After travelling for the better part of September, we are now about 75% of the way toward our goal of moving to Portugal. I went solo since it was much cheaper that way, and someone had to hold down the fort and watch the Jiver, our precious soccer paws.
I spent ten days and about $1,800 for airfare, food and Airbnb to accomplish three goals: find a place to live in Porto, get an n.i.f. number, which is a Portuguese tax ID number, and open a bank account. So, here’s the thing: getting the NIF number is not easy. You must have a reference in Portugal and if you don’t know anyone there, good luck with that! And when I say reference, I don’t mean someone who’ll say you are OK (though you will need that too), but someone who is willing to be financially responsible for you should you default on anything. What you need is a procurador fiscal, or financial guarantor. (I learned these details as I went.)
After two days of spinning my wheels, I started to freak out. How in the hell was I going to do any of this?! Finally, I found a couple of sites online for the sale and rental of apartments. Idealista had plenty of offerings, most of which were out of our price range. But I found a few that might work, so I sent messages asking if I could see them. While I waited for a response regarding seeing some apartments…
I went to Santander bank, which is recommended for expats, and they told me I would need the tax ID number and an address before I could open an account. So, the next morning I went to the financial services office and they told me that I would need a reference in Portugal and an address there before they could issue me an NIF number. Ugh. Frustration is my business! I had a reference in my friend who let me use her address in Lisbon to apply for a visa online, but that was not enough. Add to that the fact that she is moving back to the States in October, and I am now seriously S.O.L.
The funny thing was that I got words of encouragement whenever I was dejected all along the way. After striking out at the financial services office, I went to breakfast at a place called Mesa 325. A great place to go if you are ever in the Bonfim neighborhood of Porto, which is where I was staying. There was a sign on the wall that read: Everything is going to be OK. EGBOK, thanks, I needed that! And the overnight oats served with yogurt and fruit is delicious!
The next few days I looked at three listings. The first was in a neighborhood in Porto called Casa da Musica. Ok, I thought, I like the sound of that! I took the metro over and sadly; the place was a dump for $850 Euros per month. (My friend was not wrong, Porto is expensive!)
Then, I lined up a couple of showings in Vila Nova de Gaia. Gaia is across the Douro river from Porto. It is where they store the port wine for ageing. It is about a fifteen minute walk from downtown Porto and is beautiful. The first apartment was it! Three bedrooms, 1200 square feet, and a km from the beach for $650 Euros per month in a nice quiet neighborhood. Now we’re talking! The entry has wall paper that looks like a bad 70s acid flashback, but that can easily be changed. Otherwise it was a good deal compared to what I had seen in Porto proper. The Remax agent that showed it to me has become our fairy Godfather. Since we couldn’t even sign a lease agreement legally without the NIF number, he got on the phone until he found someone who could get it for us. He took a picture of my passport and I got a picture of Joe’s for him and he said we’d talk the next day.
He texted me the next morning and said, “Great news, you both now have NIF numbers! He got the Re-max company’s attorney to agree to be our fiscal guarantor and overnight we got our tax ID numbers. Mind you, it will cost us 100 Euros per month until we get our permanent ID cards. He assures me that it won’t take more than a couple of months and will help us when we get there.
The housing market is so tight in the Porto area that I had to agree to pay a year in advance and sign a three-year contract to secure the place over other applicants. I was perfectly happy to pay a year of rent in advance and, having been in real estate myself for many years, know that everything else is negotiable, so I signed the lease agreement. At which point I was informed that after a year we can renegotiate the deal. Once I left Rui’s office, I went to Millennium BCP bank, which he recommended, and opened an account. Armed with the NIF document and an address, I could now open an account.
Now, I could return to BFE, USA and finish preparing for our visa appointment in San Francisco. Whew. That was a wild ride. Many thanks to my Airbnb hosts for guiding me and helping me out when there was a taxi strike on the day I returned to Lisbon to catch my flight back to the states! The Portuguese people are wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I can’t wait to live there. But we still have a long way to go.