What is the law regarding Portuguese citizenship for Sephardic Jews?

In 2015, the Portuguese parliament enacted legislation granting Portuguese citizenship to Sephardic Jews. The law recognizes the historical expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Portugal in 1496 and extends citizenship eligibility to their descendants. This initiative provides an opportunity for individuals with Sephardic Jewish ancestry to reconnect with their Portuguese heritage and obtain Portuguese citizenship. Since then, hundreds of jews of Sephardic descent have been granted Portuguese citizenship, with immediate access to the European Union and all its unparalleled freedoms.

This new opportunity for Portuguese citizenship is now being widely used and can be a great legacy to leave your family. Acquiring a European passport can open up access to a whole world of new possibilities, particularly from a country like Portugal. The country has been ranked as having the third most powerful passport in the world and is also in the midst of an economic boom, with a stable political environment that makes it incredibly attractive to investors.

In this article you will find all the information you need to know about obtaining Portuguese citizenship for Jews from Sephardic origin.

  • Who can apply?
  • Citizenship applications requirements
  • Step-by-step process to applying

Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship by means of Sephardic Jewish ancestry?

This opportunity is not just restricted to Jewish people, Portuguese speakers, or residents of Portugal. Any descendant of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry may apply, regardless of nationality. The only thing you must prove to the Portuguese Ministry of Justice is that you have genuine Sephardic origin and that you in some form or manner,  maintain continuity in the Sephardic tradition through generations. 

Under the law you can apply for Portuguese citizenship as a person of Sephardic origin if you comply with the following conditions:

  • You are over 18 years old or emancipated according to Portuguese law
  • You are of Portuguese Sephardic descent
  • You belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin


The history of Sephardic Jews in Portugal

The history of Sephardic Jewish communities in the Iberian Peninsula goes back hundreds of years, before the foundation of the Christian Iberian kingdoms.

After the Alhambra Edict of 1492 up until the late fifteenth century, many of these Jewish communities became the subject of persecution under the Spanish Inquisition, at which point many took refuge in Portugal.

King Manuel I, who initially issued a law guaranteeing their protection, later rescinded and ordered the expulsion of all Jews who did not undergo Catholic baptism. This was also known as the ‘Alhambra Decree’, leading to tens of thousands of jews getting expelled from Portugal during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

These communities then established themselves in other countries such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Turkey, parts of North Africa, and later in the Americas, such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and the US.

Click here to find out the most common surnames for Jews from Portugal.

How can those of Sephardic Jewish descent claim Portuguese citizenship?

Despite their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula, many Sephardic Jewish communities have to this day retained not only their use of the Portuguese language but also many rites of traditional Portuguese-Jewish worship, as well as family surnames, objects, and documents proving Portuguese origin.

Those of Sephardic Jewish descent may be granted citizenship by the Portuguese government if they fulfill specific requirements. In these cases, the acquisition of nationality always depends on a decision made by the Minister of Justice.

Application requirements for Portuguese citizenship

Any application for citizenship must be accompanied by the following documents:

  • A birth registration certificate
  • A criminal record certificate issued by the relevant Portuguese authorities, the country of residence, or the country of origin
  • A Jewish community certificate proving Sephardic Jewish lineage of Portuguese origin. This can be through surname, language, genealogy, or family memory. The important point to reiterate here is to show a genuine family relationship link. 

Jewish community certificate for Portugal

This is a certificate issued by officials of a Sephardic Jewish community that is recognized under Portuguese law. In order to obtain a certificate, the following documents may be requested:

  • Evidence of the applicants’ family history in connection to the Sephardic Jewish community by means of name or genealogy
  • Proof of use of Ladino as a family language
  • Evidence of Portuguese Jewish ancestry through other documentation:
    • Family records
    • Family tree
    • Birth certificate
    • Marriage certificates
    • Death certificate
    • Cemetery registries
    • Brit Milah records
    • Government archives which show arrivals and departures from Portugal

The certificate must include the following information:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Location of birth
  • Nationality
  • Applicants residence
  • Description of applicant’s Sephardic origin
  • Evidence supporting each of these elements

In the absence of a certificate, other evidence may be submitted:

  • A document issued by your local Jewish community supporting the application for Portuguese nationality
  • Documentation which proves direct descent, such as records from synagogues, residence permits, property deeds, and wills

If there is any doubt as to the authenticity of the contents of the documents sourced abroad, the relevant Jewish authorities in Portugal may provide judgment on the evidence.

A step-by-step guide to obtaining Portuguese citizenship for Sephardic Jews

There are just 5 steps to the process of applying for Portuguese citizenship:

  1. Obtain the necessary documents
  2. Documents are sent to Portugal
  3. The application is then submitted for approval
  4. The government analyzes the documents
  5. Portuguese citizenship is then given

After Portuguese citizenship is granted

After Portuguese citizenship has been granted, you can then obtain a Portuguese ID card or request a Portuguese passport. A Portuguese passport will give you freedom of movement throughout the Schengen zone and the UK, with no need for a visa. You can also travel visa-free to 183 countries around the world. The best part is, there’s a growing Israeli community already settled down in Portugal, with a particularly notable Israeli community in Porto, as well as a United States community of jews.

Frequently asked questions about Portuguese nationality for Sephardic Jews

What does it mean to be a Sephardic Jew?

Sefarad, from Hebrew, means Spain. Therefore Sephardic means from Spain. The term Sephardic is used to describe the Jewish people who lived in the Iberian Peninsula up until 1492, and their descendants.

I am not Jewish but have Sephardic roots. Can I apply?

Yes. Anyone who is of Sephardic ancestry can apply, so long as they can provide supporting documentation to prove this is the case.

What is meant by historical evidence of relation to Sephardic community of Portuguese origin?

Evidence can mean family names, language, or direct descendant line.

What are the most common Portuguese Sephardic last names?

The Sephardic diaspora around the world is composed of a number of different surnames, yet in the UK and the Netherlands these are the most common surnames:

Abrantes, Aguilar, Andrade, Brandão, Brito, Bueno, Cardoso, Carvalho, Castro, Costa, Coutinho, Dourado, Fonseca, Furtado, Gomes, Gouveia, Granjo, Henriques, Lara, Marques, Melo, Prado, Mesquita, Mendes, Neto, Nunes, Pereira, Pinheiro, Rodrigues, Rosa, Sarmento, Silva, Soares, Teixeira and Teles.

In Latin America the following names are also common:

Almeida, Avelar, Bravo, Carvajal, Crespo, Duarte, Ferreira, Franco, Gato, Gonçalves, Guerreiro, Leão, Lopes, Leiria, Lobo, Lousada, Machorro, Martins, Montesino, Moreno, Mota, Macias, Miranda, Oliveira, Osório, Pardo, Pina, Pinto, Pimentel, Pizarro, Querido, Rei, Ribeiro, Salvador, Torres and Viana.

In addition, other parts of the world these Sephardic Jewish names are also common among descendants of the Portuguese community:

Amorim, Azevedo, Álvares, Barros, Basto, Belmonte, Cáceres, Caetano, Campos, Carneiro, Cruz, Dias, Duarte, Elias, Estrela, Gaiola, Josué, Lemos, Lombroso, Lopes, Machado, Mascarenhas, Mattos, Meira, Mello e Canto, Mendes da Costa, Miranda, Morão, Morões, Mota, Moucada, Negro, Oliveira, Osório (or Ozório), Paiva, Pilão, Pinto, Pessoa, Preto, Souza, Vaz and Vargas.

How can I prove Sephardic Jewish ancestry for Portuguese citizenship?

The principal means of proving your Sephardic Jewish descendant line is by obtaining a certificate from the relevant Jewish community. The certificate should attest to the Sephardic ancestry of the applicant.

Which Jewish authorities have the legal right to issue a certificate?

Jewish Lisbon Community – http://www.cilisboa.org/

Jewish Porto Community – http://comunidade-israelita-porto.org/

How long does it take to get Portuguese nationality for People with Sephardic Jewsish origins?

Applicants may find that it takes some time to prepare their application, as acquiring the necessary evidence and documents can take a while. After the application for citizenship has been submitted it is reviewed by the Central Registry Office. This process usually takes about six months.

Can Portuguese nationality be denied?

As Portuguese nationality for Jews with Sephardic origins is granted at the discretion of the Minister of Justice, there is a possibility that the Ministry of Justice can choose not to grant citizenship to the applicant. Your chances of obtaining citizenship are greatly increased when aided and properly instructed with the correct legal support.

Are there any other ways to obtain Portuguese citizenship?

If you are denied Portuguese citizenship as a Sephardic Jew, there are other ways to obtain Portuguese citizenship. One of these is through the Golden Visa program. This scheme is one of the most popular residency-by-investment programs in Europe and could give you residence in Portugal with an investment of just €250,000.

Click here to find out more.

Is there any chance that the law on Portuguese nationality for Sephardic Jews will change in the near future?

It is always advisable that the application process for Portuguese nationality is started as soon as the Jewish community certificate is issued, and that the application form is completed correctly.

If you need expert advice on residency and citizenship in Portugal, Global Citizen Solutions can help.

Get in touch to speak to one of our team.

Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship through Sephardic ancestry?

You do not have to be Jewish in order to apply for Portuguese citizenship through Sephardic ancestry. You, however, have to be able to prove that you have Sephardic Jewish ancestry, which can be done in a variety of different ways.

Can people with Jewish ancestry apply for Portuguese citizenship?

Yes, Portuguese nationality law allows the descendants of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Portugal in the fifteenth century to claim citizenship in Portugal.

How difficult is it to get Portuguese citizenship for Sephardic Jews?

Getting Portuguese citizenship naturalization papers for Sephardic Jews is dependent upon having proof of Sephardic ancestry. Among the types of records used to prove this can be via family records, birth certificate, marriage certificates, cemetery registries, Brit Milah records, or government archives.

What does Sephardic mean?

Sephardic Jews are people descended from the Jewish people from the Hispanic peninsula (Portugal and Spain). Many Sephardic Jews were expelled from Portugal and Spain during the fifteenth century, and many of their ancestors moved to the Americas, as well as other parts of Europe.

Are Portuguese Jews Sephardic?

Portuguese Jews are considered part of the Sephardic Jewish community. Sephardic Jews are descendants of Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (which includes modern-day Portugal and Spain) before their expulsion during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions in the late 15th century. The term “Sephardic” is derived from the Hebrew word for “Spain” (Sepharad). Therefore, Portuguese Jews, along with Spanish Jews, are classified as Sephardic Jews due to their shared historical and cultural background.

What Sephardic surnames are eligible for Portuguese citizenship?

The eligibility criteria for Portuguese citizenship based on Sephardic heritage does not specify a specific list of surnames. The process focuses on establishing a connection to Sephardic ancestry rather than relying solely on surnames. Applicants are required to provide supporting documentation and evidence demonstrating their Sephardic lineage, which can include historical records, genealogical research, family traditions, and other relevant documentation.

The eligibility assessment is typically conducted on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration various factors such as family history, language, customs, and cultural ties. Individuals interested in applying for Portuguese citizenship based on Sephardic ancestry are advised to consult with relevant governmental bodies, such as the Portuguese Embassy or legal professionals specializing in Portuguese citizenship matters, to understand the specific requirements and documentation needed for their individual case.