Staying Legal in Portugal
I, like other U.S. citizens, entered Portugal without a special visa under the standard 90-day tourist stay.  However, I intended to spend most of the 2005/2006 winter onboard Sarah in Cascais.  This stay will greatly exceed the 90 days allowed without an extension to the standard visa.  Also, Portugal offers enough interesting ports that 90 days would not provide sufficient time even if I were sailing regularly from one port to the next. 

Portugal is a signatory to the Schengen Treaty (see Jack Tyler's discussion of this issue), which means the underlying issue with my stay in this area is not just Portugal but also Spain, Italy and France - all Schengen countries.  That treaty allows me up to 90 days within the Schengen borders before I must leave for at least 6 months from the start of the 90 days.  That clearly doesn't compute with my cruising schedule.  Since I can't deal with the Schengen issue, I decided that I must at least be legal within an individual country's policies.  So for now my objective is to legally reside within the borders of Portugal for more than 90 days.

Therefore when I returned from the states in November, 2005 one of my primary objectives was to secure a visa extension that would allow me to reside in Cascais until the end of March and continue to cruise Portuguese waters into May, 2006.

The first thing I learned is that no one around the marina at Cascais knew where to go to request the extension.  I am the only North American wintering at the Marina de Cascais.  Everyone else is from an EU country, which means they can stay as long as they like.  My initial inquiries sent me to a local bank (someone thought I needed to get a VISA card).  The bank teller was very understanding and actually knew where I needed to go in Cascais, but because I had a very limited understanding of Portuguese I never got the details. 

My standard recourse in these matters is to go to the very helpful young ladies who work the desk at the Marina.  They called the US embassy for me and I was directed to go to the SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) office in central Lisbon.  This office is in the Loja do Cidadao on the Praça de Restauradores.  Although I knew how to get to Restauradores (Train from Cascais to Cais do Sodre, Metro to Rossio and hike a couple of blocks), I wasn't confident that I could find the specific office.  In Portugal, like much of Europe, they don't always use the street address numbers like we do in the USA.  So the only address I was given was Loja do Cidadao.  That didn't sound very identifiable to me so I hired a taxi cab to drive me into town the next day and deposit me in front of the Loja. 

Click on picture ot view at full resolutionAs it turned out the office is easily identifiable (picture on the right), even without the humongous picture of Mario Soares (picture above), who was a candidate for the President of Portugal, on the building.  I was at the Loja about 45 minutes before they opened at 8:30 AM.  When I arrived there were a large number of people in line on the side walk.  The building also houses a theatre which was advertising a coming rock concert.  I assumed all these people were in line to get tickets to the concert not to see the SEF office as I.  Boy, was I wrong.

I strolled around the Praças (Dom Pedro IV, Figueira, etc.) waiting for the office to open.  When I returned at 8:25 it was clear all these people were queued for the same office.  They may have been rock fans, but that did not put them on the sidewalk this early in the morning.

So I got to the end of the line.  When I finally entered the office the line went up the stairs to Piso 1 (the second floor, the first floor is Piso 0 - makes sense if you are a computer nerd like me).  After another 30 minutes I got to Piso 1 and came to a machine that dispensed waiting numbers (these machines are used throughout the Lisbon area where queues are large - not just in government offices but also in banks, the Post Office, etc.).  Fortunately there was person at the machine who asked my business before the machine dispensed my wait number.  There I learned that I should not be at the SEF office in Lisbon, but at the one in Cascais.  At least they were able to give me the address and phone number before I left for the return to Cascais.

Of course the address I was given was not a street address, but the Largo de Misercodia, Cascais.  Fortunately, in my previous wanderings around Cascais I had ventured into this specific Largo (place or court).  So the next afternoon I showed up and sure enough there is a SEF office in the Largo.  Unfortunately there is no nice orderly line and waiting ticket machines as in Lisboa.  After 20 minutes or more of finally resorting to basketball elbows to keep others from working around me to the head of the line, I got to speak to the uniformed guard at the office entrance.  He spoke enough English to understand what I needed, but said I should come back the next office day (Monday) when the right people would be there.  For several alcohol-related reasons I wasn't up to a return the next Monday morning, and I didn't show up until the following Wednesday (Quatra-Feira - does anyone know why the Portuguese do not use names for the days of the week just the weekends, Sabado and Domingo - actually a very clean and logical approach, but that's another discussion).  Once again I was told to come back on Monday when the right people would be at the office.

By then friends from the states, Jack & Nicki, were arriving and I put off this task until after they departed in two weeks.  When I returned to the SEF office I was now told I needed an appointment and I needed to call the number posted on the outside of the office.  At first I very angry that after several weeks I was now being told I needed an appointment.  Then I noticed that the sign with the phone number indicated this was a new policy since Dec 13, 2005 - subsequent to my last visit.  I now had hope that this office was getting organized.

Well they may have been getting organized, but at first the telephone number was of no help to me.  Throughout the holidays I called the posted number only to get a busy signal.  Friends advised me not to be too concerned as most offices were on skeleton crews during the holidays.  So I ceased calling the SEF until after the new year. 

When I called again, it took only two or three busy calls to finally get through and be put on hold and listen to the recorded message that my call would be answered very soon.  Very soon turned out to be 2 hours.  During that time my call was dropped twice and I had to call back, and get a couple of busy responses before I was back in the on-hold queue again. 

Finally a woman answered and the service I received was excellent.  She understood what I was attempting to do, set up an appointment (Jan 19 at 9:00AM), and reviewed with me the documents I needed to provide.  The only document I lacked was a police criminal clearance certification.  This sounded like my worst nightmare, having to get the Ft. Pierce, FL police office to forward a clearance to Portugal.  Actually they were only concerned about criminal activities in Portugal and I was directed back to Loja do Cidadao office in Lisbon for that certification.  So my years as a pedophile priest in the US were not an issue.

I was still nervous about this requirement, as I expected another surprise at the Loja when I arrived.  I was surprised - it was so easy.  I arrived mid-morning, after the large line had dwindled and was directed to a service desk on Piso 0.  I took a number from the machine.  It was 114 and they were servicing 103.  Within 15 minutes my number came up and I was at the service desk.  The young lady understood exactly what I needed, ran my passport number through her computer, then issued me a clean certification for only €2.50.  I was elated and almost danced back through the Metro and train to Cascais.

Now (as of Jan 5, 2006) all I need to do is show up for my appointment on the 19th... then why am I still grinding my teeth?

Today, Jan 19, 2006 I showed up at the SEF office in Cascais for my appointment.  After waiting over an hour for my number to be called I finally had a chance to submit my application for an extension.  The lady at the SEF desk went through my passport in detail, noting when I arrived by boat in the Açores (July) and my most recent arrival in Portugal by airplane (last week).  Then she told me they cannot process my application until I am within two weeks, but not less than one week, of the expiration of my current visa.  That expiration, she told me, would be on April 14 - 90 days after my return from the London Boat Show.  There was no discussion of the Schengen requirement to not re-enter any Schengen country for six months after the start of my 90-day Visa.  At least for Portugal they appear to be happy if I just leave for a few days every 90 days.  If there was a policy in Portugal of enforcing the 6 months provision of the Schengen Treaty I am confident the SEF lady would have raised it.

Since I plan to depart Cascais about the time I would need to apply for an extension, I probably won't bother.  I will be harbor hoping down the Portuguese coast for a month or more after I depart, but it just doesn't appear to be that important to the customs and immigration folks.

So all of this work to find out what is required to get a visa extension likely will not be used by myself.  However it was worth the effort at I at least now know how Portugal (and probably the other Mediterranean Schengen countries) administer extended tourist visas and I know the basic documents that are required to apply, should that become necessary in the future.

Below is a list of the documents required to apply for a tourist stay in Portugal for more than 90 days (as of Jan, 2006).
  1. Xerox copies of all marked pages of your passport (probably can be done at the SEF, but it would be better to have to copies in your hand when arrive.
  2. SEF application form (Proggogacao de Permanencia), which can be obtained from the SEF website (
  3. Proof of legal residence in Portugal.  In my case the SEF appeared to be satisfied with my receipt from the Marina de Cascais for a 6-month berth.  Otherwise a certificate from the marina would be required to prove I am legally berthing my boat at the marina.
  4. A letter documenting why you want to extend your stay in Portugal.
  5. Proof of financial means.  The SEF requested copies of my bank statements for the past 3 months.
  6. Proof of health insurance.  We did not discuss this on my visit, but I assume a copy of the insurance binder would be sufficient.
  7. Certificado do Registo Criminal. The police clearance document I obtained at the Loja do Cidadao in Lisboa, described above.
  8. In addition to these documents I would also bring my USCG documentation for Sarah and proof of marine insurance.  I don't believe the SEF has any interest in these document, but I won't know for sure until I actually submit an application.  I would not want to be turned away for a missing document and have to go through the process of getting another appointment.
Through all of this I am under no illusion that things are any easier for a European trying to stay in the USA.  As a matter of fact I assume they are much worse.  I don't remember speaking to any US immigration agents who appeared to have second language skills.  At times it was very tough communicating with the Portuguese officials, but at least they had some English language skills.  I had very limited Portuguese language ability (Rosetta Stone course while sailing to the Açores), which I believe is more than any US official would have(unless they happened to be from a Portuguese emigrant family).  For all its hassles, I am glad I was an American applying for a special visa in Portugal rather than the other way around.
I did not get an extension to my visa and I did not depart Cascais until about a week after my Visa had expired.  We stopped in Sines on the Portuguese Atlantic coast and in Lagos in the Algarve.  My expired Visa was not noticed in Sines, but in Lagos an Immigration officer was on duty and caught it.  I told him we had to put into Lagos because of equipment problems (which was true).  He was sympathetic, but told me I would have to go to Portimao to apply for a Visa extension.  He gave me the telephone number of the SEF office in Portimao.  Just like in Cascais you have to make an appointment by telephone, and just like in Cascais no one answered the phone.  I did due deligence and attempted to contact the SEF twice on Friday, without success.  The office is closed on the weekend and we departed on Monday.  After cruising the Western Mediterranean that summer, I spent the following winter in Lagos, but never heard anything about my overstaying my previous Visa.
So my final lesson was that the Portuguese do take the 90-day tourist Visa limit seriously, but they do not normally enforce the no-return in 6 months Schengen policy.   They were satisfied with my exiting Schengen within 90 days and returning a few days later.  I accomplished those exits and returns over the 2-1/2 years I was in Portugal and Spain with 2 trips back to the US for family visits and 2 trips to London.
Although I did overstay my visa before departing Caiscais, it was only by a few days.  There was no real problem when I put into Lagos with boat equipment problems as long as I made a bonafide attempt to get a Visa extension or left Portugal ASAP.  I did both.  The Schengen issue never came up when I arrived in any of the Spanish ports I visited.  Unlike Portugal, the Spanish allowed the marinas to handle the immigration process, which involved nothing more than making a Xerox copy of the identification page of my passport and putting that in their files.  When I returned to Portugal (Lagos) there was no issue with my having been within Schengen waters most of the summer.  I did stop in Gibraltar when entering and leaving the Mediterranean, but my passport was not stamped to record those arrivals and departures.
Of course this was all in the 2005-2007 timeframe.  Things do change.