Portugal has an agreement with the US under the Visa Waiver Program. Each stay of less than 3 months does not require a visa for American citizens. Americans can stay and visit the country of Portugal up to 3 months without having to request a visa. They can simply arrive, stay, and depart again. For stays longer than 3 months or if the objective is not come and visit but to actually come and live here permanently, Americans have to apply for a separate type of visa that has to be done at a Portuguese consulate in your area, which on the West Coast would be San Francisco, and on the East Coast would be Washington, DC. If you are applying for a resident visa, you need to apply at a local consulate and you may then be requested to attend an interview in Washington before you are granted your permanent visa, which then entitles you to come and move into Portugal. In summary, you don’t need a visa if you are staying in Portugal for less than 3 months. If it is more than 3 months or if you intend to come and live here permanently, then you need to apply for a visa at your local consulate.
If you are coming to Portugal to work, you have to apply for a working visa, which is very much like when you are going to work in the US. We also have a special type of visa called the Golden Visa, which allows you to buy permanent residence in Portugal by buying or spending € 500,000 (US $ 550,000 or £ 370,000) on real estate or € 350,000 (US $ 385,000 or £ 260,000) on real estate if it is in a rehabilitation zone of a main city. The Golden Visa is like an EB-5 Visa in the US, in that it allows you to get residence in Portugal automatically through an investment route.
As far as your initial application is concerned, my understanding is that you can do the initial application via email and sending the initial documents to your regional consulate. They can deal with your application via electronic means, but for the interview, you have to be physically present. The interview is always conducted in Washington, DC, so you will need to go there in person. I am not aware of any exceptions for the interviews to be held elsewhere but I could be wrong as I am not an expert on specific immigration issues. Once you are done with the interview, you fly back home, and wait to see whether they will grant your application for permanent residency in Portugal.
If you just want to stay in Portugal for more than 3 months but do not need to be a permanent resident, there are many other ways to do it, such as by getting an extension once your 3-month visa is expired, which is sometimes possible depending on your motivation. You can also apply for a slightly longer visa in advance if you explain your situation to your local consulate. They may have the discretion to approve that. Overall, you don’t need to go to an interview if you just need a visa that is longer than 3 months but you do need to go to an interview if you are getting a permanent residency visa.
If you are coming to Portugal because you want to know if you would like the country or not, you still have to make your intention clear to the consulate. They will ask you for your intention, whether you are going to work, how you will support yourself, and so on. It is no different in any other country. If your intention is to come to Portugal for 6 months, for example, to see how it is, and you have a possibility of staying here, my suggestion is that you declare your intention well in advance because just as it is in the US, if you land in Portugal on a tourist visa, and then suddenly you decided that you are want to live here, and in some cases you wanted to get a job, you will be illegal because you haven’t declared your situation and intention truly. So it is very important to actually express your interest to the consulate more than just stating the length of your intended stay in the country of Portugal.
The other reason that I say this is because your tax situation may be affected by the number of days that you actually remain in the country. The general global rule is that when you stay in a country for more than 183 days, that country typically (though not always) has the right to claim that you are a resident there for tax reasons unless you say otherwise. So people who come to Portugal need to be aware of the impact of the length of their stay.
If you are going to Portugal for 6 months with a view of seeing what the country is like, the first thing you need to do is apply for a visa that is longer than 3 months. You can do that in one of two ways. The first is you can either come for 3 months and then while you’re in Portugal, go to the local immigration department and tell them that you want to extend your visa. You have to do this well in advance of 3 months. They will ask you for the reasons why you wanted to do so. They will either approve or decline your application to stay for another 3 months. If you are staying beyond 6 months, it becomes more complex because for the consular authorities and to the immigration department, it feels that you are perpetually extending your stay and they will start to ask more questions about why you are not going back home and applying for a resident visa or why you didn’t apply for a resident visa in the first place. Any stay that is beyond 6 months starts to feel like you are going to permanently stay and hence the consulate would find it questionable if you do not apply for a permanent resident visa upon coming here. Once you are already here in Portugal for 6 months and then you decide that you want to stay for good, you have to go back home first and then apply for a permanent residency from there. It is no different than applying a permanent residency in the US.
Since Portugal still manages to require interviews if you want to apply for permanent residency that tells you that there are not a lot of people coming from the US to Portugal, so this is a huge and untapped market and one of the reasons why our business is increasingly focused on the US. Most Americans and Canadians who visit Portugal love it. I know it is a very broad generalization but this is the reaction that we get from most Americans and Canadians. Seeing is believing in this case. Most North Americans can’t figure out why they haven’t come here before. That is the kind of reaction that most people have. At the moment, there are very few people from the US and Canada who are actually coming to Portugal to live permanently. It is my view that the Portuguese government should be doing more to make Portugal more generally known to North Americans.
If you are from the UK or from any other European country, you can come and live in Portugal with no questions asked. If you are part of the EU, there is a permanent and total right of migration of nationalities within the European Union and because of that you can come and live freely in Portugal. You don’t even need a visa to come to Portugal if you are from any European country. As long as you an EU national with a passport or an identity card issued by any state within the European Union or the European Economic Community, you are entitled to travel freely within the zone and to settle in any EU member country.
(The Palace of Queluz., Portugal, pictured.)