Hi, I'm Paul 👋

Monday June 8, 2020

Getting the D7 visa for Portugal 🇵🇹

In early 2020, our UK visas were coming to an end, and we needed to find somewhere to go. There were various options in different parts of Europe, but we were looking for somewhere to live that was warmer and ideally a bit more relaxed than London. We both work online, so it was more or less down to "where has nice weather and good food and will let us and the cat live there long term without too much faff?". We wanted to stay in Europe, but as we're both non-EU nationals, unfortunately we can't just turn up anywhere in Europe and stay without hassle. I delved into the various residency options across the EU.

The Spanish non-lucrative visa was an option, as was the Greek financially-independent visa, and the nice people over at the Italian Startup Visa office had preapproved me for one of those several years ago (before we ended up moving to London instead), so that was a possibility too. But then I came across the rather obscure D7 visa in Portugal, which after I dug into it a little, it looked like a better fit.

My biggest annoyance was the lack of information about it on the internet, so I've been meaning to write a blog post for a while about my experiences with the Portugese immigration system − specifically, the D7 visa requirements, and what I went through to apply and get this in London. Several months later, I'm finally getting around to it, writing up answers to all the questions I had back in January.

What's a D7?

The D7 is referred to in various places as a "passive income visa", and an alternative to the much more well-known golden visa for people wanting to retire. From scanning these pages, the D7 appears to be mainly designed for retirees with a pension coming from their home country, who don't want to commit the 500k euros for the golden visa. Not immediately promising.

But if we check the official documentation though, it's official purpose is broader than retirement:

For people living out from personal revenue: Document certifying revenue from movable and immovable property; intellectual or financial assets.

Hey, that sounds more like it, I've got personal revenue. I wonder how much they need?

The minimum income varies according to the number of persons making up the applicant's household, to be counted as follows: - First adult (applicant): 100% of the current minimum wage (EUR 635) = EUR 7,620 /year; - Second adult (spouse or partner): 50% of the current minimum wage (EUR 317.50) = EUR 3,810/year;

So in theory, only about 10,000 euro per year for two people. Seems like a pretty low bar − but beware the next point...

As this is a discretionary decision by the Portuguese judging authority, naturally the higher the proven earnings, the greater the chances of the applicant to succeed in his application for a D7 Visa.

Right. So you need a minimum as the above, but after that it's basically a judgement call on the part of whoever looks at it.

What kind of 'personal revenue' is acceptable?

This is where it gets a little stickier. I couldn't get a straight answer out of anyone (several law firms, and the PT London embassy...), as to whether "I work remotely for non-Portugese clients and I want to sit in Lisbon and make money online and then spend it locally" was an acceptable basis for getting the D7. Half the law firms said yes, half said no, and the embassy didn't seem to understand the concept and stopped replying to me. But there were several blog posts out there by people who worked online like me and had successfully applied with only that.

I suspect this is an example of the marvellous 'discretionary decision' process at work. When judging the application, they do a tradeoff between amount of money and how reliable it's percieved to be. So they might okay a pension of 10,000/year, but deny an application where there was double that income if it was only comprised of remote work, on the basis of one being more reliable than the other. In other words, the most important part of this was to make a 'good case' for us not being a drain on the Portugese state. I was quite sure that we wouldn't be, but me knowing that and a bureaucrat in Lisbon being convinced of that are two different things.

OK, let's say I've got some revenue to demonstrate. How does the D7 process work?

There's a few steps involved.

  1. Collect up all the paperwork and apply at your local Portugese embassy, wherever it is you legally live currently (ie: you can't be a tourist there). Give them paperwork and some money. If you're unlucky like me, you'll have to go via VFS, so you'll have to give them some money too, sigh. (Still, the couple of hundred euros total for this is a hell of a lot cheaper than other countries I could name. But I digress.)
  2. Assuming the embassy approves the D7, they give you a full-page visa sticker in your passport, in the standard Schengen D-visa format. You can now go to Portugal! But wait, there's a catch, the visa is only valid for two entries and 90 days.
  3. However, the visa sticker has an ID number on it, which you use to log into the "Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras" (SEF − the immigration department) website. It'll give you an appointment date.
  4. On the appointment date, go along to the SEF office and bring all the same stack of paperwork from 1. Also give them a bit more money.
  5. Your residence card will turn up in the post after a few more weeks.

What about the rest of the family?

This part is pretty easy to start. Your dependents can enter as tourists, and then make an appointment in-country to visit SEF to apply for a residence permit, after you as the main applicant have recieved yours. This may take some months, as they're pretty backed up, but as long as the appointment is made, everyone is all nice and legal. Plus as a bonus, your family get local work permits, so if they want they can work locally (though you can't).

Luckily for my partner then, she didn't have to do anything at the time, just pack a bag. I, on the other hand, had a bunch of paperwork to prepare.

What documents were needed to apply?

Being familiar with these kinds of discretionary-decision immigration processes from my time living in less civilised parts of the world, it's best to err on the side of 'too much evidence' rather than 'not enough'. So I hedged my bets and prepared paperwork showing a) savings, b) active client contracts, and c) passive income via my index fund back home. There's also a list of standard paperwork that's needed, which I cobbled together out of blog posts from other people.

  1. Passport. Hopefully you have one of those.
  2. Passport photos. Make sure to get them in the right size.
  3. Appointment letter. From VFS, for me.
  4. Letter. I wrote a page or so talking about what I did and how I'd like to do it in Lisbon. Check it out here.
  5. Health insurance. Opinions were divided as to whether standard travel insurance would work, or if you needed 'real' insurance. I decided to err on the safe side, and went with Allianz.
  6. Criminal record cert from wherever you live. Luckily for me, in the UK this is easy to get online.
  7. Accommodation details in Lisbon. This is a pain − it would appear that they want a long-term lease nowdays of at least a year. I found a few people online complaining that their short hotel booking wasn't accepted. We ended up finding a nice Airbnb, negotiating a monthly rate and booking it for a year online. This had the bonus that I'd get most of the money back if they said no.
  8. Application for national visa, residence and temporary stay. This form.
  9. A letter stating (in Portugese...) that I allow the PT authorities to search their record database for evidence of, I'm not quite sure. Bad stuff, I guess? Anyway, they gave me some wording at VFS and I wrote one on the spot, but if you were smarter than me you'd have prepared it before hand.
  10. Flights in and out (!) of Portugal. I booked a quick BA flight on my phone on the spot as I didn't have this beforehand.

Plus there were the financial documents:

  1. Bank statements. 6 months.
  2. Index fund balance and statements. 6 months worth again.
  3. Tax returns. My last few years of HMRC reciepts.

And my active-income stuff:

  1. Several client contracts, and letters from each saying how they're working with me on an ongoing monthly-retainer basis.
  2. The Upwork earnings report, the PDF generated via the website, showing my 3/6/12 month income through the platform. Luckily I have one big client who's billed via that, so it looked pretty good.

I saw a few people online saying they needed everything notorised, but I wasn't asked for that.

How long does it take?

Once you've got all the paperwork, it's surprisingly quick. I applied on Feb 3rd, and I picked up my passport with D7 inside on March 5th, about a month later. This compares pretty favourably with, say, the Spanish non-lucrative visa, which can take up to six months to process.

So, all sorted now?

Unfortuantely we happened to move just as COVID-19 really came into force, and all SEF appointments are frozen until July at least. I suspect we may have everything sorted by Christmas, but before then is looking unlikely. It's ok, there's worse places to spend some time than Lisbon. And we can still travel inside of Schengen, once that reopens.