Life Abroad,  Tips & Reviews

Checklist | How I Applied for Family Reunification Visa (Spouse Visa) in Portugal

Why are people moving to Portugal?

Portugal has become one of the most popular destinations for immigration in recent years.

There are many good reasons for people to consider moving here: English is widely spoken, the weather is warm and sunny, beautiful beaches, affordable living cost, easy to get work visa or residence visa with flexible immigration policy, a new tech hub, very friendly country for digital nomads, and a comfortable pace of life.

Fortunately, Portugal immigration office (SEF) makes it flexible for non-EU citizens to apply for residence card of family reunification to join their family members in Portugal. However, figuring out how to apply, and what exact documents to prepare, is pretty frustrating due to the low efficiency and inconsistent data or information in public offices.

At least, back in last year, the SEF website was not displaying information clearly in an organized way, now it is much better. However, even in the SEF website, it lists out all the documents required, but it still doesn’t mention many tricky requirements for your documents such as validation period, notarization, translation, etc.

I always see people asking questions about the process or document required for family reunification application in different places. For the people who needs to apply for this to come to join their family members in Portugal, I truly understand your confusion from the inconsistent and incomplete information online and offline.

My husband and I went through this whole process by ourselves last year, and I hope the sharing of our experience will help you.

Here is the background of my case:

Husband: Danish, EU citizen, employed in Lisbon, moved to Lisbon already;

Me: Chinese, non-EU citizen, no employment in Lisbon, worked in Hong Kong.

I would like to apply for family reunification residence card to join my husband in Portugal.

Process & Documents Required

Step 1: Before going to Portugal, get an entry visa.

Apply for any kind of visa that will allow you to enter Portugal legally: tourism visa, visit of family visa, etc. I applied for family visit visa with total 90 days stay cumulatively valid within 180 days.

The documents required may vary from country to country, I suggest you to find this via the embassy or visa centre in your original country. And normally this part is easy. For Chinese, please refer to the visa application center of Portugal in China here.

Step 2: After you arrive in Portugal, go to the National Immigrant Support Centre (CNAI) for help.

So the first thing to do is to go to CNAI (the one near Anjos metro) with your documents as soon as possible to consult about any additional documents required in your case and ask them to help make an appointment with SEF.

This is a super helpful support centre and helped us clarify our confusion from searching online.

Tips for you to get a ticket in CNAI:

The office opens from 8 a.m. to 5 p,m. on Mondays to Fridays.

However, from our 3 times of experience there, in order to get your ticket, please go to queue at 6 a.m. The tickets they offered every day for SEF consulting is very limited. Normally at 9 – 9:30 a.m. they already run out of the tickets. In this case, just skip it and come back earlier the next day.

After getting your ticket, you might need to wait anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to get to see someone. Better to sit there for an hour to see how fast the number goes, then come back in 3 hours.

Well, sometimes, because somebody gave up waiting, then it might speed up to be your turns. Don’t miss out more than 3 numbers after you. Otherwise you have to come back another day to get another ticket.

For my case, unfortunately, I missed 4 numbers and the reception refused me rudely. I was very frustrated. I didn’t want to waste 7 hours of waiting and got nothing, then I went to talk to the security guy and he kindly let me in and helped me talk with the officer. So my suggestion is to try harder to communicate with them even if they said no. Of course, don’t miss more numbers!

Step 3: Make an appointment with SEF.

Without an appointment, you won’t be accepted by the reception of any SEF office.

We stupidly went to one of the SEF office to queue for 1.5 hours from 7 a.m., then was told to schedule an appointment first by calling SEF or going to CNAI office near Anjos metro station in person.

You can try to call SEF for a hundred times and may not be able to reach anyone. And before going there, you should be clear that you have prepared all the documents required. Otherwise, this will bring you a lot of problems.

SEF Call Center:

PHONE | 808 202 653

MOBILE | 808 962 690

WORKING DAYS: from 08:00 a.m. to 08:00 p.m.

So my best advice is to go to CNAI in the first place and you get an appointment through them. The appointment available is normally 2 – 6 months later. It is good that you can choose any SEF offices in Portugal to submit your application. If you want an appointment quicker, then you may need to travel to another small city.

I went to CNAI in middle August 2018, and got an appointment with SEF (in Leiria office, 2 hours driving from Lisbon) in October 2018. I still remember that the earliest appointment in Lisbon offices was February 2019, which was 6 months later.

Good news is that once you have made the appointment with SEF, even if your original visa expires you are still allowed to stay in Portugal (but not allowed to travel out legally).

SEF and CNAI will send you a notification of your appointment by Email. The email may take 1-2 weeks to arrive. Be sure to call or email CNAI if you haven’t received the appointment notification after 1 week from your visit in CNAI.

Step 4: Start to prepare the missing documents.

Okay, here is the most important thing. I am going to share the document required list from CNAI to you. Once you know clearly the process and documents needed, it becomes pretty simple.

So in my case, I was applying for Residence Card for family member of third country of EU citizen.

**Checklist for application of Residence Card of Family Reunification**

*For Me: Non-EU citizen who wants to join my spouse for family reunification in Portugal.

Documents prepared from my original country (Documents need to be legalised by Portuguese Consulates or through apostille in the original document and with certified translation into Portuguese):

  1. Certificate of criminal record for person over 16 years old (Valid for 3 months), for all the countries you have stayed more than a year.
  2. Marriage certificate (Valid for 6 months).

(Tips: Don’t start the legalization process until you have made the SEF appointment since the documents above have a valid period. Make sure that your documents are still valid at the moment when you submit the application in SEF.)

Other documents prepared in Portugal:

  1. Two recent identical photos with blank background. (Actually they will take photo of you and collect signature in SEF)
  2. Declaration of legal entry in Portugal.
    • If you didn’t enter Portugal directly by border control, you need to submit this to SEF; Unfortunately, there is no direct flight to Lisbon from my departure city. In this case, I chose direct flight to go to Morocco and came back to Lisbon to avoid another appointment with SEF to submit the declaration.
  3. Passport (valid for at least 3 months).
  4. Application Form Mod. DR0011.

*For Husband: EU citizen who is employed in Portugal.

  1. Terms of responsibility (Mod. DR0009).
    • Last year I was guided to use this form, but it seems that now it is another form (Mod. DCF/0012) showed in SEF website. The content seems to be same but in different format.
  2. Residency identification document:
    • Certificate of Registration issued in city council, also called EU Certificate.
    • (You can also use citizen card, or residence permit if applicable.)
  3. Passport (valid for at least 3 months)
  4. Proof of the means of subsistence of applicants:
    • IRS Last Year (if applicable)
    • Employment contract (Original in Portuguese)
    • Statement of employment (Valid for 1 month, in Portuguese)
    • Last 3 months salary receipts (In Portuguese)
  5. Proof of accommodation:
    • House rental contract (Original in Portuguese).
    • (or “Atestado de Residência” issued by a “Junta de Freguesia” (Portuguese local authority)).

Step 5: Go to submit your application and all documents to SEF office.

Bravo! With all the documents prepared above, we went to SEF office in Leiria in October 2018. We ended up waiting only for 1 hours from our original appointment time. They made sure to check all our documents and asked us to pay the 15 euro fee. After that it was just  matter of waiting.

It took 3 weeks from submitting the application to SEF to getting the residence card by mail. The process was pretty fast once you have prepared all the documents and submitted.

Step 6: Celebration!

After getting my residence card, I can start to get some basic things settled in Portugal.

The residence card I got is the residence card of family members of Union citizens who are nationals of third States (refer to Art. 15 in Act 37/2006 Portugal law).

It is also known as “Article 20 Residence Card” which allows me to travel to all EU countries without visa if I go with my husband.

The card is valid for 5 years. The right of residence shall not be affected by temporary absences not exceeding a total of six consecutive months a year or longer duration for special reasons like childbirth, health problems, etc.

All right, so that’s it. Hope this blog can help some of you who are looking for information of family reunification in Portugal. And good luck for the documents preparation and application process. I know it is not easy, but you will get through it.

Useful links:

Love from Richole.


  • Emily

    Hello! Thanks your blog was really helpful. I am moving to Portugal shortly on a 12 month visa for study. I had a couple of questions I was hoping you could help me with!
    Did you get your documents translated first and THEN certified? Or certified first and then translated?
    Also, you mentioned that you can overstay your visa as long as you have an appointment with SEF. Is this for all visa types? My daughter is travelling over on a tourist visa (90 days) and I’ll apply for her family reunification in country… but I think the whole process will take longer than that for various reasons! We are from Australia. Would really appreciate your help as I find the whole process very overwhelming!!!
    Thank you!!!

    • M&R

      Hello Emily, sorry for the late reply, we are travelling in Italy these days so didn’t see your questions until now. I am very glad that you find this post helpful. Welcome to moving to Portugal. I can understand how frustrating it is to look for information regarding SEF process.

      1. Based on my experience, I first got the apostille on my original documents (such as marriage paper) in my own country. Afterwards I took the documents to get translated and then get certified on the translation. I did the translation & certification part in Portugal. There are many certified translation service here in Portugal as well. For certificate of criminal records, you could request from police office online from your own country, then repeat the process of apostille, translation and translation certified. For your daughter, birth certificate (no valid date) can be the proof of your relationship. Just be aware that the validity of documents mentioned in my posts starts from the date of apostille. Very tricky though.
      2. Yes, as told by the officer, it was for all visa types. As long as having appointment with SEF, your daughter can stay in Portugal even if her tourist visa will expire.

      There is an organisation that help with visa issues called CNAI, I suggest you to go to their office as soon as possible once you arrive Portugal (make sure you go very early in the morning!). They are super helpful. And good luck for the application!!

      Love from Richole.

    • Anjana

      Hello Richole, thanks for the blog.
      I am facing some problems. My husband got job and next month he will be traveling to Portugal. I had applied for tourist visa for 90 days but they rejected my application saying I didn’t give valid proof that i will be coming back to country before visa expires. Can you give me some ideas of what i can do next?
      Will be waiting for your reply. Thank you

  • Anjana

    Me and my husband will be moving to Portugal soon. But problem is i cannot come with him through tourist visa.instead i need to come by reunification visa. When my husband goes to SEF to apply TRP, he will be applying for reunification visa for me. So can you tell me how much days it will take for SEF to notify embassy and when can i appky for visa. Hoping to get a reply soon. Thank you

    • M&R

      Hello Anjana,

      I am very sorry to hear that Portuguese embassy rejected your application. From my experience, it will take quite a few months to get to see SEF.

      If you are hurry to join your husband. My suggestion is that you should try one more time to resubmit tourist/family visit visa application. Maybe ask what embassy needs from you to prove that. Normally they just need a return flight ticket, an invitation letter and financial statements.

      When I was researching for this reunification visa last year, I figured that the most convenient way is to come to Portugal first and then you apply for residence card directly. Because once you arrive this country, it becomes easier.

      Good luck for your application!


    • M&R

      If it is really a hard case, then your husband might have to come to Portugal first. After he settles down things here such as getting NIF, renting apartment, then he can invite you to visit him. That was how I did. My husband landed in Portugal one month before I joined him.

  • Amandeep Ghatora

    Dear Richole ,

    I hope you happily settle down in Portugal.I and wife are from India. We have been married now for almost 7 years,
    My wife, she is in living in Portugal and having a temporary resident permit (work permit) valid up to 02/04/2020. She is working in agriculture and started working since November 2018.

    I am living in Germany and having the work permit valid June 2020.

    I would like to join her under family visa is that possible? I am worrying as she works very less and her income is very low so is there any other way if we can show more finance in the bank account?

    I been to Portugal before as well.
    which one is the best and quickest way to apply from India OR from Germany or from inside Portgual?
    I asked some lawyers they are very expensive and we can not afford that much money.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Kind Regards,
    Amandeep Ghatora

  • Larry

    Hi Richole

    I’m so glad I found your blog because it is by far the most informative and detailed guide I can find on applying for the family reunification visa for Portugal. Thank you so much for putting it up!
    My wife would be moving to Portugal for a one yr study course in October and I would like to travel to Portugal together with her. You mentioned that I should only get my documents like the police criminal record legalised after I get an appointment with SEF. May I know where in Portugal can I get the documents legalised? Also you mentioned the term ‘apostille’ in one of the replies to a comment. I came across this term in my research but didn’t understand what it was. Would you be able to let me know what this is for? Thank you very much in advance for your reply!


    • M&R

      Hi Larry,

      “The Apostille means certification in French, which is attached to your original document to verify it is legitimate and authentic so it will be accepted in one of the other countries who are members of the Hague Apostille Convention.” It can be used directly or with certified translation where it depends on the languages. FYI.

      So first of all, you have to check whether your original country is the member of the Hague Apostille Convention. Portugal is one. Since Singapore is not a member of the Hague Apostille Convention, so the Singapore Notary Public might not be able to issue it.

      As I have known, the criminal record and marriage paper have to be legalised in your original country. So you might need to first get these documents notarised, translated, and certificated by both your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Embassy of Portugal. However they have valid dates to SEF. I think there must be some companies or agencies in your country helping people to get documents legalised like this. Normally you can request this when you are abroad.

      Just for your clarification of my case,
      I only noticed there was such short validity period for the documents and such long waiting time for SEF appointment. And i was trying to avoid going home to do all these.
      – for my marriage paper, since we were married in Hong Kong, which is the member of the Hague Apostille Convention. So after making an appointment with SEF, my marriage paper with apostille would expire on the date of application submission. So I authorised my friend to get a new certificated copy and then apostille for our marriage paper in Hong Kong. Then I got it certified translated into Portuguese in Portugal.
      – for proof of the absence of a criminal record in China, I authorised an agency in China to help me out then mailed to me.

      It is not easy but you can do it.
      Good luck and welcome to Portugal!


  • Potato

    Hi there!

    I’m from Macau and my wife is Portuguese, but we both reside in Macau at the moment. We plan to move to Portugal within the next year. Since my Macau passport can travel to Portugal without the need of a visa, would it be possible to enter Portugal as a tourist (90d visa), then head to the said offices (CNAI, SEF) to apply for a family reunification visa immediately?

    Thanks for your help,

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