jewish community Did you know you can become a European national if you prove you have Portuguese Sephardic origin? Yes. According to the Organic Law No.1/2013 of 29 July, the descendants of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Portugal in the fifteenth century have the right to obtain Portuguese citizenship.

Acquiring a European passport provides access to a whole world of new possibilities, including visa-free travel within the Schengen Area. Not to mention that Portugal boasts the third most powerful passport in the world and is in the midst of an economic boom. In addition, a stable political economy, the widely spoken Portuguese language, and a vibrant community make Portugal a privilege to be a part of.

In this article, you’ll find all the information you need to know about obtaining Portuguese citizenship for Jews of Sephardic origin and their family ties. This includes:

  • Who can apply?
  • Portuguese Sephardic citizenship application requirements
  • Step-by-step process for applying

What is the law for Portuguese citizenship for Sephardic Jews?

The Organic Law No.1/2013 of 29 July states that the Portuguese government may grant nationality to the descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Portugal in the fifteenth century. This law was implemented in 2015 and is still in effect. 

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 2015, more than 250,000 Jews of Sephardic descent have applied for Portuguese citizenship via this route. More than 75,000 applications have been accepted, providing them with immediate access to the European Union.

Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship through Sephardic Jewish ancestry?

This opportunity is not restricted to Jewish people, Portuguese speakers, or Portuguese residents. Any descendant of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry may apply, regardless of nationality or birth certificate.

The only thing you must prove to the Portuguese Ministry of Justice is that you have genuine Sephardic origin and have maintained continuity in Sephardic traditions 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

Portugal Sephardic Citizenship 2024 Update

The legislation affecting Portugal Sephardic citizenship applications was recently changed, adding an extra condition for all applicants. In addition to proving their links to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin, all applicants will be required to have legal residence in Portuguese territory for a period of at least three years, consecutive or interpolated.

The History of Sephardic Jews in Portugal

sephardic-jews-portugal-citizenshipThe 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, known as the Alhambra Decree. This led to the expulsion of tens of thousands of Portuguese Sephardic Jews 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.

Sephardic Jews: Portuguese Citizenship Requirements

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.

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

Eligibility requirements for Portuguese citizenship

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

  • Birth certificates and proof of registration
  • A criminal record certificate issued by the relevant Portuguese authorities, the country of residence, or the country of origin, which comprises a full criminal background check.
  • Jewish community certificate that proves Sephardic Jewish lineage of Portuguese origin. This can be through surname, language, genealogy, or family memory. It’s important to show genuine family ties or relationship links.
  • Proof of legal residency of at least three years in Portugal

Jewish Community Certificate for Portugal

This certificate is issued by officials of a Sephardic Jewish community that is recognized under Portuguese law.

To obtain the Portuguese Sephardic community certificate, the following documents may be requested:

  • Genealogy evidence of your Sephardic Jewish community family ties
  • Proof of Ladino as a family language
  • Evidence of Portuguese Jewish ancestry

Evidence of Portuguese ancestry

There are a number of documents that are eligible to meet this criteria. These include:

  • Family records
  • Family tree
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificates
  • Death certificate
  • Cemetery registries
  • Brit Milah records
  • Government archives showing arrivals and departures from Portugal

The certificate for Portuguese Sephardic Jews 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 element

Applying without Jewish community certificates

In the absence of a certificate, you may submit these documents to contribute to your eligibility requirements:

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

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

Obtaining Portuguese Citizenship for Sephardic Jews

Wondering how to claim Portuguese citizenship as a Sephardic Jew? We’ve got ou covered. There are just five steps to the process of applying for Portuguese citizenship. They are as follows:

  1. Obtain the necessary documents
  2. Documents are sent to Portugal
  3. Application submitted for approval
  4. Analysis of documents by government bodies
  5. Final ruling

Successful applications

After you are granted Portuguese citizenship, you will receive a Portuguese ID card and can request a Portuguese passport. A Portuguese passport gives 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.

Exploring Visa and Immigration Options for Portugal

If you're considering making the move to Portugal, it's essential to be informed about the various visa and residency options available. The Golden Visa Portugal program is an attractive option for many, offering residency to investors and their families. For those eyeing retirement in this beautiful country, the Retirement Visa (D7) is tailored for you. Digital nomads can take advantage of both short and long stay options with the Nomad Visa (D8). Meanwhile, the NHR - Non Habitual Tax regime provides significant tax benefits for new residents. 

For the entrepreneurial spirit, Portugal offers the Entrepreneurship/startup Visa (D2) - Start-up Visa (open company) tailored for those looking to establish their businesses in the country. Those with specialized skills can explore the Work visa for highly qualified employees (D3). Additionally, if you have Portuguese ancestry, you might be eligible for Citizenship by descent

However, moving to a new country isn't just about visas. If you're thinking of buying property, our guide on Buying Property in Portugal can offer invaluable insights. Dive deeper into the immigration process with our comprehensive Portugal immigration guide. For Americans specifically looking to relocate, we have curated information on Americans moving to Portugal. Lastly, one can't forget the importance of the NIF (Tax Registration Number), a crucial step in any relocation process. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Portugal Sephardic Citizenship

How much does Sephardic citizenship cost in Portugal?

The application fee for Portuguese citizenship via Sephardic lineage is usually €250. This is a non-refundable fee, whether your application is successful or not.

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 have Sephardic roots. Can I apply for Portuguese citizenship?

Yes, anyone who is of Sephardic ancestry can apply for Portuguese citizenship, so long as they can provide supporting documentation to prove this is the case and they have legally resided in Portugal for three years.

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

Evidence of relation to the Sephardic community of Portuguese origin 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. 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 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 do 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 in Portugal have the legal right to issue a Jewish Community certificate?

In Portugal, there are two authorities that have the legal right to issue a Jewish Community certificate: the Jewish Lisbon Community and the Jewish Porto Community.

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, which will make a decision on granting Portuguese nationality. The processing time is usually 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. This is why it’s advisable to consult an immigration lawyer to discuss your application.

Are there 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.

Will the law on Portuguese nationality for Sephardic Jews change in the near future?

The Portuguese government recently changed the regulations for citizenship through Sephardic Jewish heritage.

This means you must now prove you have legally resided in Portugal for three years.

There has also been speculation that this pathway will be closed. As such, it’s advisable to start the application process for Portuguese nationality as soon as the Jewish community certificate is issued and make sure that the application form is completed correctly.

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

Get in touch to speak to one of our team.

Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship through Sephardic ancestry?

If you are interested in obtaining Portuguese citizenship as a Sephardic Jew, you must meet specific criteria outlined by Portuguese nationality law:
Age requirement: Applicants must be either 18 years old or emancipated according to Portuguese law.
Sephardic heritage: To qualify, you must belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin.
Ancestry: You must be of Portuguese Sephardic descent to be eligible for citizenship.
Portuguese residency: As of 2024, you must prove that you have legally resided in Portugal for three years before you apply.
These are the essential conditions you need to fulfill to apply for Portuguese citizenship as a Sephardic Jew.

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.

Do I have to surrender my original citizenship if I obtain Portuguese citizenship?

No, there is no need to surrender your original citizenship if you obtain Portuguese citizenship, as Portugal allows dual citizenship.

Before you submit a Portuguese citizenship application, you should check whether your country of origin also recognizes dual citizenship so that you’re aware of any implications your application might have.

Did the Portugal Sephardic citizenship law change?

Yes, the Portugal Sephardic citizenship law was recently changed to include a requirement that any new applicants must have three years of legal residence in Portuguese territory before applying.

This change to the legislation will not affect anyone who has already applied.

A Guide To Portugal Citizenship in 2024: All You Need To ...
More Info arrow icon
A Guide to the Portugal Golden Visa Language Test for Cit...
More Info arrow icon
How To Get A Portuguese Passport in 2024
More Info arrow icon
Madeira Golden Visa: A Comprehensive Investment Guide for...
More Info arrow icon