Who can apply for Portuguese citizenship? This complete guide explains conditions for getting Portuguese citizenship by marriage, Sephardic citizenship, descent, investment, and more.
If you want to live in Portugal long-term or permanently, you will need to apply for Portuguese citizenship or Portuguese permanent residency. Portuguese permanent residence is available after five years of residence, while citizenship is available after six years, or three years if claiming citizenship by marriage.
Both citizenship and permanent residence allow you to remain in Portugal indefinitely and access similar benefits, although there are some differences between the two. While residents can stay in Portugal indefinitely by continually renewing their permanent resident, there are certain added Portuguese citizenship benefits to entice foreigners to take on the Portuguese citizenship application process.
This guide looks at who can get Portuguese citizenship, the main differences between citizenship and permanent residence, conditions for dual citizenship, how to apply for citizenship, as well as what fees need to be paid.
Who can get Portuguese citizenship?
Acquiring Portuguese citizenship differs depending on whether you are from an EU/EFTA country or from outside the EU. The situation is more straightforward for EU/EFTA citizens; see our guide to Portuguese immigration policy for EU nationals and family.
Residents who are from non-EU/EFTA countries can also benefit from reforms in Portuguese nationality law. Portugal relaxed its citizenship laws in 2006 with the amendment of the Portuguese Nationality Act, approving Portuguese citizenship eligibility for non-EU nationals after six years of residence, while Portuguese citizenship by marriage is available after three years.
Certain other categories of foreigners can acquire Portuguese citizenship sooner, such as residents of former Portuguese colonies.
Brexit and UK residents
It is not yet clear how the UK’s vote to leave the EU will impact the rights of UK citizens living in or planning to move to Portugal. While the UK remains a member of the EU, British expats can apply for either Portuguese citizenship or Portuguese permanent residence, although whether permanent residence will be sufficient in the future remains to be seen. Under the right to Portuguese dual citizenship, British expats who obtain Portuguese nationality before the UK’s exit can retain their rights as EU citizens. There are several initiatives, however, to procure special rights for UK citizens already living abroad.
Many of the rights given to Portuguese permanent residents are the same as Portuguese citizenship benefits. Both are able to:
- participate in full employment or self-employment (without a Portuguese work permit)
- participate in education and study
- access Portuguese social security benefits and pensions
- buy property in Portugal
However, there are additional Portuguese citizenship benefits, such as allowing you to:
- vote in Portuguese elections and referendums
- obtain a Portuguese passport, ranked 16th in the world on the Passport Index
- acquire EU citizenship, meaning you can travel freely across EU countries
- live, work or even retire in other EU member states.
However, the Portuguese citizenship application is more demanding than obtaining permanent residence, and Portuguese passport costs are typically higher. In some cases you may also need to give up citizenship of your home country, although many nationals qualify for dual citizenship.
Citizenship application costs
The application fee for Portuguese citizenship ranges from €175–250 depending on which category you are applying under. Children eligible for citizenship through descent can apply for free. Full details of costs are also available here.
Portugal allows dual citizenship, allowing foreigners to gain Portuguese nationality without having to give up the citizenship of their home country. However, you will first need to check with your home country if it also permits dual citizenship. In some cases, your home country may require you to renounce your citizenship before allowing you to take Portuguese nationality.
Applying for Portuguese citizenship
Foreign residents can apply for Portuguese citizenship in most cases after six years of residence in Portugal. The application needs to made to the Portuguese Ministry of Justice (Instituto dos Registos e do Notoriado – IRN).
Portuguese nationality law permits foreigners to acquire citizenship by:
- Marriage to a Portuguese citizen
- Descent or birth (Portuguese by origin)
- Naturalization after six years of residence
- Being a citizen of a former Portuguese overseas territory
- The Jewish law of return for Sephardic Jews (Portuguese Sephardic citizenship scheme)
- If you were formerly a Portuguese citizen who lost Portuguese citizenship in certain circumstances.
Portuguese citizenship by marriage
You can acquire Portuguese citizenship through marriage after three years of being married to a Portuguese citizen, or three years of legally recognized cohabitation. There is no requirement to have had any prior period of residence in Portugal although the applicant is required to provide documents proving an effective connection to the Portuguese community.
If you divorce or separate at a later date, your Portuguese citizenship will not be revoked. More information on documentation required is also available here.
Portuguese citizenship descent
Those acquiring citizenship by descent or birth are deemed Portuguese nationality by origin if they are a child:
- from a Portuguese mother or father born in a Portuguese territory;
- of a Portuguese mother or father born abroad if the parent is there serving the Portuguese state;
- of a Portuguese mother or father born abroad if they have their birth registered at the Portuguese civil registry or alternatively if they declare they want to be Portuguese;
- who was born in Portuguese territory to foreign parents if at least one parent was born in Portugal and resides here at the time of birth;
- that was born in Portuguese territory to foreign parents if they declare they want to be Portuguese and provided that one parent has resided in Portugal for at least five years at the time of birth;
- born in Portuguese territory that does not possess another nationality.
Amendments to Portuguese nationality law mean the following can also claim citizenship by descent as a child:
- born in Portuguese territory or abroad to a parent who has acquired Portuguese nationality after the birth of the child;
- with at least one grandparent of Portuguese nationality who is sufficiently familiar with the Portuguese language;
- born in Portuguese territory to foreign parents if the child has lived in Portugal for 10 years.
Naturalization as a Portuguese citizen
If you have lived in Portugal for six years, you can apply for Portuguese citizenship if you meet the following requirements:
- Have sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language (proven with a certificate or test);
- Have not been convicted of a crime punishable by a jail sentence of three years or more.
You can submit the citizenship application yourself or it can be submitted by a suitable proxy. The following documentation also needs to be submitted:
- birth certificate (if possible)
- proof of sufficient knowledge of Portuguese language
- passport/travel ID
- details of current residence permit
- details of date and place of birth, occupation, current residence and list of countries previously resided in
- criminal record certificate
- document issued by the SEF proving that you have been legally resident in Portugal for at least six years.
You can get information about how to apply for citizenship from any of the outlets listed here (contact details). You will need to submit a form and send it to the Central Registry Office at the IRN, along with the necessary documents and payment.
Citizenship applications take varying times to process. If an application is dismissed at the outset, however, you will be informed within 20 days.
Citizenship for Sephardic Jews
Descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews expelled from Portugal in the 16th century can acquire Portuguese Sephardic citizenship if they can demonstrate belonging to a Sephardic community of Portuguese origin. Requirements include having a Portuguese Sephardic name as well as familiarity with the language. Information on other requirements is available here.
Citizenship by investment
This is a special Portuguese visa program designed to attract foreign investment into Portugal. The Portuguese Golden Visa program speeds up the process for foreign investors from non-EU/EFTA countries to obtain a Portuguese residence permit and claim Portuguese citizenship by investment. You can also read more in our guide to the Portuguese Golden Visa scheme.
Citizenship by adoption
Children from abroad aged under 18 who have been legally adopted by a Portuguese citizen can apply for citizenship immediately. Full details of the documents required are also available here.
Citizens of former Portuguese territories
Citizens of the following former Portuguese colonies are entitled to Portuguese citizenship if they were born during the period of Portuguese rule:
- Cape Verde
- Portuguese India
- Guinea Bissau
- East Timor
- Sao Tome and Principe
Those from Portuguese India and Macao who are descendants of those born under the period of Portuguese rule are also entitled to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Former Portuguese citizens
Certain groups of former Portuguese citizens can reacquire Portuguese nationality. These include people such as:
- individuals who lost their citizenship through the will of a legal representative, e.g., those whose family moved abroad and took another citizenship when they were children;
- individuals who have lost their citizenship but never acquired the citizenship of another country;
- women who lost their citizenship through marriage to a foreign national;
- those who lost their citizenship by voluntarily acquiring foreign citizenship before the Portuguese Nationality Act of 1981.
- More information available here.