recent doctor’s statement signed by the physician on the physician’s or medical center’s letterhead (not older than three months in) indicating that you have been examined and found free of any contagious diseases according to the International Health Regulation 2005. Married? Your spouse must submit the same documents as you, together with a marriage certificate (original, issued in the last six months, plus a photocopy). Minor children must also submit the same documents as the applicant, along with original birth certificates issued in the last twelve months … and a photocopy.

Quite a list, huh? But, that’s only the beginning!

For Spain, every document submitted must be translated into Spanish … and not just by anyone. Only “certified” translators identified – many of whom charge @ $40 per page to translate – are acceptable. Despite being fluent in Spanish and having taught the language for quite a few years, I wasn’t on the list and couldn’t do our own translations.

But, for us, the real sticking point was the annual retirement income requirement. We owned (without a mortgage) our home in Spain and could live quite comfortably in our small town on my monthly Social Security payments. Nonetheless, $1,700 per month supplemented by a $250 private annuity didn’t come close to the $2,500 Spain required. Especially not when factoring in my spousal dependent.

We could enjoy visiting Spain twice each year for up to 90 days per visit when separated by 180 days … but we couldn’t live there full-time.

Bem vindo, Portugal!

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2 thoughts on “The Bureaucracy Begins: Applying for a Long-Term EU Visa

  1. I enjoy reading all of your posts!! Since you have places in Spain and Portugal, and are sticking with the Portuguese residency is there any limit to the time you can spend on Spain? The more I look at the taxes in Spain, the more a situation like yours (living in both) makes sense.

    • Smart thinking! All things considered, we can spend just shy of six months (180 days or so) outside of Portugal, while retaining our Portuguese residency. Our situation may be different than some others because we have what’s called “Non Habitual Residency” (NHR) status in Portugal … which provides us with some very major tax advantages! Do a Google search on it for more details. (Without NHR status, you may be able to spend even more time in Spain.) All that said, we have come to truly love Portugal because of its differences from Spain and are delighted to have one foot in each country! Hope this helps.

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