On June 2, 2021, Paul and I had our D7 Residence Visa appointments at VFS in San Francisco, California. As Arizona residents, San Francisco was the jurisdiction area we had to apply to. I wanted to share our experience in case you have an upcoming appointment or if you’re just interested in how the process worked for us.
Keep in mind that we applied as retirees, so if you’re applying for another type of D Visa, you may need additional/different documents than what we were required to show.
As we gathered our documentation over the months, we used inexpensive manila file folders for each document type. In preparation for our interviews, we each used an expandable file folder and they worked very well. We simply transferred the information from the manila file folders and placed them in the appropriate category in the expandable file folders – one for Paul and one for me. We used the VFS document checklist as a guide and placed additional “just in case they ask” documents under a miscellaneous tab.
VFS San Francisco office is located in the business district of the city and is approximately 30 minutes from the San Francisco airport. At the time, the building was under construction with scaffolding across the front of the building, so it made it a little harder to spot it from the street. When we arrived, we opened the front door marked 110 and entered a little foyer, where a guard asked our reason for entering the building. We simply said that we had appointments with VFS on floor 5. When we exited the elevator at floor 5, we were literally at the front door of VFS. We waited right next to the elevators until someone came out to greet us and check us in. We also were required to read and answer questions posted on the wall about COVID such as if we had symptoms, had been in contact with anyone who has COVID, etc. These are verbal responses. Then, we were asked to come into the office and be seated in the waiting room which also doubles as the interview space.
The office itself is small. There is a row of stations along the wall, similar in looks to a DMV office or a bank. There are shields separating clients from staff. Since this was during the time of Covid, everyone wore a mask. The stations are small, so if you’re going as a couple or family, it’s hard to sit all together at one of these stations. And there’s no room to put your documents, so you either must balance them in your lap or put them on the floor next to your chair.
First and foremost – it is EXTREMELY important to be organized. Those expandable file folders are a great investment in organization. It’s also important to be polite. There was another couple in the room while we were there who were impolite and arrogant. They also didn’t have appointments because they said they couldn’t get one. They didn’t leave with what they came in for. Humility and respect go a long way.
The agent was polite but not overly friendly (she loosened up after a while). She mentioned that her supervisor was going to observe our interviews, so I don’t know if she was new or if this is an exercise in customer service training. We never saw the supervisor, so perhaps he or she was observing via a camera.
The first thing we were asked by the agent was if we were aware of the Portuguese requirements of NIF, Bank Account, a sealed FBI criminal background certificate, and 6+ month lease. We said yes, we were aware and prepared, and she was happy with our response. Then she asked if we had the document check list and asked to see what the check list looked like. We showed her the VFS document check list and she said that was correct. However, we had only made one copy not realizing that she takes the checklist copy for each applicant and goes down the list and checks off each document as you go along. She said that was no problem and made a second copy for us. At the end of our interviews, she also requested that we sign it.
Although we sat together, the agent took Paul’s information first. Here is what she asked from each of us and the order in which she asked:
Passports – She took them and asked if we wanted to keep them with the application to be sent to the Embassy for the Visa stamp and then returned to us via FedEx. We both said yes.
Visa Applications – She asked for the applications. We had not signed them, preferring to sign in person to avoid having them notarized.
Color Photos – She asked for 2 color photos which we had. However, we had them taken a few months ago at a local CVS. When the agent looked at them, she said that they were not a good enough quality – she thought they were blurry - as the photos must also be scanned. (In all truthfulness, they didn’t look blurry but did look a little washed out). We asked how to rectify this, and she said that we could walk to the local Walgreen’s down the street from the office and return with them (we didn’t really want to do that); or have VFS take the photos for $12.00 per person. We said yes, take the photos and she did right there in the office. She also mentioned that it’s preferred to have the photos cut down to European size, which she did with the photos she took (our CVS photos had not been cut down to that size).
Passport Pages 2 & 3 in Color and Notarized – Since we had heard different stories about how the passport pages should be copied and notarized, we did them in 2 different ways. The first way was to make a color copy of pages 2 & 3 on the top of an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with a notary signing the page at the bottom. The second way was to make a color copy of pages 2 & 3 on a separate 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with a second sheet that had the notary signature. She ended up taking the first option (which she said was all that we really needed) but also took part of the second option – only the notarized sheet and not the color photo sheet. Since we didn’t have any visa stamps in our passports, this was sufficient.
Motivation Letter (also sometimes known as a Personal Statement). We signed them in front of the agent. We used some parts of the examples in the Portugal Visas and Permits document from the Americans & Friends in Portugal Facebook Group, but also had them reviewed by our Portuguese attorney who made additional suggestions.
Apartment Lease – We made a copy of our 12-month apartment lease. This was a signed copy. We also included the landlord’s acknowledgement of receipt of our deposit and 3-months advance rent as well as our Wise transaction statement showing that we transferred the funds to the landlord.
NIF’s - This is not on the checklist, but she asked for our NIF’s, which we expected.
Financial Information – First, the agent wanted to see our Portuguese bank account statements. Our account is with Abanca. From what I’ve learned, most Portuguese banks only put one of the account holder’s names on bank statements, even if they’re joint accounts. We had contacted our account representative at Abanca and he provided us with a 3-month bank statement, and also provided us with a document showing that both of our names are on the account. This seemed to be sufficient evidence of a funded and joint Portuguese bank account.
Social Security Pension Letters - We next provided the agent with recent dated letters (you can get current benefit letters from your online account with Social Security). Our plan was (and still is) to live in Portugal comfortably on our social security incomes and hold our other assets for investments, purchases, rainy day, etc. With our social security, we could each prove that we had more than the required annual amount of income equal to the annual minimum wage in Portugal. Plus, as we indicated in our Motivation Letters, our guaranteed social security pension is for life and meets the financial requirements.
The agent next asked for 3-months of American bank statements. We asked if this was required (mostly out of curiosity), because we have assets in a Portuguese bank account and meet the financial requirements with our social security benefits. She said that the Embassy likes to see bank statements, so we provided her with 3-months of a small savings account that is jointly held with Bank of America.
So, I’m not sure if the Embassy wants to see how much money you actually have in your American bank account, or if they just want to verify that you have an active and funded American bank account listed with your current U.S. address and regularly funded.
FBI Criminal Record Certificate – We provided the agent with the unsealed mailing envelope which contained another sealed envelope inside, containing the information she was looking for.
Portuguese SEF permission to obtain criminal records in Portugal – our attorney provided us with this document (although you can get one in the files section from the American & Friends in Portugal Facebook Group). We signed them in front of the agent.
Copy of Marriage Certificate – We each had an original apostilled copy of our marriage certificate, which she took from each of us.
Proof of Health Insurance – There’s a story here and a word of caution: We purchased our travel/health insurance through AIG (Travel Guard Plus). Paul at the time was 70, so we did some comparison shopping, and the choices were fewer and the prices higher. We also waited (perhaps too long) to purchase the policy which was about one week prior to our VFS San Francisco appointments.
We purchased the policy for a 6-month period, starting on the date we wish to arrive in Portugal (August 28th) and ending in February 2022. We specifically asked if it covered COVID-19 and if Portugal was a covered country and if the policy covered the entire Schengen area. The insurance agent said yes.
However, when we received the policy, there was no indication that COVID was covered, that Portugal was a covered country, and that the policy covered the entire Schengen area.
It did state that there was a zero deductible (make sure you have a zero deductible and make sure you have at least $30,000 per person in medical coverage including repatriation).
I asked the agent to have AIG write a letter stating that Portugal was a covered country, and that the policy met the Schengen area requirements and that COVID was also covered. Despite repeated tries by the insurance agent, AIG would not write a letter.
They stated that the reason was that according to TravelState.gov, Portugal did not require proof of travel insurance coverage for entry.
My mistake – I never thought to mention that the purpose of this insurance was for a Portuguese Resident Visa application. So, I told the agent the reason for needing the letter. AIG responded by saying that unless I could prove that Portugal required this, they would not write the letter.
So, now we’re within 24 hours of flying out from Phoenix, Arizona to our VFS San Francisco interviews and still...no letter. I resigned myself to the fact that the policy itself would be enough to get us through the VFS interview. In a last-minute thought I decided to scan and send AIG a copy of the American & Friends in Portugal Facebook Group’s Portugal Visa and Permit Guidelines 2021 which states why Proof of Health Insurance is required and that many applicants have had their travel insurance coverage rejected and how to avoid that by asking your insurer to issue a short letter that states the coverage includes Portugal.
We landed in San Francisco, and when I checked my email messages on my cellphone, the letter was there! I was able to email the letter to the VFS agent while we were sitting there, and she printed out copies and included them with our policy.
Flight Itinerary – This also is not on the check list. The agent requested, and we provided a copy of our TAP flight information. We purchased a Time to Think reservation (held for 48-hours) since we wanted to be sure that our applications were accepted by VFS before making non-refundable flight reservations. The agent asked for a second page, and I replied that this was all I was given. However, the sheet I did give her had both of our names listed, our flight information (direct flight from Boston to Lisbon – no layovers) and the date we are leaving (August 28th). She accepted this and stamped it as reviewed and verified.
Other documents – the agent asked if we wanted to add any other documents. Although she did not require these documents, we wanted to add them:
Portuguese Reference Letters – we each had a reference letter from our Portuguese accountant and a Power of Attorney document from our Portuguese lawyer.
COVID-19 Vaccination Verification – we made color copies of the email the Arizona Department of Health sent to us when our vaccinations were completed as well as a copy (front and back) of our COVID vaccination cards and the type of vaccination (Pfizer) we received.
Affidavit of Same Name and Same City – We read in one a Facebook post that someone included this, and it made sense for us as well. While we tried to make sure that all our documents included our full names as they appear on our passports (first name, middle name, last name), we acknowledged that sometimes, documents will use first name, middle initial, last name; or first and last name only. We wanted to verify that all these name uses are for the same person. Additionally, we lived in a suburb of Phoenix. Sometimes we would receive documents with the suburb named as the city and other times we would receive documents with Phoenix named as the city. We wanted to verify that both cities are one in the same. We had these affidavits notarized.
Fees (The agent asked if we were aware of the exact fees required).
Processing Fees – We had checked the VFS website for the fees required (they change monthly so we had to wait until June 1st to see the June fees). We had money orders made at our local grocery store for the Consulate of Portugal fees as well as the VFS processing fee.
Courier Fee – this is a separate fee if you want the Embassy to send you your stamped passports back to you. You can pay this with a credit/debit card.
Photo Fee - we also paid for the photos taken by VFS which could be paid with a credit/debit card.
That was it!
We each filled out a Passport Mailing Form with the address we wanted our passports returned to. The agent counted out the documents (we were required to provide no more than 50 each), put each set of our documents into separate envelopes and indicated that the applications were for a family of two. We verified our mailing and residence addresses and she placed labels on our passport back covers and on the document envelopes.
We were there for a total of 90 minutes.
Other tidbits of information:
We were never asked if we were arriving/leaving San Francisco on the same day (we had heard this was a requirement, especially during the height of the pandemic). We had our flight itinerary showing that we flew in from Phoenix and departed San Francisco on the same day, but that proof was never requested.
Although we paper clipped a lot of our documents in each of our expandable folders for our convenience, we handed documents to the agent after removing the paper clips. Nothing was stapled.
Make sure that your requested arrival date in Portugal is consistent on any document that requires this information.
The VFS office handles many countries, so you may be next to someone applying for a Visa from another part of the world. It did not appear that there were specific agents handling specific countries.
Our VFS agent told us that we should always carry a copy of our FBI Criminal Certificate with us while we’re in Portugal (not sure why and we never carry it around with us in Portugal).
This VFS agent took our documents one at a time – taking Paul’s first and then mine. She looked at each document and stamped them as Reviewed and Verified. We have heard that agents sometimes want the entire packet of documents handed to them all at once, but it seemed to make more sense to hand them over one at a time – less confusing for everyone.
The agent suggested that we keep a copy of every document we provided her in case it was needed at SEF in Portugal. We told her that we planned to make one folder with copies of all the documents as well as a digital copy. She thought that was a great idea.
There are restrooms on floor 5 down the hallway from the main VFS office that you can use.
Diagonally across from the office building there’s a Galleria, which is 3 levels of shops and restaurants. Nearly all the shops were empty (perhaps economic victims of the pandemic) but there is a nice lunch place on the third level called Ladle & Leaf. They serve sandwiches, soups, and salads. There are plenty of tables/chairs to eat lunch or have a snack along the inside perimeter of the Galleria. There are also public restrooms on the 3rd level.
As of June 2nd, there was still a mask mandate in restaurants and in the VFS office. We saw most people walking along the street wearing masks.
We were nervous! No shame here. I was shaking (a little). Even though we felt we had a solid presentation, it was a bit nerve-wracking. The agent was very friendly, though, which helped a great deal.
The agent told us our documents were organized and complete. We asked her if people come to the appointments unprepared and she said, yes, all the time. She said she realizes that not all the required documents are on the VFS document list, but she says that the second page of the appointment confirmation email provides additional information (there is in fact, an addendum sheet at the end of an attachment to the email with this information). She doesn’t think people read that. She said that VFS can take an application that has incomplete documentation, but she said that those documents will be requested before there can be an approval and it will take much longer for those applications to be processed.
Bottom line: Be as organized and detailed as possible. Don’t take things at face value – research and verify anything you’re unsure of. If you want to do this, it’s an arduous task but rewarding. Ask questions. Be persistent.
Until next time…
KP - Thanks for your comment. In our case, we registered with Social Security for online access to our accounts. From there, we were each able to print out Verification Benefit Letters stating what our monthly payment was. I have not heard of the requirement to have this document 'officially' signed and apostilled (not even sure it could be), and the printed out copy was sufficient for VFS in San Francisco. The letter, when printed out has the official letterhead and seal.
Just to be clear: I'm not an expert in D7 visas but am providing this information based on personal experience and what I believe to be the current requirements. - CW
This was actually very helpful. But I do have one question that I seem to be getting many different answers for. The Social Security Verification Benefit Letter - how did you present the letter? I'm reading that it must be signed by the Acting Commissioner on SSA letterhead with a seal and according to my local SS office - this is impossible. Actually, they never even heard the term apostille which will also be required in order to present the letter to the VFS agent. Were you able to get a signed letter and if so - how, how how???? This is driving me crazy. I have everything but this d... letter.