Great things to see and do in Portugal
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Red tape, ID cards and pieces of paper

Posted on Dec 30 2010

One of the criticisms of Portugal (often from Portuguese people who have lived in the UK) is that it is very bureaucratic. You need an ID card, and you have to keep getting updates for birth certificates, marriage certificates, proof of address, and perhaps even proof that you washed behind your ears.

Prime Minister Socrates demonstrates the Cartão de Cidadão

In reality, the bureaucracy in Portugal is fantastic because, keeping a check on people is the way it should be. There’s no real problem if you know what you need and in what order. For Brits moving to Portugal, the red tape is a bit daunting. After all, in the UK you keep your birth certificate for life, no one in officialdom asks who your parents are and it’s easy to “prove” where you live anda when you go to hospital you just give them your name and address and they believe you.

In Portugal, you need to know your social security number, your fiscal number (“número de contribuinte” or contribution number, which is effectively your tax number) and your health number - for when you need to get medical treatment.

If you are a local, you can upgrade your ID card to a Cartão de Cidadão (citizen’s card) which then contains your ID, your fiscal number, your social security number and your health number.

For foreigners, where do you start? Here’s a quick run-down of what you should do, in pretty much the right order. At all times, take every possible document with you that identifies who you are, where you live etc.

  1. Go to the local district council (“freguesia”) where you live and register that you live there. They will give you an “atestado” letter containing who you are, your address and the names of your parents (for Brits, this last bit is important if you have no certificates with that information on). This will cost a few Euros. Take every document you have to identify you and where you live (birth certificate, marriage certificate, rental agreement…
  2. Go to the local tax office (“Finanças“) to get a tax number (aka “número de contribuinte” or “número fiscal”). This number is important for many things. Expect to queue for a while at the Finanças.
  3. Go to the social security office in your area (“Segurança Social“) to get a social security number.
  4. Go the main council (“Câmara”) to ask for a European registration certificate (“Certificado de registo de cidadão de União Europeia”). This document is your proof of address. It will only be valid for five years, or to the end of when your passport expires. Take your passport, your Atestado, your fiscal number and your social security number. This certificate will cost you about 7 Euros.
  5. If you plan to work for yourself or set up a company, you need to set up an activity with the Finanças. Assuming you are self-employed, this will involve registering for green receipts (“recibos verdes”). You can do this online on the Finanças site but you first need to register and wait for a key (“senha”) to come to your address in the post. Once registered, you can administer all your green receipts online.
  6. To open a normal bank account, you are likely to be asked for your ID, proof of address and something proving the names of your parents, as well as your fiscal number.
  7. Don’t forget to register at your local health centre to get your health number for each member of your family.

Once all that is done, remember certificates need to be renewed occasionally and, most of all, if you change your address you have to go through it all again.

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