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🏝️🛂 The Tourism Bureau and Passport Office of the Açores

Our son was born a Portuguese citizen. My wife and I had been permanent residents in Portugal for over a year when he arrived and so he qualified.

We did not hesitate to register him as one. Portuguese citizenship has no downsides. Unlike American citizenship, he does not owe taxes in Portugal on work performed outside of Portugal. Holding a Portuguese passport does not preclude him from holding other passports, either.

The country does require citizens to serve in the armed forces - for exactly one day. Portuguese 18-year-olds tour a military base for what amounts to a recruiting pitch to comply with their national obligation. My wife and I will be sure to write letters to our firstborn as he embarks on that tour of duty with his fellow heroes of the sea.

The upsides are many. A Portuguese passport is also a European Union passport. He can freely enter and live and work in any other member state. The boy can grow up in Portugal, attend university in France, accept a job in Germany, and retire to Italy without visa sponsorships or immigration attorneys. More immediate, he can cut to the front of the line any time he lands at a European airport.

Before he was born we planned his first trip outside of the EU. We made plans to attend the wedding of a close friend in Manhattan early this fall. The destination is perfect. Lisbon has multiple direct flights to New York and they take approximately 6-7 hours. My parents can also hop on a direct flight from Austin to meet us and see their grandson. We can celebrate our friends and show Jack the United States for the first time.

The only burden is that Jack will need two passports for this trip. If you are a dual citizen, you always need to present the passport of the country you are entering if that country is one where you hold citizenship. Jack must enter Portugal on a Portuguese passport. Likewise, he needs to land in New York with an American passport in hand.

We took care of the American side of the equation a couple weeks ago at the United States Embassy in Lisbon. We booked a formal appointment, prepared three forms, and arrived 20 minutes early to the compound. The Embassy sits just north of the city center and reflects a change that took place in most American delegations shortly after the Iranian Revolution and the 1983 Beirut Embassy bombing. Much of the global strategy is based on the 1985 Inman Report written by fellow Texan and Longhorn, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman.

Historically, the US placed embassies like every other country - they purchased palatial homes from aristocratic families in the heart of the city. If you tour central Lisbon you’ll find some of the most beautiful residential buildings right above you on the sidewalk are home to embassies from the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, France, and Luxembourg for some reason. The United States did the same thing in Portugal decades ago and purchased the former residence of the Count of Olivais in the Lapa neighborhood.

During the Napoleonic Wars the US moved our Embassy to Brazil with the Portuguese royal family when they fled to Rio.

In 1983, the US embassy in Lisbon followed suit with other American delegations and decamped to a fortified compound. They selected the grounds of a former monastery. The new location could be surrounded by 3 meter walls, filled with hardened new construction, and set back from vehicular traffic. The Olivais palace became the ambassador’s official residence where it primarily serves to host social functions.

We arrived at this compound with our infant son in tow. A long line had already formed but we later learned those waiting were non-US citizens applying for US visas. We hopped out to a faster track when an embassy employee asked if anyone in the visa line was an American citizen and we held up our blue passports.

The employee ushered us to the first layer of the security perimeter. We passed a metal detector, gave them our phones and watches, and were escorted at all times to one of the buildings on the compound. We passed through two more keyed doors and arrived in a room set apart for services for American citizens abroad. We waited there with a couple of other families with infants as well as two women who had lost passports due to purse theft.

Turns out waiting rooms are very boring without smart phones. Eventually we saw a consular officer, answered a few fun questions about our marriage and our son, and were given an American flag and a receipt that we had officially enrolled him as an American citizen. We were escorted back out of the Embassy through multiple keypad doors by a guard.

We then turned our attention to the Portuguese experience. I booked an appointment through some kind of online portal for government services and was told to show up with the baby at a location in the Saldanha neighborhood of Lisbon on a Friday morning. Saldanha is a nice residential neighborhood in central Lisbon; condos and parks and cafes sprinkled with some commercial buildings. We arrived, early again, and stood outside what we believed was the address. A bland commercial building sat there wedged between a hotel and some apartments. We scanned the directory taped to the window on the door (there was no lobby) and saw a few law firms, miscellaneous companies, and the Tourism Board of the Açores.

The Açores are a small island chain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that have been Portuguese since the Portuguese became the first humans to settle them. I’m told they are gorgeous and I very much want to visit. However, the group of people with full time jobs that promote the Açores as a destination were not who I figured could issue an official Portuguese passport.

Rachel was mad at me because she figured that my subpar Portuguese led me to make an appointment for what must be a travel agent, not a government agency. We decided to try our luck and buzzed the Tourism Board - more out of curiosity than anything else at this point. The door opened. We hopped into an elevator and walked out into a low-ceilinged space filled with kitsch and trinkets from the Açores. We started to apologize for our intrusion until we saw the photo booth. One large passport photo machine sat in the middle of the room alongside island paraphernalia. Next to it sat a woman who pointed to a couch on the other side of the room. We obeyed.

My best guess is that the Portuguese government started farming out tasks like passport applications to the receptionists at semi-state agencies as a way to relieve some of the burden on central processing places. This woman seems to have seen two to three applicants over the course of the morning while also doing her reception duties for the tourism board.

I appreciate the attempt to efficiently use mostly idle resources, but this location could use an upgrade. The place was warm, single-threaded, and we spent an hour trying to get Jack to take a photo on the adult-sized machine that the system and the receptionist could approve. Curse words were mumbled as we tried to hold him upright just long enough, without crying, with his eyes open, while staring ahead, without our hands in the photo. Eventually we resorted to having me sit down in the chair draped under a white towel that blended with the background while Jack sat in my ghastly lap.

We finally succeeded. The woman told us we would receive the passport in the mail in five to six days. I assumed she was lying. I have been waiting four months for my residency card renewal to arrive in the mail despite submitting everything early. There was no way an official document could arrive from the Portuguese government in less than a week.

Turns out that the services for people who can vote do run faster. Five days later a Portuguese passport showed up for our son, listing his official height as 0.57m and an expiration date five years into the future. More importantly, the passport was for Portugal, not the Autonomous Region of the Açores.

Published Apr 22, 2024

Austinite in Lisbon. Emerging Tech at Cloudflare.Sign up for emails