If you scroll down this blog a ways, right above the “Top Ten Things We Love About Portugal” list, you’ll see the image to the right:
The truth is, today, we kinda might actually now be inclined to make an entry for Number One, entitled: “The Portuguese Bureaucracy.”
Although “hate” is probably too strong a word. While we’ve occasionally been flummoxed, led astray, or put in a chokehold while navigating the Portuguese Bureaucracy, we’ve mostly dealt with it with some degree of bemusement. This is because A) We’re guests here right now, so we’re not about to complain about our host especially when everything else is pretty much paradise, B) Some of the confusion can be attributed to the language and cultural barriers, and C) I give Portugal a lot of grace because despite the fact that it’s Europe’s oldest country, it actually is a relatively young country in terms of government, because they didn’t throw the yoke of their dictatorship off until the 1970’s. So they’re still figuring some of this stuff out.
My latest plunge into the bureaucratic morass involved getting a Portuguese driver’s license. I did a search online to see what I had to do and where I should do it. Searching in Google with the term: “documents needed for a portuguese driver’s license” gave me the following top result:
So I looked up where the closest “IMT,” or “Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes” office was (their version of the DMV), and after dutifully filling out the IMT Modelo 13 form and gathering up the other documents, I confidently walked in and took the obligatory number (even though it was in metric, I still understood it), and waited about 20 minutes (which is a helluva lot less time than I usually wait for the DMV, even in metric time), after which I found myself in front of a reasonably pleasant government worker who spoke no English whatsoever.
That was fine, because I can say, “How are you?” and “Lunch was delicious,” and “There is a dog in my pants,” so we were able to muddle through, well, really to nowhere. I actually do know how to say, “I only speak and understand a little Portuguese, so can you please speak slowly?” in Portuguese. After I said that, she proceeded to repeat whatever she had just said, only slightly faster.
After it was clear I would not be able to understand her, and in turn, she had no interest in finding out why there was a dog in my pants, she called in another employee who knew English. He translated for us, delivering the unfortunate news that out of the four documents I had, only one of them was actually necessary, and that I would need three completely different ones that Google neglected to mention, one of which is a doctor’s note that I’m healthy enough to drive. The IMT Modelo 13 form was tossed dismissively to the side: “You don’t need that.”
Google clearly is just as flummoxed with Portuguese bureaucracy as we are.
Another document I was told I needed is a certification that my current US driver’s license is valid. When I asked where I could get such a thing (especially since in the US the driver’s license itself is generally considered enough proof of its validity, so I had no idea what they were talking about), they indicated that they, too, had no idea.
They want me to get a document I’ve never heard of, and they have no idea where I can get such a thing. Huh.
They did suggest maybe that I could contact the US embassy in Portugal to find out. So I did, because we’ve gotten to know them pretty well since we’ve had to get our fingerprints retaken and then taken again for a form to get our visas, and ohmigod I was going to write about that too but now this entry is already too long and my head hurts just thinking about that bureaucratic mess, part of which is the US’s fault. And the US has a 200 year head start on Portugal with its government bureaucracy. Anyway, our embassy helpfully responded that I needed to go to our state capitol and get an “Abstract of Driving Record,” duly certified by the Secretary of State with an apostile, which is kind of like an international notarization. (It’s a little known fact that Jesus needed twelve of those to get into heaven, because when you have an infinitely old bureaucracy, the necessary paperwork is ungodly.) What? Oh. Aposteeel. Not apostle. Okay, nevermind. Although I’m sure he only had to fill out form 09834-B and write a short essay about what it means to be in heaven for eternity, which, as we all know, is a very long time, even in metric.
So, in order to get a Portuguese driver’s license, which they require me to have after being in Portugal for six months, I have to fly back to the US to get a document first.
I fear there are too few of us Americans who are emigrating to Portugal to make a business out of this, but I remember when I moved into a new home, a helpful company provided a basket with all sorts of local coupons and information about the area. That would be a nice thing to have for a move like this.
Unfortunately, what’s true is that the documents required can sometimes vary from office to office. It literally wouldn’t surprise me if I went into another IMT office only to hear that they want four completely different documents. I’ve seen that very thing in action, trust me. After flying back to the US and getting that certification, I’m going to return to the IMT and take ten numbers from the number-dispensing machine and refuse to talk to anyone else except the woman I saw, despite our language barrier. She wrote down what I needed by hand, and by God, I’m going to hold her to it and not risk having someone else change the rules. I may even get an apostile on her note before I go back in.
In the end, my answer to the Google query would be, “Go to your local IMT office and ask them before you do anything.”
That’s the best advice you’ll ever get if you’re an American trying to switch to a Portuguese driver’s license.