Aside from dropping off your kids with an ex who just sued you for everything you’ve got, there are few destinations that cause more angst than going to the dentist or DMV.
We decided to do the latter two in the same week (neither of us have the first problem). figuring, if you’re gonna get tortured, you might as well get it all over with at the same time.
So we began with the dentist.
Most services here are best obtained by asking a local friend where they go. Businesses don’t do so much with websites here, and as far as I know they have no “paginas amarelas” (yellow pages), or any other colored pages for that matter.
Fortunately, we received the identical recommendation from two local friends, and so made our appointments.
Now, our experience with the private health care system in Portugal has been nothing short of amazing, plus very illuminating. Carolyn has received better care and more thorough diagnoses than she ever received in the United States, and at a cost that’s less than the insurance premiums we were paying. All without any insurance or government assistance at all.
We’re used to never knowing what anything will cost aside from our insurance co-pay (until we see the three page bill listing a $1,000 charge for a $1 bag of saline), which has resulted in medical costs skyrocketing to absurdity in the US. For example, the average cost in the U.S. for an MRI scan is $1,119, compared to $181 in Spain. Plus I think the system in the U.S. also uses the MRI to scan your wallet.
So it was of little surprise, although still unexpected, when we spotted a real live Dental Services Price List proudly mounted on the wall. That’s about $70 for a filling, which seems plenty fair to me.
On top of that, our new dentist is a young woman (which seems like it should be more common than not- I’d rather smaller hands stuffed themselves in my mouth instead of Doctor Shrek prying it open large enough to insert a basketball), and is an excellent dentist at that. Like our other medical experiences, we are absolutely delighted with the service we received.
So having turned that trepidation into delight, we set our sights on the Portuguese equivalent of the DMV, which is called the IMT. We had put off getting our licenses, even considering never exchanging them, mostly because we have a residence card which serves the same purpose as a driver’s license in the states, and otherwise the dearth of traffic cops means we have never had to show our current license. Plus, you know, our history of wanting to avoid the DMV whenever possible.
But we decided that we better get with the program because the law in fact says we must, but also because someone told us if we got in an accident we might not be covered because we didn’t have a lawful license as it were. I don’t think that’s true (more on that later), but regardless, it seemed like we might as well remain law-abiding wanna-be citizens.
In fact, I had already tried to get one many months prior, but came up empty-handed. The reason for this is that I did a Google search on what I’d need to get the licenses exchanged before I went in. The first website Google provided dutifully listed four documents I’d need. So I rounded them up and drove out to the IMT.
I left in the morning with expectations to be back sometime after dinner, since the IMT is essentially the same as the DMV, and the wait times at a DMV fall somewhere between an hour and “Oh my God I didn’t realize he was dead… no wonder the waiting room smells so bad!”
It turns out even the Portuguese equivalent of the DMV is generally less torturous than the American version. After only about 20 minutes (and no encounters with corpses), my number was called, and I plopped in front of a nice woman who spoke no English whatsoever. Now, this was a number of months ago, which means I had at least four less Portuguese words in my vocabulary, so we struggled a bit. Eventually she called over a gentleman who spoke English well, and we sorted it out.
It turns out the website Google used to answer my question had it all wrong. I didn’t need two of the documents at all, and as to the third she had no idea what it even was. At least I got one right though!
One of things she told me I needed was an apostille of my driver’s license in order to certify its authenticity. An apostille is sort of like a notary, except it’s recognized internationally. (I have to explain that because even my word processor program thinks “apostille” is wrong every time I type it, so it’s not even an American English word I guess. Plus the little red lines showing up all over my editable copy of this is driving me a little crazy. I hayte misspeling things.)
So I bagged the whole project for a while, although we did get the apostille done while we were in the states.
Months later, I was looking through what is otherwise a very helpful Facebook group, where it stated that we needed to have an apostille of our driving records, not our licenses. When I read that, I despaired a bit, and figured the hell with all of it. That’s something of a pain in the butt to get, especially when you’re overseas. So I thought I’d just keep driving with a US license until it becomes a problem. But then I remembered that the IMT lady had told me I just needed it of the license. I remembered it clearly because we had a conversation around the fact that it was simply a fraud prevention issue. Since I already had that in hand, I decided to ignore the new advice and try it again.
After braving the Door For Midgets and bringing Carolyn with me this time so we could experience the torture together, we sat before two separate ladies, side-by-side. We’ve learned that they don’t like you to take only one ticket even if you want to be helped as a couple. Everyone gets a ticket (no idea what they do with conjoined twins). But at least we were side by side.
There are four things you do need, just not the ones Google told me I needed. One of the requirements is a doctor’s exam, the results of which are placed in a computer system that can be accessed by the IMT. (After seeing little old ladies’ heads barely visible above the steering wheel driving 40 miles an hour on American freeways, it seems to me this is actually a very good idea.) And we had already gotten that done.
They also required an apostille on… wait for it… our U.S. driver’s license, not our record. I heaved a sigh of relief at that one.
Otherwise, all you need is your actual U.S. driver’s license (which they take away if you’re successful at bringing the right paperwork), our “NIF,” which is a fiscal number every resident needs to have (especially to buy things like cars and houses), and our residence card. Oh, and 30 euros.
But, Portugal being Portugal, it wasn’t quite as easy as all that. Because, the apostille was from the state of Washington, which is where we’re registered as residents in the U.S. But they’d never seen one from Washington before. The state had photocopied the license and attached the page into one three-page document that was stapled together with a piece of cardboard on the corner that essentially said: “Do not remove or this whole thing is frickin’ invalid! Plus we’ll come confiscate your mattress too, because we know you must have torn that notice off as well!”
But because it was a photocopy and a foreign document they’d never seen before, the ladies in the IMT were inclined to refuse it, telling us to go to the American consulate where they should be able to, somehow, do their own verification on… well… the same pieces of paper. One of the ladies spoke no English so we typed to her through Google Translate. We kept telling her there is nothing better or more accurate than what we already gave her, and that we doubted the consulate would have any more way of telling that it was an accurate document than they could.
The other lady helping us did speak English, and after paging through the three pages over and over, finally got up and disappeared behind a door. She eventually returned about twenty minutes later (while our spirited typing discussion was getting us nowhere with Bureaucrat Number One), and said that she thought they could accept them, but if the powers-that-be determined we needed something else, they’d be in touch.
Both ladies were very pleasant and friendly. It’s simply clear that if they don’t have exactly what they expect, all bets are off, and you’re beholden to that particular bureaucrat. We’ve seen this happen over and over here. The result is that if you don’t get the answer you want from one, you go to another. If the English-speaking gal hadn’t been there to help, chances are we would have had to have contacted the American consulate, and who knows what would have happened after that. My guess is we would have come back to the IMT with nothing more than we had the last time, hoping for another employee.
But we got our licenses.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t be shocked if we receive a letter in the mail telling us we still need to go to the consulate. If that happens, oh well, we’re just glad we’re retired!
As to not having our insurance covered because I have a US license, I seriously doubt that opinion as well. We were talking to a Portuguese resident who told me that car insurance here insures the car. So if you’re driving someone else’s car, you better hope they have insurance, and you’re sure as hell not covered in a rental. Which may be one of the reasons why the auto insurance company never bothered to wonder what our driving records were, I guess. Maybe they figure it’s always the car’s fault? In any case, the insurance was significantly less expensive than in the U.S., even though I could’ve wrecked 365 cars in the last year in the U.S. and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, with the low cost of all insurances and just about everything else here, I’ve begun thinking that American insurance companies are the main organizations to blame for the high cost of living in the US. And maybe for Trump as well.
As for Portugal, if someone here ever tells you they’re an expert on some government policy and you absolutely have to do X, Y, and Z, they’re either delusional or full of dodo caca. You can’t possibly be an expert, because you never have any idea what’s going to go down once you start down the bureaucratic road with the Portuguese. On the plus side, almost everyone we interact with in the government is friendly, well-meaning, and polite.
I just need to work on my Obi-Wan Kenobi mind control skills a little more: “You don’t need to see his identification… these aren’t the Americans you’re looking for!”