Note: Every effort has been made to make this article as factual as possible, however, the information contained is not equal to what an legal professional can offer. If you have any questions, please consult with a Portuguese lawyer – ideally one that specialises in Portuguese citizenship law. I cannot answer those questions, but hopefully one of the lawyers mentioned below can.
Portuguese citizenship comes with a number of benefits, not least the ability to travel and work within the EU.
According to the The Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index of 2016, the Portuguese passport also offers visa-free or visa-on-arrival travel to 172 countries. This ranks the Portuguese Passport at 6th worldwide (alongside Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and South Korea).
Since Brexit, as millions of British nationals try to hold onto their European ties, there has been an sharp increase in the number of people interested in obtaining Portuguese citizenship.
Prior to that, most British people hadn’t really considered applying for another citizenship and most of the interest in becoming Portuguese came from people from Brazil and other former Portuguese colonies.
This means there is now increased interest in obtaining Portuguese citizenship, and you may find that this affects the length of time the process takes.
Is Portuguese citizenship right for you?
Portuguese citizenship is not the easiest EU citizenship to obtain, it has to be said. If you just want citizenship of any EU country, there may be better countries to look at.
The easiest path to an EU passport to have an Irish or Italian grandparent. Failing that, some countries like Malta and Greece offer Golden Visas for a relatively small investment of between €250,000 and €300,000. Portugal has a similar scheme (see below), but the investment amount is higher.
If you’re not lucky enough to be of Irish or Italian descent, or to have €300,000 in the bank, the next easiest options are to spend three years living in Poland or to marry a Spanish person (for one year). Ideally the marriage will work out, and you’ll want to stay with them for longer than that, but that’s the minimum requirement for citizenship.
Portuguese citizenship, as mentioned, isn’t the easiest EU citizenship to obtain. However, if you plan to live in Portugal long-term, it could worth pursuing one of these options.
Through naturalisation (living in Portugal)
The most common way to obtain citizenship in any country is to live there for long enough. In Portugal, that length of time is 6 years. You can apply for permanent residence after 5 years and, although it’s not quite the same as citizenship, that’s actually good enough for most people.
When applying for citizenship, there are a number of requirements that you have to meet. You must be over 18, you must not have been convicted of a serious crime (one that’s punishable of up to three years imprisonment under Portuguese law), and you must be posses an A2 level of Portuguese.
If you’re not an EU citizenship, the biggest challenge will be staying in Portugal for 5-6 years. Portugal issues long-term visas for a number of different groups of people including students, volunteers, those with a job offer in Portugal, and those who have sufficient funds to support themselves (~€50,000) or/as well as a passive income (including a pension).
You will need to look at the different visas available, and see which one you could apply for.
Through the Golden Visa scheme (investing in Portugal)
Portugal is one of several European countries that offers a fully-valid residency permit to those who invest in Portugal. Investment can take many forms (such as creating a business that provides local jobs, investing in research, or investing in culture) but it can be as simple as purchasing a property in Portugal.
Properties should be valued at €500,000 or more, unless the property is more than 30 years old or in an area of urban renovation. If the property falls into the second category, it only needs to be valued at €350,000 or more. If you are willing to buy a property in a low-density population area, the required value of the property could be reduced by 20% to either €400,000 or €280,000.
Not everyone has that kind of money to hand of course but, for those that do, it’s one of the easiest ways to get residency (and a doorway to citizenship) in Portugal.
The Golden Visa scheme allows investors to stay in Portugal (and to travel within the Schengen Area) for 5 years. After 5 years, investors can obtain permanent Portuguese residency. After 6 years, investors can apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Foreigners married to a Portuguese national for three years or longer can apply for Portuguese citizenship. You don’t have to be living in Portugal for those three years, which is typically a requirement for citizenship with most other EU countries.
Does that mean it’s time to get on Match.com? Not quite. If you’ve seen any of the many romantic comedies that follow this idea (Green Card and The Proposal), you’ll know that marrying for citizenship isn’t treated lightly within the government offices that process these applications.
But, if you did happen to meet the love or your life, and they did happen to be Portuguese, you’d kill two birds with one stone.
Through origin (through Portuguese parents or grandparents)
There are a few ways that you may be eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship by origin.
- If you have a Portuguese parent, you may be eligible for Portuguese citizenship.
- If you were born outside of Portugal, and have a Portuguese grandparent, you may also be able to acquire Portuguese citizenship.
- If you were born in Portugal to parents who weren’t Portuguese at the time, you may be eligible for Portuguese citizenship if they had been legally residing in Portugal for the five years prior to your birth.
Through Sephardic Jew ancestry
If your ancestors were Sephardic Jews who lived in Portugal in the 15th and 16th century (and were kicked out by King Manuel) then you may be eligible to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
This is a very unique situation and, unless you’re very familiar with your ancestry, it’s unlikely that 1) you have Sephardic Jews in your family tree and 2) that you’ll be able to trace that far back.
More information can be found at sephardicjewsportugal.com.
If Portuguese parents adopt you, you can claim Portuguese citizenship. Unfortunately, you have to be under 18 for this one: there isn’t a provision in Portuguese law for Portuguese parents adopting anyone older than 18.
Through agreements between Portugal and former colonies
Portugal has special relationships with former Portuguese territories including Angola, Cape Verde, Portuguese India, Guinea Bissau, East Timor, Macao, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Príncipe. Part of this special relationship includes an agreement whereby members of the former colonies could apply for Portuguese citizenship.
In most cases, there is (or was) a time limit during which citizens of these countries could apply to retain their Portuguese citizenship, so it may not be any option for you anymore.
Portuguese Lawyers & Contacts
The following are a handful of lawyers that specialise in citizenship and immigration, golden visas, and naturalisation issues. Unfortunately, I haven’t used any of them so I can’t recommend them.
Have you applied for Portuguese citizenship or permanent residence in Portugal? What was the process like? Let us, and other interested readers, know about your experience by leaving a comment below.