I have been known to rant about Portuguese bureaucracy to my family and friends (and maybe even in this blog), but the truth is that the US isn’t covering itself with glory over here, either. Dealing with the US Embassy in Lisboa is an exercise in frustration.
First of all, you can’t just pick up the phone and call. The public phone hours for Citizen Services are between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. This of course does not include US federal holidays…nor does it include Portuguese holidays. Add all of those up and you’ve knocked out one entire month of accessibility (22 workdays, to be exact).
So let’s assume you’re calling Citizen Services at 3:30 p.m. on a non-holiday. One of four things will happen:
1. You will get a busy signal.
2. The phone will ring — and ring, and ring. I once put the phone on speaker while getting other things done, but eventually gave up after ten solid minutes of unanswered ringing. Surely they could at least put me on hold and subject me to crappy music!
3. The call will be answered by a human being. (This has only happened to me one time, and I was so shocked I almost hung up.)
4. The call will go through, but only to an automated menu tree. Each option on this tree takes you to other recordings with specific information. There is no option for speaking to an actual human being for normal business. This automated system is clearly designed to run before and after public phone hours, but I have been stopped by it almost every time I’ve called. (One of the options on the menu tree will take you to another service, where you are informed that the public phone hours for that particular service are for one hour and a half, two days per week. I am not kidding.)
If you hit the menu tree, there is just one thing left to do. You can press 0 for an operator — but only if it’s an emergency. I tried it once, out of sheer frustration. My call was transferred to the main US Embassy switchboard, where the phone rang more than fifty times before I gave up. If there’s ever another revolution in Portugal, any US citizens trapped here can just forget about calling their embassy.
I did try email once, after failing several times to catch an actual working human during public phone hours. That was on November 5 of last year. I’m still waiting for an answer.