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Guide: Residence Permit for self-employment in Portugal

Come to Portugal as a tourist and obtain a residence permit within the country
8 min
June 12, 2023

In this guide, we will discuss two options for obtaining a residence permit in Portugal:

1) Article 88.2 – obtaining a job in a Portuguese company. If you don't meet the criteria for a high-skilled professional to apply under 90.2 (no higher education diploma or salary lower than 1800 €) you can still apply for a residence permit under this article.

2) Article 89.2 – opening a sole proprietorship/self-employment in Portugal and conducting business in Portugal (with foreign or Portuguese clients).

In both cases, the process for obtaining a residence permit is identical, except for the article number and a few documents. We will describe these below.

The main drawback of this residence permit method is the long wait; currently, the process takes about two years. During this time, the applicant must remain in Portugal. This time does not count toward future eligibility for citizenship in Portugal.

Main requirements

👉 Apply while in the country with a tourist visa.

👉 You can apply with either foreign clients or a Portuguese job contract.

👉 You do not need to have a deposit in a bank account.

👉 You only need to earn above a minimum monthly salary (or equivalent income for self-employment).

👉 You don't need to have higher education.


Upon entering Portugal, remember to ensure you have "legal entry" within three working days.

 If Portugal is your first country of entry into the Schengen area, keep your boarding pass from the arrival flight.

If you entered the Schengen area through another EU country, it is sufficient to check into a hotel or rent accommodation on Airbnb for one night after arriving in Portugal. The hotel/host is required to send your accommodation information to SEF. It is advisable to keep the receipt for the rented accommodation just in case.

What does a typical process look like

✅ Step 1. File a Manifestation of Interest.

If you have a contract promise, work contract, or have started a self-employed activity, you can file a manifestation of interest.

✅ Step 2. Upload all necessary documents.
Prepare the necessary documents according to the list and upload them to Sapa.sef.

✅ Step 3. Expect an invitation from SEF.
SEF reviews applications on a first-come, first-served basis and will invite you for an interview after approximately 24 months).

✅ Step 4. Visit SEF.
After visiting SEF, you will receive your residence permit card by mail within 2-12 weeks.

Follow our step-by-step guide

Step 1. Get a police criminal record

All applicants over 16 must provide a certificate of no criminal record from their country of citizenship and any countries where they have lived for more than a year after age 16.

Obtaining the Certificate: Request the certificate in paper format from your country, then obtain an apostille, translate it into Portuguese, and have it notarized by a notary. It is better to order the document as soon as possible and start gathering other required documents while it is being processed.

Validity: The validity of a certificate depends on the country of issuance and can range from 30 to 90 days. If you have a criminal record, it is recommended that you seek the advice of a lawyer. The specific offense and the time since the conviction may impact the decision regarding your visa.

Translation and Notarization: Remember to translate the certificate into Portuguese and have it notarized before submitting it to the consulate or VFS.

Here are some examples of popular countries.

Step 2. Get a NIF (tax number)

The NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal) is a Portuguese tax number and the first thing you should get if you plan to immigrate to Portugal. Whether you will study, work or start your own company here. A NIF is a universal number you need when applying for any documents. The NIF number need for more often than the passport number.

You will need the following documents:

  • A copy of your passport or id
  • Proof of address outside of Portugal, from your "home country" (a bank statement will do)

There are different ways to get your NIF number depending on if you are an EU/EEA citizen or not, whether you’re applying remotely or in person. You can get a NIF yourself and for free in Portugal. Or you can get it online if you are in another country. The service does not cost more than €100-120 usually.

1. Get your NIF remotely and online.

You can get a NIF before you arrive in Portugal to save time to solve other problems, rent an apartment, or open a bank account. The NIF process takes 3 to 10 business days and costs from €89 to €120, depending on the type of service. We can be your representative and get a NIF for you.

2. Get your NIF in person

The default way of getting a NIF number is to go to your closest Finanças (Portuguese tax office) and apply for it in person. This path is completely free. Non-EU/EEA residents used to need a tax representative in order to apply for and maintain a NIF. But from July 2022 this is no longer needed, but it can still make the process of obtaining the NIF easier.

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Step 3.  NISS

What is the NISS? This is a Social Security Number (NISS). You will need it if a Portuguese company employs you or you are self-employed and must pay social taxes on your self-employment activity.

You can order it remotely through a service. The processing time is up to 7 days.

You can order on your own at the social service website. Here's how to request NISS by yourself. Takes about four weeks.

You can also call Seguranca Social at 210 548 888 or 300 088 888 and schedule an appointment for the "NISS na Hora" service. You can choose a city or ask for the closest available day anywhere in Portugal. The service is free, and you will receive your NISS during your short visit. Be sure to bring copies of all your documents, including your passport, NIF, self-employment activity documentation, job contract, and rental contract.

Step 4.  Rent contract

You need to rent an apartment for a year or longer. The SEF ignores an apartment's cost, size, or location.  But we do not recommend using false documents – the SEF can selectively check applicants.

Where to find an apartment?

Try to monitor local lease sites. Hiring an agent is not obligatory, but a professional may help ease the search and communication with the landlord.

Some useful websites

Long-term rental:

Try also:

Some platforms charge a commission, but the contract could be terminated at any time if you do not plan to live in rented housing. SEF accepts such agreements.

Airbnb offers just short-term accommodation offers. So we don't recommend using it for applying for residentship. In Portugal, you must prove your trustworthiness with resumes, essays, income statements, and work contracts to your potential landlord.

Documents you need to rent an apartment:
  • Documents for landlord
    Prepare income statements, contracts, and even a motivational letter about why you want to live in particular and how you will pay for it.
  • A landlord might ask you for a guarantor
    Some owners require a guarantor who lives and works in Portugal (they usually ask for an IRS declaration). If you don't have a guarantor, then it could be circumvented by offering to pay several months of rent in advance or several deposits at once (in the amount of a monthly rent)
  • Landlords pay for agent services
    However, some agents may want to keep the commission private from your agent, which may affect your ability to view apartments. To avoid this issue, we recommend offering the agent an additional fee to negotiate with other agents.
  • Ask your landlord to register the agreement
    The lease agreement must be registered in Finanças (tax office). Do not agree to stay illegally. It may cause problems for both sides. For the lease agreement, you need NIF and a bank account.

Step 5. Open a bank account

A Portuguese bank account will suffice if you're opening a self-employed business. Although you can conduct business with any other European bank account, we recommend opening a Portuguese account to show your commitment to Portugal. If you're starting a company, you must open a corporate account after obtaining your corporate documents. You can get a bank account online or offline with the help of a lawyer, or you can do it yourself. You don't have to pay anyone to do it if you're already in Portugal, as it's not a complicated process. However, you cannot open an account online without a power of attorney for another person.

Some of the most popular banks in Portugal are:

💶 Caixa Geral de Depositos

💶 Banco Santander Totta

💶 Novo Banco

💶 ActivoBank Portugal

💶 Caixa Central de Crédito Agrícola

Read more about how to open a bank account here.

Are there any special considerations for CIS or Iran citizens?

For citizens of Iran or some CIS countries, the bank compliance checks may be more thorough and take longer than usual. However, the chances of opening an account are high if you have all the required documents.

Are there any special considerations for U.S. citizens?

For U.S. citizens, you must indicate that you are a tax resident of the United States and provide all the documents listed above. The bank will do a background check and open your account if possible.

Step 6. Open self-employment or get a work contract in a Portuguese company

When opening self-employment in Portugal, you'll need to select activity codes for your occupation. You can find the codes and choose the appropriate one on a designated website.

If you are not a tax resident of Portugal, you'll require a tax representative to assist you in opening self-employment. The representative will select the activity codes for your activities and be responsible for filing any required tax returns on your behalf.

Additionally, any foreign national (not a tax resident in Portugal) wishing to start a self-employed activity or set up an individual company or a limited company must appoint a Fiscal Representative in VAT who is also a VAT-taxable person. This applies even if the taxpayer does not exceed the VAT exemption limit of Article nº53 of the CIVA.

What documents will you need?


  • passport
  • ‍NIF and a password to a personal financial service account
  • bank account
  • Rent contract

For citizens of Russia, Belarus, Iran, and some other countries, you need a tax representative (a resident of the country who is an entrepreneur). On the eve of registration, you must go to a notary and execute such a power of attorney:


Eu, (your first name and last name), (nationality), nascido em (country of birth), Passaporte nº ______________, expedido pela (country of citizenship) em 00/00/2000 e válido até 00/00/2031 (passport issuance period), residente na Lisboa, _______ (address)
nomeio minha representante fiscal para efeitos de IVA em Portugal o Sr. (your representative first name and last name), (nationality), NIF: 000000000, portadora do Título dо cartão de cidadão com número 00000000 e válido até 00/00/2034, com residência na Lisboa, _______ (address).

Nos termos no nº 6 do artigo 19º da Lei Geral Tributária, do artigo 130º do Código do Imposto sobre o Rendimento das Pessoas Singulares, do artigo 23º do Decreto-Lei nº 14/2013, de 28 de Janeiro e o artigo 30º do Código do IVA, eu Sr. (your representative first name and last name), português, (nationality), NIF: 000000000, portadora do Título dо cartão de cidadão com número 00000000 e válido até 00/00/2034, com residência na _______ (address), Portugal, 

aceito ser representante fiscal em IVA de (your first name and last name), (nationality), nascido em (country of birth), Passaporte nº ______________, expedido pela (country of citizenship) em 00/00/2000 e válido até 00/00/2031 (passport issuance period), residente na Lisboa, _______ (address)

Lisboa, _____ de________________ de 20______.

O REPRESENTADO                                 O REPRESENTANTE FISCAL

        _______________________                                                               __________________________

Work contract

  • passport
  • NIF and a password to a personal financial service account
  • NISS
  • bank account

What should be the salary on a work contract?

To file a manifestation of interest, it is enough that your salary is not lower than the minimum wage. For example, for 2023, the minimum wage is set at 760 €.

What income does Atividade need to show each month?

You must demonstrate a total monthly income of at least 760 € (the minimum wage for 2023 in Portugal).

Will the promise of a work contract be enough to open the manifestation?

Yes, the security of a contract is enough to file a manifestation. However, you must start work, receive a regular paycheck, and show taxes paid. You must bring all your documents for the waiting period to SEF later.

Step 7. Submit a manifestation of interest

You’re ready to apply! A manifestation of interest is your declaration in an online form indicating that you wish to be considered for a residence permit because you are working in Portugal. Prepare the necessary documents from the list and ensure all information is accurate.

  • Register and upload documents at https://sapa.sef.pt/an/default
  • Verify the checklist to ensure that all required documents are included.
  • Upload the necessary documents in the designated sections on sapa.sef
  • Make sure all documents are scanned in high quality and legible.

Necessary: take a screenshot of your personal dashboard after submitting your manifestation of interest. You will need the process number later.

Check youself

  • Passport
  • NIF
  • NISS
  • Atividade opening certificate or work contract
  • Certificate of criminal record
  • Proof of legal entry into Portugal
  • Long-term rental contract in Portugal
  • Salary payments or receipts showing income from clients
  • If you apply with the promise of a contract, you need to upload a bank statement with a sum of at least 9,120 €

Step 10. Visit the SEF and get your residency card

You're on the final step! After submitting your manifestation of interest, you must continue working on your contract or Atividade.

The waiting period usually takes about two years; during this time, you must reside in Portugal. If an event requires you to leave Portugal (such as a business trip or a tragic family event), you must first obtain approval from the SEF. You also must leave the EU (and re-enter as well) from Portugese territory.

After submitting your documents to the SEF, you will receive your residence permit card at your mailing address within 2-12 weeks.

Documents to bring to the SEF

  • Passport
  • NIF
  • NISS
  • Atividade opening certificate or work contract
  • Proof of legal entry into Portugal
  • Long-term rental contract in Portugal
  • Salary payments or receipts showing income from clients
  • If you apply with the promise of a contract, you need to upload a bank statement with a sum of at least 9,120 €

Do you need help?

If you plan to move to Portugal, Spain, or another European country, contact us if you need expert help:

See more details here. 

Got a question? Contact us!

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