How I Applied for My Cartão de Cidadão de Portugal

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Cartão de cidadão. Or, citizen card of Portugal. This is a little story about how I applied for my Portuguese citizen card – citizenship – through family linage.

Temporary Residency

If you’ve been with us for a good long while, you most likely know that we’ve held temporary residency, in Portugal, for several years. It became a bit complicated through the Covid years, but we managed. The funny thing is, I had boxed away my Portuguese family history that could have saved me a step and gone straight to gleaning my cartão de cidadão rather than temporary residency. Such is life.

A Treasure Trove

I’ve lived my life with the the idea that everything happens when it is supposed to. It’s not ours to reason why it’s just ours to work through when we don’t understand why things happen, or don’t happen. For this journey, I had honestly completely forgotten that I had a treasure trove of information tucked away in a closet for years (and years).

My Cousin’s Story

Long ago my cousin spent years researching his family history, on both sides of his family. My cousin and I had several conversations and he was aware of my interest in my mother’s (his aunt) family history. My mother either didn’t know very much about the subject or life intervened and somehow she just never shared much about her story. With that being said, because of my cousin’s research, I had fairly in-depth information about my grandfather who was born in Aveiro, Portugal but on the shelf it sat, until…

A Conversation

It was during an everyday conversation with our little family when our son asked why I had never applied for my cartão de cidadão. I laughed and couldn’t come up with an answer. It was about then the cobwebs cleared and I remembered I had the family history sitting in a closet.

First Steps

The first step was to contact our attorney in Lisboa. We originally hired him in 2017 to help us secure our Portuguese NIF numbers and set up our first appointment with SEF in Portugal. From there, we were able to secure our temporary residency on our own. You can read about it here.

From that first video chat with our attorney, in early 2022 to talk about the process of applying for my cartão de cidadão, to submitting my application, it took just about 1 1/2 years to complete the process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And, truthfully, it could have lasted much longer which I will explain in a bit.

Birth Certificates

The biggest hurdle in the process was that I had to pass the A2 CIPLE Exam, or I was dead in the water so-to-speak. I had to figure out how to make that happen, but in the meantime I got busy tracking down my mother’s birth certificate, as well as my grandfathers and of course, mine. It should be noted that my mother never really came in to the process as she was born in the US. I only needed her birth certificate to prove the family lineage.

I knew my grandfather was born in either Aveiro or Lisboa in 1895, but as you can imagine, digital records did not date back that far. While our attorney said he could hire an investigator to find out in which parish my grandfather was born, he warned it could take months.

At a complete loss, I went back to my cousin’s research. On the very last page, in the very last sentence I found the parish, Aradas, in Aveiro. My grandfather was born in Aradas Parish in 1895 – 128 years ago. Mind blown!

Você Fala Português?

As a retired teacher, I knew a lot of tricks of the trade in learning a new subject. But learning a new language was a whole new ballgame, especially Portuguese. I started out scanning pages and pages of online content, I watched Youtube tutorial videos, and looked at numerous sites to find a tutor, etc. First and foremost I knew I had to ensure that I was learning European Portuguese, not Brazilian. The CIPLE exam is strictly European.

Embassy of Portugal – Washington, DC. I took the exam, for the second time here.
Fast Forward One Year

I studied the language on and off for just over one year. My absolute best learning tool was Practice Portuguese. I can’t say enough good things about the site. Everyone has their own learning style and Practice Portuguese fit me to a tee. At times I worked with a Portuguese tutor, who was also fairly fluent in English. However, once I got the gist of things I found I worked best on my own.

Another critical piece of the puzzle was I took the CIPLE exam twice. The first time was purely for practice because I knew I absolutely could not pass it and I was right. I bombed it, but I learned so much for the next time. When I took the exam for the second time six months later I wasn’t walking in cold. I knew what to expect and had developed a few strategies for how to (hopefully) pass the exam.

So Close

My results left me gutted, not because I bombed it but because I was just 2% shy of passing. So close! I paid 25 to have my exam re-evaluated. It was seven long agonizing weeks of waiting, but my exam score was adjusted and I passed.

I passed!

As I mentioned above, “And, truthfully, it could have lasted much longer which I will explain in a bit.” the process could have taken so much longer had I not passed the exam on the second try. In the United States the exams are only offered twice each year. May and November. The exams are given at the Portugal Consulate in Washington, DC, Newark, NJ, Boston, MA and Berkeley, CA. I actually paid for a third test seat, just in case. Each consulate only offers maybe six seats and they go fast. When I took the practice exam, we drove to Toronto, Canada, and I took the exam at the consulate. We have family in Toronto as well.

Documents Expired

By the time I had passed the exam and received my certificate (actually, I had it sent to our attorney in Lisboa) the authentication of my initial documents had expired. Once again I had to have the three birth certificates and my FBI criminal record notarized and apostilled.

At the office of the Maryland Secretary of State. The clerk was so nice and he encouraged us to take a photo.
The Final Step

Timing. They say it’s everything. The timing was such that we had flights booked for Portugal at the end of September (2023). I carried all of my documents with me and when we landed in Lisboa, we went straight to our attorney’s office and placed them in his hands. Within two weeks my application for my cartão de cidadão was on its way. Now, all I can do is wait. I expect to wait at least a full year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it took two or three years. Afterall, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Meeting with our attorney in Lisboa
The Big Question

I bet you’re asking, why? Why did I take on this journey? I am half Portuguese and by taking on this task I gave myself the opportunity to stand in the place where my family line started. That was huge for me. Once I receive my cartão de cidadão, Abi will apply for his through me, as will our son and our grandson. They will not have to take the language exam. It’s my gift to our son and grandson, a legacy so-to-speak. And, bottom line it’s good to have options in life.

  • Yes, I could have done this without an attorney, but it would have been difficult at best. Even sitting in the same room with our attorney, who speaks English, we misunderstood each other at times. It’s the little nuances in language that will trip you up every time.
  • Because I applied through my grandfather, I did not have to be in Portugal, or have a Portugal address.
  • The cost of materials, tutors, websites, exams, etc., came to about $2,000. This amount does not include our attorney’s retainer fee. But, you can’t really put a price tag on a family legacy.
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