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Are we giving up?
Two weeks ago, I asked Denise, “Do you want to give up? Is it time to consider another country?”
If you have been a long-term reader, you know that I was able to exchange my US driver’s license for a Portuguese one by simply following the online process offered by IMT. It took about 5 months from start to finish, and there were many times I was certain that it would never work. But it did.
Of course, Denise’s process did not proceed as planned. In completing the online process a month later1 I failed to scan the back of her residency card. She fell into a very deep black hole for over 12 months. You may recall after much gnashing of teeth and phoning a friend, who phoned a friend, Denise received her temporary Portuguese driver’s license. It is “good” until 30 June. Yes, it was frustrating. Yes, it was annoying. But we were done …. right? Wrong!
Last week Denise got an email from IMT. They will not issue her Portuguese driver’s license until SEF says that she lives in VRSA. It would appear, somehow, someone checked with SEF and found we were “living” in Cascais. Yes, we were living in Cascais when we first moved to Portugal. Yes, this is where we were living when we completed the process that provided our two-year Temporary Residency cards. But we moved, in January 2022.
At that time, I had gone online (with the help of our relocation agent) and completed an address change on Finanças. It took about 20 minutes but was relatively painless. I was under the impression that updating the Finanças database would update all the others. I was wrong! Very, very wrong.
Finanças and SEF systems, or anyone else it would appear, don’t talk to one another. There isn’t some interface engine (like those that I used to sell) that updates every database that needs to be updated. Oh “f#4k sh8t he&l”! How could I have been this stupid?
So it would appear we would need to call SEF. Unfortunately, I started calling SEF about 10 weeks ago. It was when I lost my cell phone and my Residency Card. The phone rang 15 or 20 times then disconnected. This was not a one-for-phone glitch. I did it dozens of times, at different times of the day, over multiple days. When I consulted Portuguese friends they said, “SEF never answers the phone, send them an email.” I sent emails … but no response. I sent a text to our relocation agent and she agreed it was difficult to get an answer from SEF. But, she suggested we wait until the first week of May. Perhaps, SEF answered the phone in May?
Luckily when Denise got the email from IMT it was the beginning of May. So I contacted our relocation agent again and asked her to get both of us an appointment. Denise for an address change, and me for an address change and lost card. She called, then sent me the following text:
SEF says it is too close to Denise and your Card renewal to do anything now. Wait until July, when you can renew both of your cards. I realize this is after 30 June. So I will call again tomorrow. I will likely get a different SEF agent and a different answer.
She called the next day … and unfortunately got the same answer. She also got the following instructions from IMT:
SEF advises that you (Nancy) carry the police report showing your card was stolen with you at all times until you get your new card.
When Bad Gets Worse
I have spoken to immigrants and Portuguese people. They all agree SEF has always “been broken”. But it is even worse now! For over 12 months, the country has suggested that SEF should be “disbanded”. That its various functions should be redistributed to other agencies or assigned to a new agency. Rumors were swirling …accusations were voiced … 3 agents were found guilty of homicide and flagrant abuse of power and authority after beating a Ukranian national at the airport … none of these things improve the morale and efficiency of a workforce.
While I never believe the dates I see in articles about the Portuguese government, an April article in Essential-Business.PT provided a status update:
At the start of this year, a Decree-Law was passed that defined the restructuring of SEF, with the transfer of its responsibilities to five different bodies. The Portuguese Minister for Home Affairs, José Luís Carneiro said that SEF would continue its normal functions until World Youth Day which will be held in Lisbon in the first week of August from 1-6 – well beyond the initial dissolution date of March 31.
The Government took the decision to dissolve SEF because it was simply overloaded, understaffed, and didn’t work – a conclusion borne out by the thousands of complaints over the years.
The border service’s tarnished image and reputation has not been a good advert for the recent wave of affluent Brazilian, French, US and UK relocaters who have applied for D7 and Golden Visas over the past three years, and whose lawyers have faced long queues and mountains of red tape.
The institution also fell into discredit over accusations of abuses of power and authority, allegations of corruption by officials in return for legalising immigrants by illegal means. — essential-business.pt
So we wait.
You would be well within your rights to suggest that we should have informed SEF of our move months earlier. I realize that ignorance of the law is no excuse. I also realize there are other avenues we can pursue: (1) drive over to the SEF office in Tavira and beg; (2) provide all kinds of documentation from VRSA showing we live here to IMT; and/or (3) ask IMT to extend the temporary license till September.
But, in the meantime, I really did ask Denise if this was enough to make her consider another country. Denise is much more of a rule follower than I am. Remember she retired from the US Navy. To me many rules are guidelines … is it really breaking the law if you go before the light turns green at 4:00 in the morning after you have stopped and discovered you are the only car on the road? I don’t think so. Denise does. So the fact that her temporary driver’s license will likely expire before we can rectify this issue is a big deal to her. As such, the topic has come up in conversations many, many times over the last few days.
When I suggest that perhaps we move to another country I get one of those looks.
“We loved Switzerland during our visit this summer, and the Swiss are known for being very, very efficient,” I suggested.
“Too cold and too expensive,” was the reply.
“Too cold…stop asking me that, we are not moving.”
So no, I guess we aren’t moving.
Every country has issues. And while the bureaucracy of Portugal is frustrating, we know our ignorance of all the rules and regulations compounds it even more.2 I write this not to suggest that we are seriously considering leaving…but rather to reinforce for those that have not yet crossed the pond to be prepared. You may think you know … but you don’t. Take a chill pill ... take quite a few. And if it helps ... start a blog where you can bitch and complain. Of course, the bitch-writing will only make you feel better for a few minutes. Then you will resort to driving to SEF and/or IMT ... you will probably call Ana again, to ask her to make another phone call for you. It's not the end of the world ... it's just Portugal.
Na próxima semana, visitaremos uma pequena cidade chamada Mértola, até lá…
Denise was planning a trip back to the States and didn’t want to turn in her US license until after the trip…so we delayed completing the application. Truth be told, we could have done them both at the same time, as it took at least 90 days for IMT to request the license be forfeited. And if you are planning to move to Portugal and have not left the States yet, consider requesting a “replacement license”, i.e. a duplicate, before you leave the States. Yes, this will require you to lie…but it isn’t a “big lie” and will allow you to not worry about giving away your sole license before receiving the new one!
And of course, bureaucracy will not cause my premature death in a shopping mall, school, church, in a driveway, or my own home.