Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Consideration 4: Starting the Process for Portuguese Citizenship

Since I posted The Consideration 3 I was contacted by a few cousins asking for help in the process in obtaining citizenship in Portugal. While I have yet to start the actual process I have begun obtaining the needed documentation. One of the first cousins to contact me had already found a translator to work with and was seeking my help to flesh out the exact details of our lineage from Portuguese Jews who were kicked out due to the Inquisition. So we set out to detail our lineage and prove our ancestry.

The first thing to do was go through the regulations set in the law by using an unofficial translation which also describes the history of the Inquisition in Portugal as well as common Portuguese surnames used by Sephardic Jews. I made a list of all the surnames which matched families on our tree and then began going through each branch documenting the exact lineage. Once the document is complete we will match documents to it for each line. A lot of this is most likely overkill but we also see it as something that many cousins can use as thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people descend from the ancestors talked about in these documents.

I recently found a website called which details what is needed quite nicely. On the website they describe three ways to prove your descent -

1 – Documented evidence. For example, family records, family tree, community archives of births, marriages and deaths (such as those in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, Curacao, St. Thomas and Sofia), cemeteries and lists of tombs (like those found in Surinam, Thessaloniki, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Curacao, Bayonne, Paris and Vienna), brit milah records, general Government archives that show arrivals from Portugal, lists of ships and passengers arriving from Portugal. It is a criminal offense to falsify documents. The Committee of the Jewish Community will always strive to ascertain the veracity of documentation submitted, which will be evaluated together with the other evidence obtained during the course of the investigation.
2 – Testimonial evidence, ie, reputable witnesses who can attest to a family’s oral tradition. Testimonial evidence must be submitted in writing. Testimony must be in the form of written depositions, signed by the witnesses and certified by a Notary Public  (languages: Hebrew, English Spanish or Portuguese). The depositions must be sent to us together with copies of passports or ID cards of the witnesses. Witnesses must be credible and their testimony convincing. It is a criminal offense for a witness to falsely testify in writing to any legally relevant fact. The Committee of the Jewish Community will always endeavor to ascertain the credibility of depositions, which will be evaluated together with other evidence and information gathered during the course of the investigation.
3 – Expert evidence, ie, support of an expert on Portuguese Jewish diaspora. Expert evidence must be submitted in writing. The reports of experts in Portuguese diaspora (languages: Hebrew, English Spanish or Portuguese) must be in writing and signed by the expert(s).

Besides proof of lineage you must also supply other documents which basically prove you are who you claim to be. The first thing you should obtain is a certificate from the Jewish community of Portugal. There are two communities in which you can obtain this certificate - Lisbon and Porto. A cousin who has already completed this part of the process said that he went through The Porto Jewish Community and it took them about a week or two to accept his claim. I emailed the Porto Community inquiring about what they ask for and their response was short but straight-forward - "Please send the documentation in pdf, send copy of passport, birth certificate, surnames of parents and grandparents and proof of Judaism."

Next you will need to get a translated and legalized Birth Certificate, a certified copy of your passport, a copy of your criminal record from every country in which you've lived, and a Power of Attorney letter from a Portuguese Lawyer. The Porto community even suggests contacting legal representation as soon as you receive the certificate from them. If the application is rejected you will need a lawyer with previous knowledge of your case to properly appeal otherwise you could lose your eligibility to obtain citizenship through this law. They even suggest a law firm called Yolanda Busse, Oehen Mendes & Associados who actually lists an office in Porto and Lisbon. 

Now this process is not cheap, so be prepared for some serious costs. The legal costs I've heard being spent have fallen between $700 - $800 (600-700), although different lawyers will have different costs. On top of that you have the costs of the documentation and translation of documents which could easily become a couple hundred dollars or even more depending on where you have to order the documents from. To give you an idea, in my own case it would cost me $25 for a copy of my birth certificate, about $35 for my criminal records (I lived in two states since I was 18, so I assume one from each), $195 for my passport (assuming you need a new one or to renew it), and I'm assuming about $20 in postage fees, notary fees, and gas. That comes to a total of $275 for me but I'm guessing it could be a lot more for others, especially anyone who has lived in a lot of states or multiple countries. I have also heard tell that a donation to the Jewish Communities is encouraged of around 500 (about $550) to help with upkeep and sustain the work to prove Sephardic ancestry for applicants. This comes to an estimated $1,625 for the total costs associated with the application, at least in my case, and could easily be even more. 

The costs may not end there for some as certain countries charge extra taxes for dual citizens. If someone from the United States received their Portuguese citizenship and went abroad to work they may be taxed in the United States on any income earned abroad (learn more here). This is somewhat similar in the UK (learn more here) but for many of those in Britain I'm sure this is a much more enticing opportunity as Portuguese Citizenship will allow you to retain a European Union passport.

For anyone who is going through the process or has completed the process I'd be quite interested to hear about your experiences. Please use the message form.

Read the Previous articles;
The Consideration: Obtaining My Spanish Citizenship As A Sephardi
The Consideration 2: A Step Forward For Obtaining Spanish Citizenship
The Consideration 3: Spain and Portugal Pass Sephardic Right To Return: