Guide of frequently asked questions on the acquisition of Portuguese Nationality for sephardim or their descendants

Questions and answers of great use to all Sephardic who wish to obtain Portuguese Nationality

Q. It has always been said in my family that we have Jewish ancestors. Could I apply for Portuguese nationality?

A. If you are Sephardic or you are a direct descendant of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula or forced to convert into Christianism, you may apply for Portuguese citizenship by “naturalization papers”.


Q. I believe that my ancestors were Sephardic from Spain. Can I still apply for Portuguese nationality?

A. The Portuguese Decree Law No. 30-A / 2015 of February 27th, that modifies the Regulations on Portuguese Nationality, does not make differences between Jews from the Spanish or the Portuguese kingdoms, and considers as Sephardic all Jews descendants of the ancient and traditional Jewish communities of the Iberian Peninsula. That is to say, the Jews resident in the ancient kingdoms of Portugal, Castile, Aragon and Navarre. It must be taken into account that after the promulgation of the expulsion decrees in the three Christian kingdoms, the majority of the Sephardic Jews who did not become Christian fled to Portugal where they only found a fleeting refuge, being them expelled from the Portuguese kingdom in 1496 by King Don Manuel. The Sephardic diaspora then spread to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the new territories of America, where the rigours of the Inquisition were less severe.


Q. What is the deadline for applying for Portuguese nationality?

A. The Portuguese Decree, unlike the Spanish Law, does not establish any deadline and its validity is indefinite.


Q. What are the main differences between the application process for Spanish and Portuguese nationality?

A. The most notable difference is that Spanish law required the applicant to justify being fluent in the Spanish language and also to maintain some special link with Spain. Thus, to be able to justify such extremes, the completion of tests or exams at Cervantes Institutes was required. The Portuguese procedure, on the other hand, does not require either knowledge of the Portuguese language or the existence of any personal link between the applicant and Portugal; therefore, no aptitude tests or examinations have to be taken.

Another essential difference is that Spanish law required the personal appearance of each applicant over the age of 14 before a Notary Public, while the Portuguese procedure of application for nationality can be carried out entirely through a legal representative, and it is not necessary for the applicant to travel to Portugal at any time during the procedure.


Q. What are the similarities between the Spanish and Portuguese nationality laws?

A. Both laws require the applicant to prove his/her Sephardic status or to justify his/her Sephardic family ancestry. The burden of proof is on the applicant, who must prove his or her origin. To this end, in both cases, the legislators have delegated the ability to certify the applicants' Sephardic origin to the local Jewish communities themselves. In the case of the Spanish procedure, such faculty was conferred to the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, and in the Portuguese case, the only Hebrew communities that can prove the applicants' Sephardic origin are those of Lisbon and Porto.

Another common and usual aspect in any process of naturalization or residence is the need to justify the absence of criminal records both in the country of origin and in the country of residence.


Q. How do I start my application for Portuguese nationality?

A. In practice, we could split the application process for Portuguese Nationality into three different procedures:

- The initial procedure consists in the application for the Sephardic certificate of origin before one of the Portuguese Israeli communities legally authorized to issue it.

- The second procedure consists in the formal application of Portuguese nationality, filed before the Portuguese Ministry of Justice, through a legal representative.

- In a third phase, once the nationality is granted, birth will be registered in the central Civil Registry of Portugal and the applicant will have to complete the formalities at the Portuguese Consulate of his habitual residence.


Q. What documents do I need to start my application for a Sephardic certificate of origin?

A. At start, you will need to bring forward your passport with a minimum validity of six months and a birth certificate, and to fill in the pertinent application form. In order to obtain the certificate, you will also have to provide all the documentation you can collect proving your Sephardic origin, and a brief personal letter explaining your family origin and your motives.


Q. How can I justify my Sephardic origin to the Israeli communities in Portugal?

A. There is not a closed list of evidence that can be used.  Portuguese Decree Law No. 30-A / 2015 of February 27th, states that the application must reflect the circumstances that determine belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin; for example, surname, family language, being direct descent or having direct family relationship with the members of one of the traditional Sephardic communities of Portuguese origin.


Q. Can I apply if my surname is in one of the lists of the Decree of Nationality or in other lists of Sephardic surnames?

A. The fact that the surname appears in one of the lists of Sephardic names does not have full evidential value. Although it is true that some surnames are unequivocally Sephardic (Cohen, Salomon, Silvera, Levy, Ovadia, etc.), there are many others that have been used by Sephardic and non-Sephardic families. The Portuguese decree points out some of these examples of Portuguese and Spanish surnames: Amorim, Azevedo, Alvares or Álvarez, Abrantes, Aguilar, Barros, Basto, Bueno, Belmonte, Cáceres, Caetano, Campos, Carneiro, Cruz, Días, Duarte, Elias, Estrela, Gaiola, Josué, Lemos, Lombroso, Lopes or López, Machado, Mascarenhas, Mattos, Meira, Mendes or Mendez, Miranda, Morão, Morões, Moreno, Mota, Moucada, Negro, Nieto, Oliveira, Osorio (or Ozorio), Paiva, Pilao, Pinto, Pimentel, Pessoa, Preto, Rodrigues or Rodríguez, Salvador, Silva, Souza, Torres, Vaz, Vargas etc.

It must be taken into account that a common practice among the Sephardic people forced to convert was to hide their surnames or to change the family surnames for others of animals, plants or places. Thus, they are common also between the Jewish converts, the following: Garza (Heron), Carnero (Ram), Gato (Cat), León (Lion), Lobo (Wolf), Falcon, Limón (Lemon), Cerezo, Cáceres, or of Cáceres, Ávila or Davila, and so on, with their respective variants.

The difficulty of proving Sephardic ancestry only by means of the family surnames lies in the fact that, even if it is proved that a certain surname has been used at some time by Sephardim, this does not prove that this has been the case in the specific case of the applicant; therefore, any report or study of surnames must be accompanied by other additional means of proof.


Q. Can I submit a genealogical report as proof that I come from Sephardic families?

A. A family genealogical report in the form of a tree or an ascending lineage, elaborated by a qualified professional and that establishes a link between the applicant and one/some well-known Sephardic person/people, can be the most effective element of proof of the Sephardic origin of a person. Usually, a report of this type will be carried out by a genealogist from the same country as the applicant, since he or she will need to have access to and search the civil registers or religious archives in order to obtain the necessary documentation (birth, marriage, death certificates...). This type of survey, which includes the reasoned report of surnames, must cover at least 5 generations starting the counting with the applicant, and must comply with the other particular requirements established by the Portuguese Israeli communities themselves.


Q. What other documents of proof of my Sephardic origin could I submit?

A. The Israeli Communities of Lisbon and Porto provide that the following may be submitted as evidence:

- Personal family documents. Birth or death certificates, family documents in Ladino (ancient Judeo-Spanish) language, personal objects, photographs and videos, records of weddings or funerals through Hebrew rites or traditions, bibliographic quotations or book reviews, historical documents, from the Inquisition etc.

- Lineage documents. Family genealogical study of the applicant indicating the dates and places of birth, marriage and death corresponding to several generations of relatives until reaching a recognized direct Sephardic ancestor or convert.

- Testimonial documents. Certificates or letters of recommendation signed by the rabbi or president of one of the Sephardic communities to which the applicant belongs or of his place of residence, by reputable witnesses of the family oral tradition, etc.

- Other means of evidence. The Israeli Community of Porto even admits the submission of DNA or genetic evidence linking the applicant to the genotypes of the Sephardic communities. However, the validity of this type of evidence will always be secondary to other more well-founded tests.


Q. How much does it cost to obtain the certificate of Sephardic origin?
A. As of February 2020, the Israeli Community of Lisbon requires the payment of a donation amounting € 500 for the first certificate application and € 250 for the applications of any other members of the same family. In case of the Israelite Community of Porto, the amount of such donations is € 250. Payment in both cases must be made in advance, and the amounts are non-refundable.


Q. Once I have obtained the certificate proving my Sephardic origin, what should I do?

A. The next step is to make a formal application for citizenship before the Portuguese justice administration. It is advisable that this procedure be carried out by a specialised and qualified lawyer. In this case, you should grant him/her sufficient powers of attorney.


Q. What legal documentation do I need to provide?

A. You shall submit the following documents to the Portuguese administration:

- The certificate of Sephardic origin issued by one of the aforementioned Israeli communities in Lisbon or Porto.

- Legalized complete passport.

- General power of attorney in Portuguese, granted in favour of the legal representative to act on behalf of the applicant before the Portuguese administration.

- Birth certificate of the applicant, apostilled or legalized by the Consulate and translated into Portuguese.

- In the case of women who have changed their surname, a marriage and/or divorce/death certificate, apostilled or legalized by the Consulate and translated into Portuguese.

- Certificate of absence of criminal records issued by the authorities of the country of origin and countries of residence, apostilled or legalized by the Consulate and translated into Portuguese.


Q. Do I need a lawyer to make my application for citizenship?

A. It is not compulsory, but you should bear in mind that this is a complex procedure and that some legal procedures before the Portuguese administration may be reserved for qualified professionals.


Q. Several members in my family want to apply for nationality. Can I submit a single application that includes myself and my minor children?

A. Portuguese regulations state that each application must be processed strictly on an individual basis, so each family member must have his or her own file. Also, you should bear in mind that only those who are of legal age can apply for nationality through this procedure. In the case of minors, they may apply, once their parents have obtained it, in accordance with the ordinary civil rules governing access to Portuguese nationality.


Q. What is the cost of the citizenship application procedure?

A. The fees fixed by the Portuguese administration are 250 € for each application for nationality submitted.


Q. How long will it take to obtain citizenship?

A. The application procedures for nationality are usually very slow. Currently, Jewish communities can take two to six months to issue certificate, and the next step of the nationality application can take another one and a half years approximately.


Q. Once I have obtained citizenship, what do I have to do?

A. Your birth certificate registered at the Portuguese central civil registry will be submitted to your home address. Once you receive it, you must obtain an appointment at the Portuguese consulate in your place of residence to obtain your passport.


Q. What benefits does Portuguese nationality give me?

A. Portugal is a full member state of the European Union. Your passport grants you the same rights and obligations as any other citizen of the EU, including the right to free movement, residence or work in any of the member countries.


Alejandro de Vicente de Rojas. Lawyer

Larrauri & Marti Abogados

Portuguese nationality for Sephardic Jews


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