Do you want to get Portuguese citizenship?
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about the process, including the different routes to get citizenship, who is eligible, how long it takes, and what documents you’ll need.
If you’ve been reading Digital Émigré for a while, you’ll know that we’re really enthusiastic about moving to Portugal.
Life in Portugal has many benefits, such as a fantastic climate, great natural beauty, and an affordable cost of living. And to top it off, Portugal is one of the world’s safest countries.
The Digital Émigré team has done extensive research on the various pathways to citizenship available across the EU.
Here’s the lowdown on how you can get a Portuguese passport.
How to get Portuguese citizenship:
- Citizenship by naturalization
- Citizenship by marriage or legal partnership
- Citizenship by descent (parents or grandparents)
- Citizenship via Portugal’s former colonies
- Citizenship by Sephardic Jewish heritage
- Citizenship by birth
- Citizenship by adoption (under 18s only)
Does Portugal allow dual citizenship?
Dual citizenship is a very important concern when choosing a country for citizenship by naturalization.
Most of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship also forbid their citizens to have two passports.
But two passports are usually better than one.
Portugal allows you to hold multiple citizenships.
You should first check whether your original country allows you to hold a second citizenship. If it does, then you’re good to go ahead with Portugal.
Benefits of Portuguese citizenship
Becoming a Portuguese citizen gives you a number of important advantages.
- You can get a Portuguese passport. As one of of the most powerful in the world, it allows you to travel visa-free to 184 countries.
- As a Portuguese citizen, you’ll also be a citizen of the EU. This gives you the right to freely live, work, study and retire across the 30 nations of the EU and EEA. Portuguese citizens can also vote and run for office in the European elections.
- You can vote in Portugal’s elections and run for political office
- If you’re British, becoming a Portuguese citizen – e.g. via the Golden Visa – restores the EU rights that Brexit took away from you.
There are several different pathways to getting Portuguese citizenship, depending on your specific circumstances.
Most of them are based on the principle of jus sanguinis or ‘right of blood’ (which is what Portuguese nationality law is based on).
In terms of the amount of effort required on your part, attribution routes, such as having a Portuguese parent or grandparent, are easier than acquisition routes, such as living in Portugal for five years.
We’ll start by looking at citizenship by naturalization, which is the route to Portuguese citizenship that’s easiest for you as an individual to control.
Naturalization takes longer than other routes and involves more work.
But it’s the only route to citizenship (except marriage) that doesn’t hinge on circumstances outside your control, such as birth or ancestry.
Citizenship by naturalization
Timeline: Five years
Getting citizenship by naturalization typically involves living in the country for a long enough period of time to be granted citizenship rights.
In Portugal, you need to be legally resident for five years before you can submit an application for Portuguese citizenship by naturalization. It’s also possible to apply for permanent residency of Portugal after the same length of time.
Basic requirements for Portuguese citizenship by naturalization:
- Five years of legal residency in Portugal
- A clean criminal record
- No outstanding taxes due in Portugal
- Knowledge of Portuguese to A2 level
- Proof of integration into the community
Getting residency: Step 1 to Portuguese citizenship
Acquiring legal residency in Portugal is at the core of the citizenship by naturalization process.
Portugal offers several different ways to get residency, which each have varying criteria. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
The residency process usually starts with applying for a visa.
However, if you’re already a citizen of an EU or EEA country, or Switzerland, then you can simply move to Portugal whenever you like and establish residency.
You’ll still need to maintain this for five years to apply for Portuguese citizenship, but the initial process is much easier and cheaper than for non-EU nationals.
The Golden Visa route
Portugal’s Golden Visa program is the ultimate pathway to citizenship.
In this popular program, Portugal offers residency in return for making a substantial investment in the country.
After five years, this residency can be converted into Portuguese citizenship, subject to meeting the regular criteria.
The great thing about the Golden Visa route compared to other routes is its flexibility.
With a Golden Visa, you don’t need to move to Portugal at all (unless you want to).
You simply need to spend seven days in Portugal in the first year, and 14 days total every two years until you reach the five-year point.
The Golden Visa offers a number of different investment options, many of which can net you a decent income while you stack up the years towards citizenship.
For example, the most popular route is investing in real estate, which can be residential or commercial (usually hotels).
This route is the most straightforward one if you plan to actually live in Portugal, although it’s also possible to rent out your Golden Visa property.
The standard minimum investment threshold for the Golden Visa real estate route is €500,000.
At this level, you can purchase property anywhere in Portugal or the autonomous territories (Madeira and the Azores), but Lisbon, Porto, and some of the Algarve have now been excluded from the program.
There are several lower thresholds available in real estate. If you choose to invest in a rehabilitation property (which is over 30 years old and in a rehabilitation zone), then the minimum threshold goes down to €350,000.
In low-density areas, the standard threshold is reduced to €400,000, with €280,000 for the rehabilitation option.
However, properties in these categories can be difficult to find and complicated to secure.
In practice, most Golden Visa applicants choose the straightforward €500,000 route.
Real estate isn’t the only Golden Visa option. You can also start your journey to Portuguese citizenship with several other types of investment, such as:
- €500,000 invested in Portuguese venture capital or private equity investment funds
- €1.5 million of capital transfer to a Portuguese bank
- Setting up a Portuguese company and creating at least 10 jobs (or five jobs in a low density area)
- €350,000 investment in scientific research projects
- €250,000 investment in national heritage or artistic/cultural projects (in practice, this route is rarely used, and it can take a very long time to locate a suitable project)
The Portugal Golden Visa investment funds route is straightforward and makes a great alternative to real estate for those who want maximum flexibility, a faster investment process, and don’t need to live in Portugal.
The other routes listed above are less widely used and can be more complicated.
You’ll need to successfully make the investment before submitting your Golden Visa application.
In terms of property, that means finding the right property and having the deed in hand. In terms of investment funds, that simply means transferring the money into the fund.
Once your Golden Visa is issued, you’ll have visa-free access to the Schengen Area, plus you’ll be on a pathway to Portuguese citizenship after five years.
The D7 (passive income) visa route
For those who don’t wish to make a significant investment in Portugal, the D7 visa is an excellent choice for getting residency and starting your journey to citizenship.
The D7 “passive income” visa was originally designed for foreign retirees, drawing their pensions from outside Portugal.
But now, it encompasses anyone with sufficient income from a foreign source, which can include dividends, rental income, royalties, or salary from remote employment.
The minimum income threshold for the D7 is one of the lowest available in Europe. Portugal asks for a minimum of €705 a month, which is the Portuguese minimum wage.
But we recommend applicants aim for at least €1,000 of passive income per month for one applicant.
This threshold is still much lower than for similar residency visas in other countries, such as Spain’s Non-Lucrative Visa.
Read more about the D7 visa process and requirements
The D2 (Entrepreneur) visa route
If you don’t have passive income, but wish to start a business in Portugal, you might want to look at the D2 Entrepreneur visa.
The requirements are slightly more involved compared to the D7, but it’s a good fit for those with a solid business idea.
The HQA visa route
Portugal has recently introduced a new residency route known as the HQA visa (HQA stands for ‘highly qualified activity’.)
The HQA visa has been described as a halfway point between the Golden Visa and the D7 visa.
Portuguese law states that all HQA Visa applications must be decided within 30 days, so the timeline is much faster than either the Golden Visa or the D7.
What’s more, you can maintain your residency status with no physical stay requirements.
For the Portugal HQA visa, you need to invest at least €175,000 in your own scientific research project with a Portuguese university, and set up a Portuguese company to run the venture.
You can use a specialist concierge service to handle the whole process. That means you can choose your level of involvement with the venture, from being almost totally hands off, to actively managing it.
You could also start your journey to citizenship with a Portuguese student visa, but bear in mind that you’ll need to renew it if your course is less than five years in duration.
Whichever citizenship by naturalization route you choose, remember that five years is the minimum length of time you’ll need to be eligible for Portuguese citizenship.
If you want to achieve this without actually living in Portugal, then the Golden Visa or HQA visa are your best options.
What documents are required to apply for Portuguese citizenship?
The exact list will vary depending on which citizenship route you choose. These are the basic documents for a Portuguese citizenship by naturalization application.
- Birth certificate
- Proof of sufficient (A2 level) knowledge of Portuguese language (usually your results from taking the official CIPLE language exam)
- Details of current residence permit (if applicable)
- 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 (Portugal’s immigration department) proving legal residence in Portugal for at least five years
- Fee of 175-250 EUR depending on the category you’re applying for
Along the way: Getting your NIF
The crucial first step for any residency visa in Portugal is getting your NIF (tax number). You’ll also need to open a Portuguese bank account.
Bordr offers a convenient online service where you can get both your NIF and your bank account from the comfort of your sofa. In particular, opening a Portuguese bank account can be a lot of hassle. So the Bordr service is really worthwhile.
Portugal offers another unique benefit on your pathway to getting EU citizenship – the non-habitual residency (NHR) tax scheme, which offers 10 years of preferential taxation for qualifying applicants.
The NHR scheme could be a good fit for those who work remotely and draw their income as dividends from a company based outside Portugal.
The best part is, you can get your EU citizenship in Portugal (5 years) before the NHR period runs out (10 years). That’s plenty of time to decide whether to remain in Portugal beyond NHR, or use your new Portuguese passport to relocate elsewhere in the EU, or globally.
Citizenship by marriage or partnership
Timeline: Three years
If your spouse or partner is a Portuguese citizen, then you may be able to get Portuguese citizenship with proof of your marriage or partnership.
You’ll have to prove that you’ve been in the marriage or partnership for at least three years before submitting the citizenship application.
If you get divorced, then you’re no longer eligible to apply. Portuguese citizenship by marriage or partnership doesn’t require you to live in Portugal during that three year period.
Portugal recognizes long-term stable relationships (known as a de facto union) as well as marriage. You’ll need proof of the relationship and its duration.
Typically, this involves showing documents as evidence that you live at the same address (such as a shared rental contract or property deed), or shared utility bills.
It’s important to remember that getting Portuguese citizenship through your partner isn’t guaranteed.
What’s more, you’re usually be asked to show proof of ties to Portugal, such as knowing Portuguese language, owning property in Portugal, or having spent time living here.
You may also be asked to prove your Portuguese language skills are at least at A2 level.
Citizenship by descent (parents or grandparents)
Timeline: None – you can apply at any time
Perhaps history has been kind to you and you already have a Portuguese parent or grandparent.
In that case, you’re automatically eligible for Portuguese citizenship without having to live there or prove any other ties to the country.
If you have a Portuguese parent, you may be able to obtain Portuguese citizenship. If you were born outside Portugal and have a Portuguese grandparent, you could also qualify for citizenship.
Citizenship by descent is one of the easiest routes to Portuguese citizenship. Typically, you’ll only need to prove your ancestry via your birth certificate and those of your parents.
The only possible challenges could be if you don’t have contact with your parents, or if birth certificates have been lost.
Citizenship by Sephardic Jewish heritage
If you’re interested in family tree research, you might want to check to see if there are Sephardic Jews in your ancestry. If so, then you might have a ticket to Portuguese citizenship.
Why is that the case?
Back in the days of the Inquisition, thousands of Jews were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Although this was hundreds of years ago, Portugal and Spain have offered citizenship as a way of reparation.
However, Spain has since closed down its program after a wave of rejections.
Portugal’s program is still in full swing, with over 90,000 successful applicants as of January 2022.
To be eligible, you’ll need to trace your family tree back far enough to show that you have Sephardic Jewish ancestry. This might come in the form of a Sephardic surname, cemetery records, or proof that the Ladino language was used among your ancestors.
Or perhaps you’ll strike lucky and find a copy of the certificate from the Portuguese Jewish community in Lisbon or Porto.
Getting citizenship through Sephardic Jewish heritage can be a time-consuming process. If you don’t fancy doing the research yourself, you might want to hire a genealogist.
But it could be well worth it, as you won’t need to spend any time in Portugal, and you don’t need to learn any Portuguese.
Citizenship via Portugal’s former colonies
Centuries ago, during the Age of Discovery, Portugal became the world’s first colonial power. It has since given up all its colonies, but still maintains special relationships with them. That includes an agreement to allow citizens of former colonies to apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Portugal’s former colonies are as follows: Cape Verde, Angola, Brazil, Portuguese India, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Macau, São Tomé and Principe, and Mozambique.
There’s usually a time limit in which to apply, but if you have links to any of these former colonies, it may still be worth exploring whether you can apply for Portuguese citizenship.
Citizenship by birth
Unlike many other countries (such as the United States), Portugal doesn’t automatically grant citizenship to those born there. However, you may be eligible for citizenship if you were born in Portugal to at least one parent who was resident in Portugal for at least a year.
Citizenship by adoption
This one is only for the under 18s. If you’re already thinking about getting a second citizenship, then perhaps you can find some Portuguese parents and convince them to adopt you. Unfortunately, Portuguese law doesn’t extend to adult adoptions, so this won’t be an option for most readers.
Portuguese citizenship vs other EU options
|Country||Timeline||Dual citizenship ok?||Physical stay||Tax residency required?||Language level|
|French citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 French|
|Italian citizenship||10 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 Italian|
|German citizenship||6-8 years||No||183 days per year||Yes||B1-B2 German|
|Portuguese citizenship||5 years||Yes||7 days per year with Golden Visa||No||A2 Portuguese|
|Spanish citizenship||10 years||No||183 days per year||Yes||A2 Spanish|
|Irish citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year, 365 in final year||Yes||English only|
|Luxembourg citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 French or Luxembourgish|
|Cyprus citizenship||7 years (5 in some cases)||Yes||183 days per year, 365 in final year||Yes||English only|
For citizenship, Portugal has significant advantages over Spain.
Not only because Portugal’s timeline to citizenship is much shorter (5 years instead of 10), but it also allows applicants to hold dual citizenship. Spain doesn’t.
Ireland also has a five year citizenship pathway (and allows dual citizenship), but requires much more time in-country per year.
In particular, Ireland requires one whole year of continuous residency directly before the date when you make your Irish citizenship application.
In comparison to Italy, Portugal wins hands down.
Getting Italian citizenship through naturalization takes 10 years if you don’t have any Italian ancestry.
Italy also has a more challenging language requirement of B1 level on the Common European Framework for Languages.
Why Portugal anyway?
Not only is Portugal a beautiful, diverse, and historic country, it’s also well located on the western coast of Europe, with good transport connections around the eurozone and beyond.
What’s more, the cost of living in Portugal is one of the lowest in Western Europe.
For those who work remotely with UK or Irish clients, Portugal conveniently shares the same GMT time zone. If you work with clients on the US east coast, Portugal is just five hours ahead.
As an added bonus, Portugal’s territory encompasses the outlying islands of the Azores, as well as Madeira – one of the hottest remote worker destinations for 2022.
If you need a break from Lisbon or Porto, you can reach one of these island paradises in a couple of hours by air, with no need for passport control or any issues with the Schengen zone.
Portugal is friendly towards remote workers, offering some of the EU’s most flexible visa-to-residency pathways, such as the D7 Visa.
Lisbon and Porto have well-established communities of tech workers and digital nomads, while other areas of the country (such as Madeira) are shaping up to join this trend.
During the 20th century, Portugal remained neutral in the second world war. Even now, it usually stays out of foreign conflicts. In fact, Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world.
In these challenging times, a country’s geopolitical stance is an important consideration when aiming to become a citizen.
Ideally, you want the country of your new citizenship to be well regarded, allowing you to move through the world peacefully and unhindered.