Portuguese nationality law

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Portuguese nationality law is the legal set of rules that regulate access to Portuguese citizenship, which is acquired mainly through descent from a Portuguese parent, naturalisation in Portugal or marriage to a Portuguese citizen.

In some cases, children born in Portugal to non-citizens may be eligible for Portuguese citizenship. However this does not apply to children born to tourists or short-term visitors. Portuguese citizenship law is complicated by the existence of numerous former colonies and in some cases it is possible to claim Portuguese citizenship by connection with one of these jurisdictions. The most notable of these are Goa (annexed by India in 1961), East Timor and Macau.

Overall the present Portuguese nationality law, dated from 1981, privileges Jus sanguinis, while the precedent law, of 1959, was based on the principle of Jus soli. This shift occurred in 1975 and 1981, thus basically making it difficult to access naturalization not only to first generation migrants, but also to their children and grandchildren. Only very recently, in 2006, was this situation slightly changed, but still stressing Jus sanguinis.

Birth in Portugal[edit]

The following acquire Portuguese citizenship:

  • A child born in Portugal to foreign parents is entitled to Portuguese citizenship if one of the parents have lived in Portugal for 5 years with valid residence permits and the parents declare that they want the child to be Portuguese.
  • A child born in Portuguese territory to foreign parents if at least one of the parents was also born in Portugal and resides here, irrespective of title, at the time of birth
  • Newly-born infants found abandoned in Portugal are presumed to have been born in Portuguese territory.
  • Persons born in Portuguese territory who do not possess another nationality

Descent from a Portuguese parent[edit]

A child born to a Portuguese parent is automatically a Portuguese citizen provided the parent was born in Portugal or is employed by the Portuguese state. Or, the child may be registered as a Portuguese citizen, if the parent is a portuguese citizen at the time of the birth. For example, a child born in Israel to a Portuguese-born parent can be registered as a Portuguese citizen at the country's embassy in Tel Aviv.[1] Under Israeli nationality law, the child automatically acquires Israeli citizenship if the other parent is Israeli-born.

It is important to notice that by acquiring Portuguese nationality this way, a person is considered a Portuguese citizen since their birth, so long as their citizenship is recognised while they're alive. Therefore, if a person has a great-great-grandparent who is a Portuguese national and all of this Portuguese citizen's descendants are alive (the Portuguese person does not have to be alive), then all descendants of the Portuguese national can have their Portuguese nationality granted. This happens because the great-grandparent can be registered any time as a Portuguese citizen by birth because one of his parents is Portuguese. Therefore, the next person in line can apply for Portuguese nationality because their parent (the great-grandparent) was a Portuguese citizen by the applicant was born (a Portuguese citizen by birth is considered Portuguese since their birth, regardless of when their citizenship is granted), and so it goes.

Prior to 30 October 1981, there were a few restrictions on claiming Portuguese citizenship based on having a Portuguese mother only.

Naturalisation as a Portuguese citizen[edit]

A person aged 18 or over may be naturalised as a Portuguese citizen after 6 years legal residence.[2][3] There is a requirement to have sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language and effective links to the national community. Children aged under 18 may acquire Portuguese citizenship by declaration when a parent is naturalised, and future children of such Portuguese nationals will be considered Portuguese citizens by birth. A naturalized Portuguese citizen only starts to be considered Portuguese once the naturalization process is done. Therefore they cannot transmit nationality to his descendants if they have already been born and are over 18 by the time the naturalizion process is finished.

There are exceptions to the 10-year-residence time. For example, Brazilian citizens can become naturalized Portuguese after 6 years of residence. There's no residence time to a person whose grandparent is Portuguese.

Portuguese citizenship by adoption[edit]

A child adopted by a Portuguese citizen acquires Portuguese citizenship. Child should be under 18.

Portuguese citizenship by marriage[edit]

A person married to a Portuguese citizen for at least 3 years may be able to acquire Portuguese citizenship by declaration. No formal residence period in Portugal is laid down; however, in practice, knowledge of the Portuguese language and integration into Portuguese society may be required.

Jewish Law of Return[edit]

An amendment to Portugal’s 'Law on Nationality' allows descendants of Jews who were expelled in the Portuguese Inquisition to become citizens if they 'belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal.'[4]

The Portuguese parliament passed legislation facilitating the naturalization of descendants of 16th-century Jews who fled because of religious persecution. On that day Portugal became the only country besides Israel enforcing a Jewish Law of Return. Soon after, Spain adopted a similar measure.

The motion, which was submitted by the Socialist and Center Right parties, was read on Thursday 11 April 2013 in parliament and approved unanimously on Friday 12 April 2013 as an amendment to Portugal’s "Law on Nationality."

It allows descendants of Jews who were expelled in the 16th century to become citizens if they "belong to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin with ties to Portugal," according to Jose Oulman Carp, president of Lisbon's Jewish community. According to the website of the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Community of Lisbon is the organization that unites local communal groups of Lisbon and its environs, while the Jewish Community of Oporto is the organization that unites local communal groups of Oporto.

Applicants must be able to show "Sephardic names." Another factor is "the language spoken at home," a reference which also applies to Ladino. The amendment also says applicants need not reside in Portugal, an exception to the requirement of six years of consecutive residency in Portugal for any applicant for citizenship.

Dual citizenship[edit]

Portugal allows dual citizenship. Hence, Portuguese citizens holding or acquiring a foreign citizenship do not lose Portuguese citizenship. Similarly, those becoming Portuguese citizens do not have to renounce their foreign citizenship.

Although Portugal allows dual citizenship, some countries, such as Japan, do not. Thus, dual Portuguese–Japanese citizens, under Japanese nationality law, must declare to the Government of Japan whether they are going to keep their Japanese or Portuguese citizenship. A similar procedure has been required in past years for dual Portuguese–South Korean citizens. However, since 2011, South Korea has allowed dual citizenship for some categories of persons. See the South Korean nationality law article for more information.

Citizenship of the European Union[edit]

Portuguese citizens are also citizens of the European Union and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament.

Former territories of Portugal[edit]

Special rules exist concerning the acquisition of Portuguese citizenship through connections with:

In the cases of Portugal's other former colonies, a time limit was set for people to automatically retain Portuguese citizenship or become citizens of the new country.


Formerly known as the Estado da Índia this territory was an integral part of Portugal (as distinct from a colony) under Portugal's Constitution of 1910.

On 19 December 1961 India invaded and annexed the territory. The annexation was not recognised by Portugal until 1975, at which time Portugal re-established diplomatic relations with India. The recognition of Indian sovereignty over Goa was backdated to 19 December 1961.

Portuguese nationality law allows those who were Portuguese citizens connected with Goa before 1961 to retain Portuguese nationality. Acquisition of Indian citizenship was determined to be non-voluntary at the time.

One practical obstacle is that the civil records of Goa were abandoned by Portugal during the invasion and hence it can be difficult for descendants of pre-1961 Portuguese citizens from Goa to prove their status.

East Timor[edit]

East Timor was a territory of Portugal (Portuguese Timor) until its invasion by Indonesia in 1975, followed by annexation in 1976. Indonesian citizenship was conferred by Indonesia; however, Portugal did not recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor. However the Indonesian annexation was recognised by Australia and some other countries.

The question of whether East Timorese were entitled to Portuguese citizenship was raised on numerous occasions in the Australian courts in the context of applications for refugee status in Australia by East Timorese. The Australian immigration authorities argued that if East Timorese were Portuguese citizens, they should be expected to seek protection there and not in Australia.[5][6]

East Timor became an independent nation on 20 May 2002. However, owing to the lack of employment opportunities in their country and the becoming a member of Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, many East Timorese have taken advantage of Portuguese citizenship to live and work in Portugal and other EU countries, such as the UK.[7]


The former Portuguese territory of Macau became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on 20 December 1999.

Portugal had extended its nationality laws to Macau and many inhabitants of Macau hold Portuguese citizenship on this basis. It is no longer possible to acquire Portuguese citizenship by connection with Macau after the 20 December 1999 transfer of sovereignty to China,[8][9] except by birth or association with the territory previous to that date.[10]

However, those born after 20 December 1999 to Portuguese from Macau or Macanese that hold Portuguese citizenship are eligible to the citizenship themselves due to the Portuguese heritage law.[11] (Jus Sanguinis)

Rights and obligations of Portuguese citizens[edit]

All Portuguese citizens are:

  • able to vote in political elections upon reaching the age of 18.
  • able to run for political office.
  • able to vote in referendums.
  • able to obtain a Portuguese passport.
  • prevented from getting deported from Portugal.

As Portuguese citizens are also European citizens, their rights include:

  • the right to live, work and retire in any member state of the European Union, for unlimited period.
  • the right to vote in local and European elections in other members states.
  • the right to stand in local and European elections in other members states.
  • the right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other member states when in a non-member state, if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen's own state.

More information: Citizenship of the European Union

Recent changes[edit]

Recent changes in the Portuguese nationality law occurred in 2006 based on the proposals of deputy Neves Moreira, member of the Democratic Social Party (PSD). Due to these changes, grandchildren of Portuguese citizens born in another country are now able to obtain naturalisation by a simpler process.

Even so, members of the PSD have proposed another change at the Portuguese nationality law, in 2009. This proposal, which would give Portuguese nationaIity by birth rather than by naturalization to grandchildren of Portuguese citizens born in another country, was rejected.


  1. ^ Embassies and Consulates in Israel, science.co.il, retrieved 2008-08-31 
  2. ^ "Portal SEF". Sef.pt. 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ 16th century Jewish refugees can claim Portuguese citizenship, From Haaretz article, retrieved dated 13 April 2013  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ [2][dead link]
  6. ^ [3][dead link]
  7. ^ Talks follow migrant worker clash, BBC News, 9 December 2005, retrieved 2008-08-31 
  8. ^ [4][dead link]
  9. ^ [5][dead link]
  10. ^ "O DIREITO ONLINE - ReflexĂľes sobre a nacionalidade portuguesa em Macau". Odireito.com.mo. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 
  11. ^ "Cidadania Portuguesa". Tirarpassaporte.com. Retrieved 2014-03-07. 

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