How to get a visa in Portugal… Part Duas (2)

As I typed the words “how to get a visa” I had to laugh at how straightforward the title sounds, and how opposite the actual process is. But here we are. We’ve arrived at part two of my journey towards a legal life in Europe. Portugal is my chosen destination, and a freelancer’s visa is my golden ticket. At least I thought so…

Getting a Portuguese bank account.

In all honesty, I’m not sure if this is needed to obtain a visa. But I was in a bind to buy a car (a scooter wasn’t cutting it anymore) and in order to buy a car, I needed a Portuguese bank account. Also, I doubt snagging another connection to your desired country can hurt, so I’m happily considering the bank account as a part of the process. And luckily, it was pretty straightforward once I’d gotten my NIF and my Atestado de Residencia (proof that I live where I said I lived). I chose Millennium for my bank account, simply because there’s one located in my town, I see their ads, they have nice colors, and uh… that’s about it.

To open the account, I rocked up with my passport, NIF, Atestado paper, and a few extra documents, just in case. It was easy breezy, with the minor exception of not having a Portuguese phone number for all confirmations. That threw everyone for a loop. Big shoutout to Artur at the Millennium branch in Ericeira for being an absolute gem, and making sure I didn’t leave the bank until I had everything I needed. That being said, when I asked about an English option on the ATM, Artur said, “They do have English options for English cards, but as soon as you insert the Portuguese bank card…” and I assume you can fill in the rest. This post is mainly for sad foreigners like myself, so please don’t judge my lack of fluent Portuguese. It’s something to consider that whenever you’d like to make a transaction on the ATM, you’ll have to use your best beginner Portuguese guess with Millennium. God bless Google translate, and folks like Artur for accepting the fact that you don’t learn banking terms in beginner Portuguese lessons…

Notes from this step:

  • Check with your desired bank to make sure you have all of the documents necessary to open your account (NIF, passport, Atestado de Residencia, etc)
  • Sometimes it takes awhile to get an appointment (at Millennium it’s just a numbered ticket system), but once you have one, make sure you take your time to walk through everything with the bank employee. It’s your money. Make sure you know what’s going on.

At this point, armed with my Atestado de Residencia, NIF, bank account, and job, I proceeded to the US to get this show on the road (and see my family because I miss them like crazy). As soon as I was back in the states, I figured out that VFS is the agency which handles all visa requests, and immediately checked out their website to ensure I had all of the necessary docs.

Fingerprints and a Background Check

These two things were on the handy list of documents needed for the visa appointment, and seemed like the only things I had yet to accomplish, so I set out to tick them off of my to-do list. Enter the good ol’ US of A and it’s ridiculously antiquated systems. I had a background check done once before for a job, and it was a pretty painless process. Apparently, this check needs to be done by the FBI and is not so simple. Here you have two options:

  1. Proceed to any police station or business that offers fingerprinting services (in my area, it was one sheriff’s office and one shooting range. Dear lord you should’ve seen my liberal, “get rid of guns” self, walking into this establishment). Then mail your fingerprint card to the FBI, and receive results 3-5 business days after they receive your mail. This costs $18 plus whatever the cost is to mail everything.
  2. In select states, there are even more select post offices, which have a partnership with the FBI and capture digital fingerprints and immediately send your fingerprints to the FBI database, and produce almost instantaneous background check results. The cost is $50, but if you ask me, there are WAY less variables this way, so I said “take my money!” and proceeded to a post office in downtown Bethesda, MD where a very friendly employee talked me through the whole process.

Notes about this step:

  • For both 1 and 2, you have to register online at the FBI website and establish a short profile to receive an order confirmation, which will be used later in your background check. Should you have any questions, the FBI has a customer service line (WHO KNEW?!) and it’s incredibly helpful. Like WAY more helpful than VFS. I had the pleasure of speaking to (I really hope I remembered this correctly) Angela, and she talked me through every URL, payment option, and even gave me her own advice. She was genuinely wonderful, and my shining light in this (unnecessarily) frustrating step of the visa process.

So with my completed background check, I’m now compiling all of my other documents, trying to write a compelling cover letter, and finally scheduling an appointment at the VFS office in Washington D.C.. (FYI, VFS has three offices in the US: Washington D.C., New York and San Francisco).

So far, the process has been strange, in the sense that I really don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. Every time I call the VFS line, I get different answers from different people about what I need. And I get it. They deal with many different countries, people, and visa types. But I now see why visas are BIG business. If I had tons of money, I would definitely pay someone else to help me through this. Not because I mind the work, but because I mind the wasted time. I wasted time trying to get fingerprints that never happened. I wasted time trying to contact an office that doesn’t exist. And I wasted a LOTTT of time on Google.

But for now, I’m just a regular freelancing, travel-loving girl who’s navigating the process alone and hoping for the best. At each step, I’d say my odds of being correct have been 40/60. But I’m determined.

So cheers to part three of this post having better odds, and a better ending with a fancy passport page…