How we got a Portuguese residence permit for a startup

Hi! My name is Stas and my girlfriend's name is Xenia. This is our personal experience of getting a residence permit in Portugal by startup. We went all the way from collecting information for the application to moving to Portugal for permanent residence and getting residence permit cards. It was not an easy path, but also a very interesting experience that we want to share with everyone. Somewhere we were lucky, and somewhere played a plus role our experience and newfound knowledge. In general, I will describe in order.

Where we came from and how we got to the idea of moving to Portugal on a startup visa

Ksyusha studied in Russia and Germany, received a master's degree in tourism, traveled extensively and toured almost all of Europe. She lived in Pyatigorsk, did guided tours and author tours in the Caucasus, even climbed Mount Elbrus herself. Life has carried me through a set of places in Russia, at one time has changed as much as 11 schools. I graduated from the university, worked in Business Youth in the recruitment part, gained experience in working with people, in personnel management.

After the closure of BM reoriented to the market of higher education. I noticed that there were people from Brazil, India, Pakistan and other developing countries who wanted to go to Russian universities. And around such people there are agents who charge them 2-3 times the tuition fee just for mediation between them and the Russian university. For example, someone from India goes to Makhachkala to study medicine, the training lasts for 7 years and costs 200,000 rubles a year. So during the whole period of study he is obliged to pay the agent the same amount as he paid the university for his studies. And what does this agent do? Practically nothing, he just supplies the student to the university. You can't bypass the agent, because there is a tripartite agreement between them, according to which the student has to pay not only to the university, but also to the agent. If the student pays the university but not the agent, the university expels the student. This is a sad fact and a harsh reality. Because someone wants to make a lot of money, the Russian education system suffers to some extent. Not every student can afford such payments. Agents are pushing the fact that education in Russia is noticeably cheaper than, say, in Europe, the United States, or New Zealand. And medical diplomas in India are valued equally, whether they are Russian or European. But this does not change the essence.

I decided to explore the higher education market in more detail on the more ethical side, and I even managed to sign contracts with several Russian universities. Somewhere it turned out to be quite easy, and some universities offered to bribe me for it. Then I realized that it was possible to transform such work into a startup. For example, it is possible to link those who want to enter a certain university with the students of that university who already study there. The latter would help the former with the documents and other questions for admission. So the idea for the startup was born, which we called Univenter. This is a kind of marketplace of student services for those who want to enter a foreign university. It allows you to share your admission experience, both for a fee and for free. And in the native language of the applicant, if that is important.

It was February 2022, at the end of which the war began. Before that, we lived in St. Petersburg. When we got over the shock of this war, we packed our bags in 24 hours and evacuated to Armenia on March 4 of that year. We decided to live there and develop our project. We began to live and work in Yerevan at the beginning of March. Our project began to grow, the first subscribers and clients appeared. At the same time we were thinking about where we would like to live next. Armenia is a beautiful country with beautiful people, but still we wanted to live in Europe. Our priority was Portugal. We had never been there (I had never been anywhere but Russia), but it was a country we had always considered. We thought we would definitely go to Portugal with a Schengen visa, to travel around, see and understand for ourselves whether we want to move there or not. And before that, we just watched photos and videos, read articles, studied the nuances of life there, and dreamed.

We also considered the Netherlands and Spain. But we chose Portugal. It seemed to us that the Portuguese are closer to the Russian mentality than the Dutch and Spanish. They are soulful, not noisy, calm and friendly. We also heard a lot of good things about the attitude of Portuguese people to each other and to children. Experience of our friends confirmed it, they just adore children and express it in smiles, conversations, compliments and gifts. It also seemed to us that there are not so many migrants who live in the country for the sake of benefits (if there are any, then in very small numbers, and life is not much cheaper than in other countries). Portugal is considered one of the safest countries not only in Europe, but also in the world. There is also much talk about the power of the Portuguese passport, the citizens of this country can travel to 186 countries without visas. This is a very decent figure. Let me remind you that the Russian passport allows visa-free travel to only 78 countries. And the Portuguese passport can be obtained after only 5 years of residence with a residence permit. And the climate, of course, how not to mention it. It's just magical after St. Petersburg :)

We started exploring different legalization options. The most obvious way that came out everywhere was the Nomad visa, digital nomad visa or freelancer visa, whatever. This is when you apply to the Portuguese consulate in your country and prove that you have a remote income of at least 3040 euros per month. On the basis of this you move to the country to live, work, spend money and pay taxes. But after reviewing the possibilities of this method it was decided to abandon it, because slots in the consulate of Portugal in Russia for this type of visa was not available, the next possible entry was in 7-8 months. And there was no desire to go to Russia in July 2022. So we searched for options that can be done remotely. Thus we came up with the startup visa. Especially since we had a real project that we wanted to pitch as a startup.

How we filled out the startup visa application and how we were approved

It has been decided, we are applying for a startup visa to Portugal! We spent the whole month of April preparing our documents, which was not easy, considering that we had not prepared in Russia for the move in any way. In addition I managed to lose some of my documents and had to restore them remotely, some even from Kazakhstan.

At the beginning of May we filled out an application on the IAPMEI portal (this is a governmental organization that deals with innovations, including evaluation of startups for residence permits). We filled it out and sent it in at our own risk; we didn't consult anyone, we just followed our instincts. The fact that Ksusha spoke English fluently and very well, she had studied and lived abroad and was very familiar with the nuances of writing official letters and applications in English, helped a lot. We also carefully studied the official websites and organization guides. We had some questions that we hoped to get answered by email, but no one answered them :) We also talked to one consultant who charged us 12,000 euros for his services, of course we refused such a generous offer. The application was uploaded in May, 2022, when there was a hot phase (the events in Bucha and Irpen) of the "cancellation" of the Russians, and IAPMEI was flooded with applications wishing to move. During that month, a lot of unpleasant things were said to Russian citizens living and studying abroad. They were expelled from universities, new bank accounts were not opened, already open accounts were blocked, and applications for Schengen visas were denied.

We sent our application on May 25, 2022, and it was number 700. As it turned out later, the application was written perfectly. This we decided because already on June 21, less than a month later, we received approval from IAPMEI. This seems unbelievable because the review period for projects from IAPMEI is at least 4-5 months, and people in chat rooms say that they have not yet reviewed applications since last October (which is half a year ago). And also the approval was without feedback, i.e. there were no additional requests for documents. According to the practice of people in the chats additional requests for documents happen quite often, and recently have been mandatory, usually asking to send a diploma or some certificate.

The most important approval of our project from IAPMEI was a big celebration for us. We were very happy about it. Or rather, at first I was the only one who was happy because at the moment Ksyusha was on tour with foreign tourists and out of touch. I got the news about the approval of the project alone.
I decided to give Ksenia a surprise. I printed out a screenshot of the screen with the IAPMEI approval and came to meet Ksyusha. At first she didn't immediately understand what kind of approval she was talking about :) She was tired after a week-long tour through the mountains of Armenia. But then she understood it! :))) In general, we were both very happy.

Choosing an incubator and entering into a contract with it

After IAPMEI approval, we had to make an agreement with one of the Portuguese incubators who also approved our project. To increase the number of Interested statuses, we wrote to almost all incubators and made video calls with almost all of them to present our project. The first approvals came within a week of sending the application. At that time about 16 incubators had approved it, while the number of Not interested was twice as high (which is generally normal). What was abnormal was that some incubators responded in writing along the lines of "why are you applying for a residence permit, go overthrow your president"... One incubator decided to withdraw its approval when it realized that the applicants were from Russia. Yes, there was that, too. But we understood that these were all personal attitudes of specific incubator employees and were not at all the official position of the country. They do not divide people into bad and good, for them a red Russian passport is an excuse to express negativity. Things are much calmer now. In general, the situation in Portugal with the negative attitude towards Russian citizens is not expressed in the way they write about the Baltic States or Poland. Portugal is far from Russia, it has its own problems.

Of all the incubators, we ended up choosing IPN, which is located in Coimbra and works at the university. Why there? Firstly, because it is one of the ten best university business incubators in the world and has produced two "unicorns". Secondly, because our startup is related to university activities, and Coimbra is the university center of Portugal, with one of the oldest universities in Europe and many students from around the world. And it was important for us to be closer to this area, to get feedback from the users of our platform. But it was not necessary, in practice you can choose any incubator in any city in Portugal. Not everyone knows that you have to pay an incubator a certain amount of money every month after the contract is signed. The services of our incubator cost 100 euros per month. But it would be possible to find an incubator cheaper or even free and save on that. We signed a contract with the incubator for one year, we are not planning to extend it, they have already made their contribution. The incubator's main goal is to bring the startup to the stage of creating a company that will be ready to pay taxes.

We signed an agreement with the incubator in June. But since we were still in Armenia, we asked the incubator to delay the start of payments until we arrived, and they agreed. As a result, we made our first payment to the hatchery in October when we already found a house and settled in Portugal.

After signing the contract with the incubator, it had to be attached to the approved IAPMEI application, which both the startup and the incubator had to do. In response, a declaration is automatically generated, which must be downloaded and already with it to get a startup visa to enter Portugal, and then apply to the SEF (migration service) for a residence permit.

Moving to Portugal and obtaining residence permit cards

We decided to speed up the process of moving and not to wait for the startup visa. The thing is that you can apply for a startup visa when you are already in Portugal. For example, if you enter on a Schengen visa. We decided that it would be faster and safer than waiting for the declaration and waiting for the startup visa at the consulate.

Xusha had an open Schengen visa, and I did not, and never had any visas to go abroad. We were already thinking about going back to Russia to apply for a visa when we found out that it was possible to apply for a Schengen visa at the visa center of Yerevan. I gathered the documents, applied for the Spanish Schengen visa and... was refused. The official reason was that there was no justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay.
I did not despair, I wrote an appeal along the lines of "I am a good person, this is my first trip, that this trip is important for me and my girlfriend, please give me a visa, I promise not to violate anything. Three weeks after that I was approved for a Schengen visa. The consul of Portugal issued visas only for the dates we had declared. But it was enough for us.
Моя многострадальная шенгенская виза
In September we flew from Armenia (we just finished renting an apartment in Yerevan) to Barcelona, and from there to Lisbon. Then we noticed an interesting figure: we were in Portugal exactly 365 days after the first mentioning of Portugal in our chat room :) We stayed in the capital for a few days, we hung out with friends, got a NIF (tax number, a very necessary and even obligatory thing to live in Portugal) and went to look for an apartment in Coimbra.
Я и маяк на Кабо-де-Рока - самой западной точке континентальной Европы
We were also somewhat lucky to find a place to live. We arrived in Portugal at a time when there was a lot of migration from other countries, the rental market was overheated (and it's not easy now). It was very difficult to find decent accommodation at an adequate price. And it was at a time when they had not yet adopted a law that prohibits taking an advance payment of more than 2 months in advance, and some landlords were asking for payment in advance for six months to a year. At first we stayed in a budget mini-hotel (hostel, what the hell) in Coimbra. The notable feature of the room was that the bathroom was in the center of the room, and the toilet was 20 centimeters away from the bed. To find an apartment we used Facebook Marketplace (by the way, quite a working tool in Portugal, although uncomfortable in use). We found an apartment with large windows and arranged a viewing. We were met by two nice women, a mother and daughter, they didn't speak much English, but were super friendly. They told us that they had lived in the apartment themselves, now moved in and wanted to rent it out. We were ready to be charged a lot of money up front, but... they only asked one month in advance and a 100 euro deposit. They found out we were from Russia and it did not cause any repulsion, on the contrary, they were sympathetic and wanted to support us somehow, they still remember dictator Salazar and understand what we are going through.)

The bank account was made in Caixa, which is analog of Russian Sber by the level of state participation. This bank is most often mentioned when it comes to opening accounts for Russian citizens. After the war began, there was talk that banks began to refuse to open accounts for Russians. But someone who was particularly enterprising complained to the Portuguese government and got the Russians allowed to open accounts if they are in the country and intend to stay here. We had no problems opening an account with this bank.

We got our NISS (social security number) right before we went to SEF. We made an appointment in another city, went in the morning and did it, everything went quickly and without too many questions.

The next step in getting a residence permit card was to sign up with the SEF to submit documents, including the declaration from IAPMEI. And we already had an SEF appointment before we arrived in Portugal. Moreover, we signed up in the SEF even before we got approval from IAPMEI, so we were so confident of our abilities :) More precisely, right after we sent the application for review, it was in May. It was very hard to sign up, considering that we were doing it from Armenia. We had to look for ways to buy a Portuguese phone number remotely. We tried to do it on our own, but it did not work, so we started looking for someone in the country. Through friends we found a Portuguese guy, who gave us access to his phone number through remote telephone service. We connected his personal phone to our computer and managed to call him remotely from Armenia. We spent the whole day on the phone, made over 200 attempts, but finally we got through. By the way, we were very lucky to get through in one day, many people have to make thousands of calls (I am not exaggerating) over several days.
Our SEF registration was in October in the south of the country, in Beja. I remember that when I looked at the map of Portugal and the distance between cities, I said "well, it's like from Tambov to Voronezh". Now, such a distance is perceived as a whole trip, after all, the scale of the country quickly get used to. We went there the day before the appointment, spent the night in a hotel and in the morning went to the registration. We brought a huge stack of documents, probably as thick as the palm of our hands. There were no problems, they accepted the documents and asked no questions. I even had the documents of childhood vaccinations, just in case (just kidding). Maybe we were lucky, we heard good things about CEF in Beja. But really, much of the credit lies in the competent approach to the selection and even the order of the documents in the folder. We seemed prepared to show documents for all occasions and answering any questions. Everything was apostilled, translated and attested.

We received our residence permit cards in the mail 2 weeks after we went to the SEF. This, too, to some extent, can be called a good luck, because many people wait months for the cards.
Of course, we were very excited, we started making plans to travel around Europe and the world. But... a year later I can say that in the end we didn't leave Portugal, because we had a lot of work to do.

How we started helping others with their startup visas

Many of our friends were skeptical about our startup visa idea and did not believe in our success. And after we moved and got our visa cards, they wrote us that they also wanted it and asked for help with the application :) We agreed, helped them with the texts for the application, gave advice on describing the startup and what documents should be attached. A timeline of our friends' application,
  • sent the application - end of August 2022;
  • end of February 2023.

After our friends, another team came to us asking for help. We were then busy adapting to the country, obtaining documents, and working on our project; there was almost no time for other things. Then the guys offered to pay us for our help. We agreed, how could we refuse.) Then another team came. At the end of the day this led to the fact that 12 projects and 37 people went through us. Of these, 8 projects have already been approved by the government and 28 already have residence permit cards. Another 20 or so teams we turned down because we could not help under any circumstances. The main reasons for rejection were the applicants' unwillingness to comply with the tax laws of the country, the lack of higher education, or simply the failure to pass the "web check". For some reason we do not doubt the success of other teams. After all, when you know this stuff well, then the application is convincing.

Now we have several projects in the works, including employees of a large and well-known Russian IT company. We are setting up legal entities in various countries, and solving questions about payment of services and taxes. And we are also doing an online platform that will connect agents or those with personal experience of moving with those who want help with the migration process.

We know that the approval rate for startup visas has dropped. The demand for this method of legalization is very high, there are a lot of applications. There are a lot of applicants who fill out a form without a clear understanding of what it is and how it works. There are also many who apply through agencies who have no real experience in obtaining a residence permit using this method. They may not be interested in filling out the application correctly at all, as they can get paid anyway. Therefore, the correctness of the applications and our help in this is now especially important. You need to be familiar with the requirements for program participants, you need to know the meaning of all the fields and the information requested, you need to fill out everything correctly and be ready to provide all the necessary information. We are now at a level where we understand how IAPMEI and incubators evaluate projects and decide whether or not to approve them. In fact, our actual experience is illustrative; all those we have helped have been approved by IAPMEI.

Our scheme of work is transparent, simple and reliable for both parties. First we communicate and answer questions about working together. Then the applicants make an advance payment of 2,000 euros. Then the biggest and most important amount of work begins to collect documents, compile the application, and send the applications to the incubators. Once approval is received from the incubators (that is half the success), a second advance payment of €2,000 is made. The application is then sent to IAPMEI for review. If the application is approved, the third payment of €1000 is made, and we do the rest of the work. If the incubators or IAPMEI did not approve it, we change the data and apply again. And at the same time we apply for the same project for a Spanish startup visa, so that we do not lose time. If both countries reject the application (the probability of which is close to zero), we get our money back.

Epilogue and Conclusions

If you are reading this article and have read it to the end, it means, first of all, that you have terrific stamina, and second, that you have already decided something for yourself. The hardest part of this whole process is not filling out the application correctly. The hardest thing here is to start and not quit halfway through. It will seem to you that everything is difficult, that the requirements are high, that you are not worthy. But you are not. Now with residence permit cards in our hands, we understand that even though we thought it was hard, we dug hard and did not give up. We still remember our experiences in the spring of 2022. So we can understand your experiences, too. You dig, too. If you feel like you're stumbling on something very hard or want to save time, talk to us, we can help.