Since the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, British residents in Portugal have been urged to exchange old residency documentation for a new biometric card. While the process initially drew a large amount of criticism due to a lack of appointments or the need to travel long distances to get their new card, the Ambassador assures that problems have been ironed out.

“For several months now there have been appointments with SEF for the new card and this is good news,” said the Ambassador. “Already there have been almost 30,000 new residence cards processed by SEF, which is quite a number, but we are asking for those British citizens who are entitled to the card to come forward and make an appointment.

“Come forward”

There is no official number of how many citizens have yet to come forward as there is no official register of how many British people are residing in Portugal without documentation however, the Ambassador believes that there are “several thousand” who are still eligible.

Anyone who has an old residency, or is eligible to apply for one, is urged by the Ambassador to make an appointment: “The cards are important to avoid any potential difficulties while living in Portugal, such as access to health care, social security, education and even in some cases with banking”. There is also the possibility now for eligible close family members of residency holders to also apply on the SEF Brexit portal. “This is a very recently added process, one which we have been raising with the authorities for some time and this is good news,” said the Ambassador who suggests that those who are interested in this visit the Brits in Portugal Facebook page where information about this is available.

Regarding British citizens who hold old residency documentation, the Ambassador assured that people will not lose their rights in Portugal but reiterated that by having a new biometric residency card any potential problems in accessing services should be avoided.

“We recognise that for some gaining the new residency card has been a long process with difficulties but now everything is in place to make a local appointment and get your new card”.

90-day rule

Since the withdrawal of Britain from the EU other issues have also arisen, particularly for British owners of properties in Portugal who are looking to stay in the country for longer periods of time but are now required to fulfil Schengen rules regarding the number of days that they can be in the country.

Chris Sainty explained that while the issue is of course of importance to British citizens, it is one that is ruled by the Schengen zone and British authorities have no say in this.

“Portugal is part of the Schengen zone and the same rules apply to all countries in the zone. We are not aware of any information about these rules being altered for British citizens while we appreciate that people want the right to stay for longer. The 90-day ruling is a visa-free process but there are options for visas for those who want to stay for longer and these are issued by the Portuguese authorities”.


And as for the repercussions regarding anyone overstaying their time in Portugal without having a valid visa, the Ambassador confirmed that the Embassy has not been made aware of any cases of fines, detentions or travel bans being imposed on British citizens, however, this is not to say that this has happened without their knowledge.

Regarding the need for British citizens who are not residents having to have their passports stamped upon arrival in Portugal, which has led to airport queues, particularly at peak periods, Chris Sainty explained that yet again this is an issue for the EU and at the moment he has not been informed of any plans to alter this in Portugal, although he highlighted that E-gates at airports have sped up procedures.

Looking to the past and the future

This year Portugal and the UK are celebrating the 650th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Alliance, which took place in 1373 between Kind Edward III of England and Jing Fernando and Queen Leonor of Portugal.

To mark the occasion there will be celebrations in London in June which the Ambassador confirmed will also include King Charles III, although when asked if the new King will be travelling to Portugal in the near future Chris Sainty was unable to confirm any plans.

“The treaty is still relevant today and is a remarkable sign of unity between the two countries”, said the Ambassador who also highlighted that 13 June also marks one year since a new Joint Declaration of Bilateral Relations between the UK and Portugal was signed. This new agreement is considered to be a “big achievement”.

“Following the challenges presented by Brexit and difficult moments during the pandemic regarding travel it is fantastic to be able to put this all behind us and look to the future,” said the Ambassador who highlighted agreements in defence, security, science and education and tourism and culture as some of the elements of the declaration which will be fleshed out over time.

And as for the future of Chris Sainty as British Ambassador to Portugal? “I love it here, being British Ambassador to Portugal is about as good as it gets, not only because of the history but also because of the exciting future ahead.

“I have been here for over four years but I am still keen to contribute and make a difference – there are still many things to achieve.”

For further information about the British Embassy or for advice on living in Portugal as a British citizen, please visit the Brits in Portugal Facebook page: or visit for information which is regularly updated to help British citizens in Portugal.


Originally from the UK, Daisy has been living and working in Portugal for more than 20 years. She has worked in PR, marketing and journalism, and has been the editor of The Portugal News since 2019. Jornalista 7920

Daisy Sampson