My name is Ana, I’m in my mid thirties and I was born in Portugal, a country I love. Life took me to other places – I first left the country in the 90s to go to university in London, in the UK. I returned to Portugal when I graduated and started a successful professional career, which led me to four years between Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, in Spain – an adventure I loved.
Along the way, I met and fell madly in love with an Englishman, so after some serious consideration, I moved to England. Again. And it’s been 5 years – I’m happier than ever. I love living in the UK – things work, and you are rewarded based on your capabilities and potential.
Although I love my adopted country, I am a very proud Portuguese. And also somehow an ambassador for Portugal right here on the blog – it is a beautiful part of the world and in Mr. O’s words, a country full of hidden gems: the scenery, the wine, the food. Apparently (or so he says), the women are not bad either.
I’m always praising Portugal – how high-tech it is in some ways (I desperately miss the banking system, electronic tolls and 20 e-passport lanes at Lisbon Airport). Banking in the UK is weird – to pay in a cheque or cash you need to fill in a slip of paper, and it’s only processed the following day. It also feels weird every time I land at Heathrow (one of the busiest airports in Europe), to see only 3 e-passport lanes.
The grass is always greener, they say. The perfect country does not exist, so I’m happy to take the best bits of both and get on with it.
I recently looked at my passport and realised it expires in October this year. Blimey, I have been married for almost 5 years. Went so fast! I glanced at my husband’s passports (notice the plural, he has 2 UK passports, as sometimes one needs visas, and there is no other document that allows UK citizens to leave Blighty), and realised that his passport is valid for 10 years. Do the Portuguese really travel so much that they need a new one every 5 years? No comment.
I decided I would renew my passport (and my Portuguese ID card) sooner rather than later, as some countries require a passport with 6 months on it. And for my life as Mrs. O and for my professional career, well, one can’t live without a passport.
So last week, I called the Portuguese Consulate in London. I honestly expected it to be quite straightforward. It kind of wasn’t. This took place in 2014.
Every time I call the Portuguese Tax Office, I’m often surprised how professional they are, it’s like calling Vodafone or another professional company. Every time I have a question, I call or email and within hours I get a response. They probably like the money we pay every year. Makes sense.
Calling the Portuguese Consulate was like calling the post office/pub/cafe in the countryside. Nothing wrong when you call such establishment, but not appropriate when you call your country.
I asked if I could make an appointment to renew both documents.
‘Only online’ said the gentlemen who answered the phone. Ok, I will have a look, not a problem. I asked roughly how long it would take.
‘A couple of weeks’. Ok, fine, I thought. But decided to ask some questions.
How long does the passport take? ‘A minimum of 10-12 working days’.
Can I keep my current one while you sort the new one? ‘Of course not’.
Is there any way I can get it quicker? ‘No’.
Can I apply for a second passport? My husband has two because of situations like this. ‘We are Portuguese, not British’. I know that, you keep reminding me.
So I have to live without a passport for almost 3 weeks? ‘Yes, why would that be a problem?’ Well, I travel for work, ‘You can use your ID card.’. Hummmm the USA government or the Maldives are not part of the EU.
So if anyone needs a passport and doesn’t have 3 weeks, we need to go to Portugal? ‘That would be the only way’.
Are you serious? ‘Yes’.
Ok, so to renew my ID card is it as easy as the passport? ‘It’s easier. You make another appointment, come here and do it, then we send you the pin code (high-tech, it’s a chip and pin card), and then when you get it, you come here again and collect it. You can even keep the current one with you until you get the new one’.
So I would need to go 3 times to the Consulate to get it done? (I only live 1h away from London, but three trips would cost me £160 minimum on train and public transport. Imagine if I lived anywhere else in the UK) ‘Yes’.
And I can keep my ID card but not my passport. Why? ‘I don’t make up the rules’. God forbid us.
So after this conversation, I went online and called Portugal but in Portugal – there is a phone line that let’s you make appointments for any document needs you have. The lady who answered was über professional and told me that for the following week, in and around Lisbon, I could have an appointment at the registry office in Odivelas (a Lisbon suburb), at 10am the following Thursday. All Lisbon outposts were full, except if I wanted to queue. Not really.
The key thing here is that to get your documents the next day (paying the necessary extra charges of course), you need to get them through before 11am. Not a problem, said the lady, you will be done under the hour. Excellent, I thought.
So I bought I plane ticket (£278), got myself to the airport (£64 parking), and a great hotel deal (£9 for 3 nights at a lovely boutique hotel) and flew to Lisbon. There was an air traffic control strike – just my luck! But BA still got me here with only a 10 min delay.
After I figured how to get to Odivelas (a 15-minute tube ride at under €2, followed by a €3.55 taxi ride), I arrived to the registry office 30 minutes early. I obviously waited until it was 10am, at which time I approached the passport and ID desk.
‘We are running late’. But I made an appointment.
‘There’s nothing I can do’. No comment.
My turn came at 10.45am. I told the lady that I ended the documents in 24h and travelled to Portugal only to get these.
‘Oh, that may be tight’. YOU ARE LATE, not me.
We got the passport sent through at 10.54am. Cost €95.
Shall we do the ID quickly? ‘Oh, we won’t have time.’ I don’t care, call the services, get it done, please. And if we stop talking we will get it done.
‘Oh, I’m getting nervous and don’t work under stress. Let me ask my colleague’.
She came back at 11.01am.
‘There is nothing I can do, it’s past 11am. You need to go to the Consulate and sort it there.’ I paid to come to Portugal and get it done. You named the price, the day and time and I did my part, how do I always get the wrong end of the stick? It’s not fair. Plus two days of lost income, let’s not even think about this for a moment.
‘Life isn’t always fair’. Are you kidding me? At this stage bystanders started to comment and feel very sorry for me. I was feeling very sorry for myself too.
I then explained the extra hassle it would cause me, and the cost of course. And time. ‘I’m sorry’.
I then started to read the price list on the wall. There seemed to be an option that the ID card could be delivered to a foreign address. Why couldn’t I do it? ‘Oh maybe it is an option’.
So I got measured, fingerprinted, changed my address, and the ID card will be sent to my house in England…
…Of course not, it will be sent to the London Consulate and I will need to pick it up. Can’t you courier it? ‘For security reasons we can’t.’ But you send it to Portuguese addresses by regular post…? ‘But not to the UK’. Oh, I see.
So the next day, I went to the same registry office to get my passport. After I had it in my hands (a work of art), I asked for the complaints’ book. The lady looked at me very surprised and said ‘but are you sure? We sorted everything out’. Have we? Well, I came to get 2 documents and only got one. I still have to go to the Portuguese consulate in London, take another day off work, and get there, which will cost another £70. Not to mention that I had to pay extra to have the ID card sent to the UK.
Portugal has let me down. It is shocking the lack of accountability and the lack of respect for a citizen, who is no more than a client. And who pays for all this? I do. My passport is costing me more than £500, excluding lost income. But the disappointment with the system is, in true MasterCard style, priceless.
Also worth noting that only Portuguese debit cards are accepted . I guess that it is lucky as in the Consulate in the UK it’s cash or a bank draft (what is that anyway?).
I have always said that I would never ever give up my Portuguese passport and apply for a UK one. But the UK has welcomed me with open arms (surely my education fees and taxes are very welcome), and having a second one means that this will never happen again. So I’m seriously tempted.
But it breaks my heart… And not just a little bit.
Portugal, you let me down.
Are you living in a different country and had a similar experience? I would love to hear from you.