Portuguese nationality law

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

In general a child born in Portugal to foreign parents is not entitled to Portuguese citizenship unless the parents have lived in Portugal for 10 years with valid residence permits. The 10 year requirement is reduced to 6 years if the parents are citizens of a country with Portuguese as an official language.

Descent from a Portuguese parent

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. 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.

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

Naturalisation as a Portuguese citizen

A person aged 18 or over may be naturalised as a Portuguese citizen after 6 years 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.

Portuguese citizenship by adoption

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

Portuguese citizenship by marriage

A person married to a Portuguese citizen for at least three 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.

Dual citizenship

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 and South Korea, 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 is required for dual Portuguese–South Korean citizens, under South Korean nationality law.

Former territories of Portugal

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 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 (or the United Nations) 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

East Timor was a territory of Portugal until its invasion by Indonesia in 1975, followed by annexation in 1976. Indonesian citizenship was conferred by Indonesia; however, Portugal (and the United Nations) 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.[4][5]

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.[6]


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

Portugal had extended its nationality laws to Macao and many inhabitants of Macao hold Portuguese citizenship on this basis. It is no longer possible to acquire Portuguese citizenship by connection with Macao after the December 20, 1999 transfer of sovereignty to China.[7]

Rights and obligations of Portuguese citizens

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

The recent changes at the Portuguese nationality law, occurred in 2006, were 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.


External links

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