We gave our names to an administrator, turned over our IDs, and received a sheet of paper in return. Stepping behind tall folding screens at the opposite end of the room, I prepared to vote in my first Portuguese election.

Getting here was not easy.

The journey began in 2013. Living near the castle town of Penela, we hired an immigration attorney and began the process of securing citizenship for my husband. We thought then that he would be on a fast track because of his ancestry, but in fact he was one generation too late. We would have to wait until we were residents for six years, the requirement at that time.

In 2018 we applied for citizenship through an attorney in Cascais. We met the residency and language requirements, papers were filed, and fees were paid. Informed that the process would take approximately eighteen months, we began to wait patiently, looking forward to when we would hold Cartões de Cidadão of our adopted country.

More than halfway to our goal, the pandemic arrived. Trying to accomplish anything, once masks and lockdowns were introduced, was mostly fruitless. Requests about the status of our applications were met with explanations that sketchy staff meant longer wait times. Sometimes our inquiries were met with utter silence. Our attorney was stranded in Brazil due to travel restrictions. By the end of 2019, looking for freedom and a better quality of life during that difficult season, we moved to Sweden.

In January 2020 my husband was notified that he had become a Portuguese citizen. But what about me? After repeated unanswered queries, I finally learned I had not met the language requirement. What? When I submitted my certificate of successful completion of the curso intensivo in Portuguese at the University of Coimbra, I was told by our attorney that it was sufficient to demonstrate language competency. My husband had gone on to study at the Nova Universidade of Lisboa, and while there decided to take the CIPLE (Initial Certificate of Portuguese as a Foreign Language) test, so he had added that passing score to his application documents.

Now, two years after filing a citizenship application, I was informed I would need to take that CIPLE exam. I wrote letters of protest, pointing to my cultural contributions to promoting the country through my work with International Living: speaking twice annually at conferences in the States and writing articles and books extolling the virtues of life on the Iberian Peninsula. I even submitted a video of me speaking Portuguese at a civic event in Cascais. All in vain.

Although it’s possible to take this exam in various countries, it was not offered in Sweden at that time. Due to Covid, a number of exams had been cancelled in Lisbon. I had to wait until June for an available spot at the University of Algarve.

In anticipation of the exam I...

• set aside my Swedish studies on DuoLingo;

• refocused on Michel Thomas CDs, which had proved invaluable over the years;

• took practice exams provided online by CIPLE; and

• subscribed to the fun, informative YouTube channel Talk the Streets.

Months later I flew to Faro and checked into a hotel days before the exam. I watched local news in Portuguese each day (peppered with episodes of Murder, She Wrote when I needed a break), and spoke only Portuguese to everyone.

On the day of the exam, I arrived early on campus, joining two dozen others of varying ages and nationalities. After doing well in reading comprehension and writing, I began to relax. But for the aural portion, I jotted down tentative answers on scratch paper, and there was no time to transfer all the final ones onto the official form. Result? Potential disaster. (Tip: if you take the CIPLE, try to snag a seat in the front of the room; all sound systems are not created equal.) After a lunch break and before the oral interview, some of us chatted. I was not alone in my concerns.

Credits: Supplied Image;

I received my results in late July and by September my application process was completed at the Portuguese Embassy in Stockholm. Less than a year later, we were living once again in Portugal.

And so, a few weeks ago I held my ballot for Portugal’s national election. It was refreshing how easy it was: a sheet of paper printed on just one side, names of the various parties listed with an empty square box at the end of each line, awaiting the voter’s “X”. When done, I folded my paper and slipped it into the slot in a simple white box at the front of the room.

Getting there was surely not easy, but was it worth it? Absolutely.

Boa viagem!


Native New Yorker Tricia Pimental left the US in 2012, later becoming International Living’s first Portugal Correspondent. The award-winning author and her husband, now Portuguese citizens, currently live in Coimbra.

Tricia Pimental