Questions such as: if my residence card is about to expire, what can do I do? Can I go to Spain on holiday? Can I take out a loan? Or rent a flat? These are some of the doubts that many people have and that they cannot sort out because at the moment SEF is not giving enough answers.
This situation is not one affecting only a small number of people in the country, with SEF confirming that there are actually 223,000 people currently left in limbo due to not having a valid residency card for Portugal.
A Briton residing in the Algarve, whose residence permit is about to expire, told The Portugal News about several problems that could arise after their card expires in October.
“SEF is not making any appointments and my card will expire in October, which means I won’t be allowed to take out credit or transfer the ownership of a vehicle, or do anything that involves having a valid card”, they said.
“I’m not illegal in the country, but I can’t go on with my daily life like I used to because every time you try to do anything, one of the things that these entities ask for is the validity of your card, which will expire soon”, they added.
British Embassy gives advice
To clarify some of the main doubts around this subject, The Portugal News spoke to Marta Ceia, Consular Policy Officer at the British Embassy in Lisbon.
Firstly, Marta Ceia highlighted three different situations: citizens, who already resided in Portugal before 31 December; those who arrived (or want to) after 1 January, 2021; and those who have started to live in Portugal last year but didn’t have time to apply for residency.
British citizens who were already living in Portugal before 31 December, 2020, do not lose any of their rights as residents even with an expired residency permit.
“Those Britons who were already in Portugal are always under the agreement, meaning that they don’t lose their residency rights just because they haven’t renewed their residence permit”, said Marta Ceia.
“A British citizen residing in Portugal can travel to the UK and, on return, show the certificate with the QR-code as proof of residence in Portugal”, she said.
Regarding the lack of appointments with SEF: “SEF will not call you for appointments in its facilities, because it is not necessary”, said Marta, adding that the process now is this: “If the document is going to expire, you don’t have to make an appointment with SEF, you have to make your registration on this portal (https://brexit.sef.pt/en/) to be able to make the card exchange. When you sign in, the portal will automatically issue a QR-code certificate that is proof of residence in Portugal, that is, you do not have to get a new card. And those who no longer have a valid card can go to the portal and get this certificate with the QR code (even with an expired residence permit) - you don’t have to go to SEF to do this”, she told The Portugal News.
This is the first phase of the process (registration on that portal), the second one will be in Câmaras Municipais (Town Halls), “where, after the registration on the portal, they will get in touch with you to schedule an appointment to collect your biometric data and thus make the automatic renovation of the residence to finally get the new residence card for third country nationals”.
Arrivals from 1 January 2021
With regard to people who arrived from the UK after 1 January, they are under the same rules as any other third country. “They must apply for a visa at the Portuguese consulate where they live and meet with SEF to apply for a residence permits”, said the Consular Policy Officer in Lisbon.
For more information, please see: https://www.gov.uk/world/living-in-portugal
Living in Portugal before 2021 without registration
The third situation concerns British residents who started living in Portugal last year (before the end of the transition period) but are not yet registered. In this situation, the Consular Policy Officer explains that these people are protected under the agreement that ran until 31 December, 2020.
If you are in this situation, you must email firstname.lastname@example.org to request registration, attaching documents that prove that you started living in Portugal last year. You must include a scanned copy of your passport, proof of address and a proof that you were living in Portugal before January 2021.
Marta suggests: “To prove that you were a resident before the end of the transition period you must have a document that proves your residency during that period, which could be, for instance, the document of purchase of a property or a rental contract or even an Airbnb contract. Whatever the document is, it must be in your name or in your spouse’s name (with legal connection)”.
The second request to be answered is to prove that you really lived in Portugal. For this you can attach a proof of consumptions in the country. For example, bank statements or household accounts can be good and easy ways to prove this.
However, there are residents who have not received an answer from SEF. “We are aware that there are cases of people who have already sent these documents without getting an answer. For this reason, we are dealing with SEF in order to accelerate this process. Until then, these people are in Portugal and remain with the right to be in Portugal”.
Regarding this, The Portugal News has contacted SEF who replied saying that “all foreign citizens with processes pending at SEF, whose request was made between 18 March and 30 April, 2021 are temporarily legal in the national territory until the final decision of the respective process”, adding that there are around 223,000 foreign citizens in this situation.
In addition, in the pandemic context, “it was provided for that foreign citizens with procedures pending at SEF are, temporarily, in a regular situation in national territory, until 31 December, namely to access the National Health Service or other health care rights, signing of employment contracts and the opening bank accounts” etc, SEF stated.
But the problems go on
However, the foreign resident who spoke to The Portugal News, said that they are not sure about this. “I’ve done the registration on the SEF Portal and I’ve got the certificate and the QR-code…another piece of paper to carry in my wallet”, they said.
“Last time I went to the parish council, and although they are public authorities, they don’t even know what this certificate is, no one knows what it is, it seems that only SEF and the Embassy know what it is”.
That’s why they are afraid her life will be stuck in the next couple of months when her card expires. Despite all the rules, they doesn’t believe that this actually applies when it comes to the reality of everyday life in Portugal.
“How can I fill out an application? Do you think that a system will accept an expired card? I don’t believe that the QR-code will work because there is no expiration date on the certificate to replace the expired one on the card, so the systems just won’t accept it and it’s not the workers’ fault. We can stay in the country, but this interferes with our daily lives. Nobody has thought about this properly,” they concluded.