It’ a Miracle!

Well, it only took four months from the application date, but we finally got word that our resident visa to live in Portugal has been approved.  Holy mother of the wait from Hell!  I am in shock, and it seems so surreal that we will actually be leaving in about three weeks!  So much to do it is staggering because so many things hinged on getting visa approval.  It is a little over a year since we set out on our first trip to Portugal last February.  I still can’t believe how long and trying a journey it has been, and we are just getting started!  We are still on the road to Portugal, but soon we can rename the blog Adventures in Portugal.  Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah! 

It is strange how some things have come so easily: selling the harp, getting NIF numbers and a decent place to live in the Porto area.  And how long and painful a wait it was for visa approval.  I was so desperate that I was about to agree to pay two grand to an immigration attorney in Lisbon to try and help us speed up the process.  (haha, never use the word speed when talking about government of any kind!)  I had just texted Joe about the cost when he got the email from the consulate that our visas had been approved. (Whew, that was close!)  This, the day after the consulate received the letter I sent with a cashier’s check for the visa application fee, which was not collected from us at the time of application. I can only assume because their systems were down. Hmmm.  Coincidence?  You decide.  Anyone who tells you that it’s easy to move to ANY other country is full of it and/or selling something!

Yup, with no plan B, failure is not an option!
We are all in. Vamos!

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.  Tally ho, and away we go!

Give Me Visa Approval or Give me Death!

( I’m pretty sure that death would be quicker and less painful!)

Well, it’s the end of December, and as everyone says to me lately, you’re still here… yup, we are still here in beautiful BFE, USA.  Ok, not so beautiful when the high probably won’t crack 20 degrees tomorrow.  Not to mention the government shutdown due to mango unchained and his hare-brained ideas.  I was hoping to be gone by October and here we are staring down the barrel of January 2019.

Let’s recap, shall we?  We started the process of moving to Portugal last March 2018.  Ten months later, it feels like we are no closer to achieving that goal than we were then.  Now, a lot has happened since then. And here is my advice to anyone contemplating a move to another country:  do not believe what you read on the internet.  There, I was told that a resident visa could take anywhere from two to four weeks for approval and that Portugal was one of the easier countries to emigrate to.  A friend who resided in Lisbon for a year said that it shouldn’t take more than a month.  On December 24th (X-mas eve, bummer!) it was 90 days since we made our visa application and, we are still waiting.  (Granted, the Portuguese visa website says to apply 90 days out, and hey, it’s the Portuguese government, after all.  It could be worse, I guess, could be Spain or Italy.)  It may take more than twice as long as you think to get that resident visa approval and will certainly cost you at least twice as much as you might think.

Once again, I am reminded of Kafka’s The Trial and have started to suspect that our government idiocy isn’t helping our cause any. If only I could have done this two years ago.  That is when I decided that I wanted to relocate to another country, and it is now over two years in the making.  I could never have guessed that it would take so long.  I thought, six months, tops.  Boy, was I unclear! 

Since first submitting our online visa application in July, which got us an in-person visa application appointment in San Francisco in September, it has been almost six months.  The time disconnect between the online application and the in-person appointment (Not to mention the stress levels involved,) caused me to forget that in the email I got acknowledging my online application, was listed a site where I could check the status of my visa application.  I completely disregarded this since we weren’t there yet and wouldn’t be for a couple more months.

I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago and thought, wait a minute, wasn’t there something about checking visa status somewhere?  After going through months of emails, I found it and the password to access the site.  Hallelujah!  Now finally, maybe I could find out something about our progress.  Here’s what it said… there are four stages in the visa application process:   Application acceptance, consideration, analyzation and finish.  Our applications have been analyzed.  Or, as I like to say:  we’ve been done, duly analyzed!  So, now we know that we are one step from our visa application process being finished.  What does that mean, exactly?  Diddly squat from where I’m sitting.  We are thisclose, apparently, although what that might mean in real-time, I have no idea.  Just as in The Trial, it seems to have no end.

My assessment of the whole process?  I think that resident visa approval to move to another country is a moving target (like trying to nail jello to a tree) that depends on timing and political climates.  Five years ago, I’m sure it would have been A LOT easier.

As a result, we are looking forward to a bleak and dismal New Year, and we are still waiting.  Ugh.  Darkness before the dawn?  I can only hope as we go on month number four of paying for two places to live, one unoccupied and where we want to be.  (Having an address in Portugal was one of the resident visa application requirements.) Let’s hope that the new year will bring good news ASAP.  In the meantime, happy new year, and I hope that we will have a happy one next year.

Thanks to Mark Baylor for reminding me to keep at it!

Hold Please continued.

Well, we survived Thanksgiving (three-alarm hangover notwithstanding).  What is it about the holidays that makes us think it’s ok to drink EVERYTHING in one night?  (Oh yeah, friends and relatives.) The turkey was even good thanks to Marczyk’s Willie bird and a prosciutto and chili rub treatment.  Thanks for an excellent meal, guys.

So, we’re going on eight weeks since our visa application and zero word from the Portuguese consulate.  If we don’t hear something SOON, and we are stuck here through X-mas, I may have a complete meltdown.  I’m not going to lie; the waiting is killing me.  Not to mention paying for two places to live, one in Gaia that is vacant.  I won’t even go into how much I hate “the holidays,” especially X-mas.  After harping for dollars for ten years, if I never hear another X-mas tune again, it will be too soon.

I hear that X-mas is big in Portugal,  and I can’t wait to try the freshly roasted chestnuts sold on street corners everywhere.  Oh, and did I mention the Bananeiro festival in Braga?  When I first started researching Portugal over a year ago, I came across the banana and Moscatel fest that happens on Christmas eve in Braga, which is about an hour north of Porto.  Banana and Moscatel festival, you say?  How wacky, let’s go!  So, I started fantasizing about going to Portugal for X-mas last year already.

X-mas banana
Merry X-mas banana. (Only in Portugal.)

The tropical fruit and wine fest is the outcome of some mad marketing by a guy who owned a banana warehouse and wanted to attract customers.  On Christmas eve a few decades ago, he offered a glass of sweet Moscatel wine to anyone who bought some bananas, and it became a thing, as they say.  And now, every year thousands of folks descend upon the banana warehouse in Braga on Christmas eve.  Just the thought of it makes me laugh, and, want to try it, banana and Moscatel, that is.  It could be a great pairing.

Meanwhile, still in government limbo hell, I realize that it’s too late to be early.  Even if our visa approval comes through this week, we are already in the middle of holiday travel season hell.  Finding a decent one-way airfare will be nearly impossible.  So, if anyone, anyone (of my three readers) knows someone with a private jet that can move us from N.Y to Lisbon once we get that pesky visa, I will throw in free accommodations with us in Portugal for life.  Keep your ears open and let me know, will ya’?  Thanks a bunch, and I will keep you posted of events as they occur.  (Here’s to hoping that events will occur SOON. Hope with me, won’t you?) We need all the help we can get.

Jiver is all decked out and ready to go with his happy santa tail. (You can see Happy Santa Tail on You Tube or Instragram.)

Jiver is all decked out and ready to go with his happy santa tail.

Hold, please.

After our visa appointment in San Francisco and some breakfast, we headed back to the airport.  Joe flew back to Denver, and I went on to L.A. to see family there.

I texted our realtor in Portugal and asked if he would be willing to be our reference, and he responded that he would be glad to.  It’s a good thing that he agreed to help us, once again, since we don’t know anyone else over there!  Thank you, Rui Castro!  You are our hero!

It was fun to catch up with friends and family and be reminded of why I wouldn’t want to live in L.A. again.  An hour to get from the west side to the valley during rush hour.  Really, it takes an hour to get just about anywhere in a car in L.A.   Pass on that action.  At least, the weather was nice.  The wining and dining were great, and it was a nice distraction from knowing that we would be stuck in the US for at least another probably eight weeks.

I was warned about the snail’s pace of government bureaucracy in Portugal but, when I returned to Denver and FedExed the last documents to the consulate, I tried to email them as well.  All emails have been returned as undeliverable.  There is a phone number on the website that states that the Portuguese consulate is currently not taking phone calls or returning messages.  There was an SOS email to which I sent a note saying that I had FedExed documents to them and would they please confirm receipt of said documents.  I received a reply that my email was received and nothing else.  Ugh!  They did warn us, but the complete lack of communication is disconcerting, to say the least!

On the heels of all this, a hurricane hit Portugal on October 13th.  The first one of this magnitude to hit in 176 years!  Awesome.  Luckily, by the time it hit landfall, hurricane Leslie was downgraded to a tropical depression and did the most damage to Lisbon.  where a beachside restaurant was destroyed and the roof of a stadium blown off.  I texted our fairy Godfather, Rui, and he replied that Porto was OK, just a lot of wind and rain.  So, our place is vacant but still standing.  Hallelujah.  Thank God for small favors!

So, now we wait.  The Portuguese consulate has our passports, and I guess that is about all we can do.  That and cross our fingers and pray to God!  I’m also guessing that it will be December before we get our visas, at the rate we’re going.  And I wanted to be out of here before last summer!  Haha.  Now it looks like we will have to endure half the winter in BFE, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Here’s to hoping for a mild one courtesy of El Nino.

Our gracious host/landlord is hosting Thanksgiving and has invited us, which is so nice and, obviously, we will attend, but have I mentioned how much I hate turkey?  Why do Americans think it is so great?  Oh, never mind.  There are many things that Americans love that I don’t care for, which is one of the many reasons we have got to get out of here!  Holding.  And dreaming of Portuguese food!

Grilled cod dinner at Churrasqueira Kinay in Porto.

Buckle up and travel light.

After traveling 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 NIF 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 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 ex-pats, 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.  They told me that I would need a reference in Portugal and an address there before they could issue me a 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.

Over the next few days, I looked at three listings.  The first was in a neighborhood in Porto called Casa da Musica.  Which is where the concert hall of the same name is located.  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.)

Gaia.Porto
The view from Gaia to Porto

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 aging.  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 wallpaper 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 worked in real estate myself for many years, I 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.

Gaia.Port
White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval Port house in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) My reward for missions accomplished.

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 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.

Back to BFE, USA and points west.

Having returned from ten days in Portugal, I now had two days to finish preparing for our visa appointment in San Francisco.  I may have mentioned that BFE Denver, Colorado, does not have a Portuguese consulate. Rumor has it that it once did but, that was before my time.  So…if you want to apply for a resident visa to live in Portugal, and you live in BFE, Denver, you must go in person to the Portuguese consulate in San Francisco.  Online sites say how easy it is to move to Portugal.  These are bald-faced lies; easy it is not!

Among other things required to obtain a resident visa for Portugal are: (and they don’t mention them all on the “official” site, mind you) $3,000 per person relocating deposited in a Portuguese bank account (See the previous post on the catch 22s of opening a bank account over there!) and, ideally at least $50,000 in liquid assets, read cash, per person as well.

I also read that everything (all documents) should be in duplicate.  I compiled a list of documents, in duplicate that included all items on the Portuguese consulate’s list of required items including  letters of intent (why you want to live in Portugal, and what you plan to do while there.  I’ve also read that you had better keep it simple and doable because they judge your worthiness on how probable your statements are to actually happen).  Proof of plane tickets to Portugal and back, because you must come back to the States to renew your visa every year for the first five years.  Here’s the kicker:  how do you make plane reservations when you don’t know when the visa will be approved?  If you don’t plan to return to the city in the US you left, you can’t get round trip tickets and…then what?!  Oh, and I was also told to include birth certificates and marriage license, if applicable.

Holy mother of, can you believe it?  It is a miracle to me that anyone pulls this off.  You had better have the tenacity of ten Jack Russell terriers to get through the process.  I could not figure out what to do for plane tickets since I had heard that they are not always required.  I purchased one-way tickets to Lisbon, leaving on October 20th.    This date was a stab in the dark.  I got the travel insurance knowing I would probably have to change the date.

I was freaking out about it after my friend told me you HAVE to have a return ticket.  The night before the visa appointment, as we sat in a hotel room in Burlingame, California (S.F., by the airport), I purchased round trip tickets with random dates in September 2019 from Lisbon to L.A., Ca., and back from my, oh so smartphone.  Another two grand.  Ka-Ching.

Ok, now I felt as ready for this appointment as I was going to be.

It took the better part of an hour to get to the Portuguese consulate in San Francisco from near the airport.  (Another reminder of why we want out of BFE, USA:  Traffic hell!)  When you think of government offices, you probably think of an office building, right?  Well, the Portuguese consulate is in an old house in Presidio Heights, a residential neighborhood!  We arrived within ten minutes of our first appointment.  Joe was scheduled at ten am and I was up at ten-fifteen.  There was a couple ahead of us, and we weren’t seen until about ten-thirty, and then they took us together, contrary to what is stated online, that it is one appointment per person.  No problem.

After looking over our paperwork, we were told that our reference had to be in Portugal and that we needed a letter from them, so my friend Simone was out since she was coming back to the States in October.  FFF!  What was I going to do now?!  Oh, and take your time getting a reference letter to them because their systems were down and would be till…???  And there are 15-16 applications ahead of you.  Once our application was complete, it would be at least six weeks for visa approval.  Welcome to European government bureaucracy.  Can you say DISAPPOINTED?!  Ok, time to regroup.

And I Thought Moving Across Town was Arduous.

Now that we are “settled” into our little temporary crash pad, the real nitty-gritty work of pulling off an international move begins.  There are sites out there that tell you how easy it is to relocate to XYZ foreign country, and they can show you how.  Maybe I should have gone to their $1,000 conference in the Algarve (southern Portugal to which most ex-pats relocate).  Oh, right, I didn’t have the money then.

As usual, I am several years and a few hundred thousand dollars too late/short.  The golden ticket to moving to Portugal is buying $500,000 in property there, live there for a year, and then you get Portuguese citizenship and an EU passport.  That, of course, would be too easy.  We do plan to buy property there.  After five years of residence, we will qualify for citizenship and an EU passport.  It just takes longer, and then there is the whole visa process every year until then.

Have you ever read The Trial by Franz Kafka?  That is what it is like applying for a resident visa to live in Portugal.  (For what it’s worth, they say it is even harder to get a visa in Spain and virtually impossible in other countries.)

The process is full of catch 22s:  you must submit an application online to get an appointment to apply for the visa.  You must have an address in Portugal, and a reference there but, you must go there to get them.  You will need a residence permit but, you must be there to get one.  Ugh.  It goes on like that.  And I thought the logistics of our move across town were jacked up.

In the too late to be early department, there used to be a Portuguese consulate here in Denver.  No more.  To apply for a resident visa, if you live in Denver, you must go in person to San Francisco to apply for it.  So, it may be much cheaper to live there (in Portugal), but it will cost you to get there.

So, having achieved a visa appointment in San Francisco for the last week of September, I will start compiling the rest of the required documents in the meantime.  They include but are not limited to:  Notarized printed applications, copies of main passport pages, FBI background check, Portuguese criminal background check form, proof of health insurance, proof of income, declaration of intent (why you want to move to Portugal), reference in Portugal and passport photos (in addition to the one on your passport).  Whew.

Thank God for my new friend Simone who’s been living in Lisbon for the past year.  She let me use her address so that I could at least complete the online app to get the visa appointment.  In the fun part department, I will return to Lisbon and Porto at the beginning of September to find a place to live.

Then there is the process of getting Jiver, our dog, certified to be shipped over.  There is another set of rules about the timing of all his shots and letters of good health before we can take him.  All must be done in a specific order.  And we must fly 48 hours after completion of said shots and certs.  Happily, there is no quarantine, so we just need to make appointments at departing and arriving airports for him.  Holy moly, it’s a wonder anyone ever has the energy and persistence to leave the country.

This is Jiver. AKA Bubba, Wild Thing, Soccer Paws.

Then there is the issue of how to transport him.

I would love to find someone with a private jet who could fly us over. I hate the idea of having to shove Jiver in a box in the cargo portion of the plane. Meanwhile, back in reality. He is a nervous traveler and doesn’t do well on drugs. He was a service dog for most of his life. We inherited him when his person died two years ago. At eleven years old, he is not a spring chicken either. Dilemma.

Moving

I think we would all agree that moving is hell.  Even with movers, you must go through all your things and decide what to ditch and what to keep.  This move happened on short notice, and we didn’t have a lot of time to get it together.  You never realize how much crap you have until you go to move it all.

We were fortunate that we found takers for all the over-sized things that were a tough sell, some at the last minute.  Large architectural flat files and a seven-foot-tall harp case were two of them.  (Mr. Roberts, harp purchaser, and Craig’s List to the rescue!)  There is a big Good Will store in Stapleton, and I must have made 25-30 trips over there with carloads of stuff.  Still, there was too much to do, and we weren’t ready when the movers came.  The goal was to rid ourselves of 80 percent of our belongings.  I think we might have hit about 60 percent.  Oh, and the apartment to which we moved is up three flights of stairs.  And it was about 95 degrees that entire week.  Ugh.

We had a new understanding of the word exhaustion by the end of it.  My calves were screaming for mercy from lugging boxes up the stairs.  The closing went well, but we signed the place over at 10am and still had things in the house to move!  Ack!  By law, in Colorado, the buyers take possession when the sellers sign it over.  The fact that we weren’t out by the time we signed was unacceptable.  The buyers were understandably annoyed, but what could we do? At that point:  apologize profusely and get ‘er done!  We both had to work that day as well.  The timing was abysmal.  So, at 8:30pm, we went back over to finish up.  After a few more trips back and forth, we were finally out by 10pm.  We left the new owners a bottle of bubbly and some restaurant coupons and hoped they would be ok with it.  Happily, they were.

Our goal is to leave for Portugal by September.  We now have about two months to relieve ourselves of a lot more stuff and ship over the rest.  Holy mother of F:  why do we need so much stuff?!  We don’t, that’s the thing. The purge continues, but now we have a new neighborhood and time to breathe, at least.

The next step will be to go over and find a place to live.  The plan is to do so at the end of August and then apply for our visa.  That’s the catch 22:  can’t apply for a visa without an address, can’t really get an address without going over.  Why can’t anything be simple?!  Those online con artists have ruined it for the rest of us!  Apparently, there are plenty of Eastern Euro scumbags taking your money for an apartment and running with it, so internet renters beware!

Now it’s near 100 degrees in Denver for the next three months, and where can I go RIGHT NOW to escape this heat?  This is why I wanted to be gone by June.  The sweltering continues!  I must remember that it could be worse.  We could be in L.A. (120 degrees last week), Arid-zona, Palm Springs, or Las Vegas.  All versions of Hell on earth right now.  Which level would you like?!

In the meantime, cool off with a cocktail!  Or three…

Curio Bar, Denver Public Market

El Five Bar, Denver

Stateside Planning

Once we got home and recovered from jet-lag the real work of crafting our escape began.  We decided that, yes, we really needed to sell the condo and that we also needed to move somewhere more affordable.  After two weeks in Portugal, Porto became the target but, honestly, anywhere in Portugal would do. After much research, it became apparent that to get resident visas in Portugal, we needed jobs that we could take with us.  ideally, remote online work.  We would have to go to San Francisco in person to apply for visas.  This was going to take some time.  My wildly optimistic hope of moving to Europe in June was out the window.  Trusting my real estate gut instinct, I knew we needed to sell quickly, while prices were still sky high here in Denver. (Housing prices surpassed mile high in Denver a while back!) 

That said, once we sold the place, where were we going to live while we made our work and visa arrangements?  My friend Dennis to the rescue!  We have been friends for years, and I had driven carriages for him for many years as well. (Yes, horse-drawn carriages in downtown Denver.  I called it draft horse wrestling!)  Oh, and wait, he is also my hairdresser!  Conveniently enough, he has a beautiful three-story Victorian house near downtown Denver, and the third-floor apartment was available.  It was a great deal, big enough for us, and he was willing to rent to us on a month to month basis until we were ready to ship out.  Done deal!

We got back to Denver on March 5, 2018.  We listed the house for sale on May 3rd.  We had four showings, and from those came two offers.  By May 8th we were under contract, as they say here in Colorado, and the closing was set for June 15th.  The next steps:  purging and packing.  The goal is to get rid of at least 80 percent of our belongings.  We sold most of the furniture with the house, so that was a start.

We now have about six days to finish the purge and vacate the premises, as they say, and my next post will be forthcoming after we move to Capitol Hill.  We saw this sign in a wine bar in Lisbon:

Words to live by!

Here’s to re-creating ourselves and starting a new life abroad!