Descendants of Sephardic Jews may be eligible for Spanish or Portuguese citizenship.
* Article originally published in May 2017; requirements for this law are in flux
Spanish and Portuguese Citizenship for Sephardic Jews
Within the last three years, Spain and Portugal have begun to offer citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews who were exiled during the religious persecutions of the late 15th century. As a result of these new laws, we’ve received many requests for research into possible Sephardic ancestry. We are happy to assist in these research efforts, but before pursuing possible Sephardic connections it is important to understand the requirements and stipulations for obtaining citizenship. It should also be noted that unless you have recent known connections to established Sephardic communities, it is very difficult to prove connections to Sephardic ancestors from centuries ago. The purpose of this article is to provide some basic information about the requirements for each country.
Obtaining Citizenship in Spain
In order to obtain Spanish citizenship under the new law, descendants of Sephardic Jews who were exiled in 1492 need to document their Sephardic Heritage and demonstrate a “special connection” to Spain. Though these requirements seem to be fairly straightforward, they are actually quite restrictive.
In 1492 more than 350,000 Jews were exiled from Spain by royal decree, and those who remained were forced to convert to Catholicism or were executed. Many descendants of converted or “converso” Jews eventually settled in the new world. However, under the Spanish citizenship law it is unclear whether or not the descendants of conversos qualify for Sephardic citizenship since many of them remained in Spain and its colonies, and others only left Spain after several generations. By talking to our various contacts we’ve been able to ascertain that is sometimes possible to obtain citizenship by documenting descent from converso Jews, but it depends on the circumstances, and doing so frequently requires extensive and arduous research. This process might be expedited if a converso ancestor is already known and the only requirement is to search for genealogical documentation, but it’s also possible that even after all the work is done the request for citizenship will be denied. Unfortunately there is no way to know ahead of time what the decision will be.
For those who are descendants of the exiled Jews of 1492, the requirements for citizenship are still quite steep. Though applicants need not be practicing Jews, they do need to have their Sephardic heritage vetted and confirmed through a local Rabbinic authority. With this certificate, they also need documentation regarding the articles of confederation of the local Rabbinic authority and/or its legal representatives. Other means of demonstrating relationship include a knowledge or use of Ladino or Haketia, traditionally Sephardic languages. Applicants can also demonstrate relationship to the Sephardic community through genealogical research, proving a relationship to individuals in official lists produced by Spanish authorities in 1924 and 1948, or through certification with the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities.
However, proving your heritage is just the first step. After proving Sephardic heritage, applicants must also take several tests on Spanish language, culture, and history onsite in Spain or at one of its consulates. Travel costs are to be covered by the applicant, and all of this is to be completed by the applicant within four years of the date that the law went into effect (by October 2019).
Even with all of the documentation and testing, an applicant still may not qualify for citizenship. The law is vague in many areas and a great deal of confusion has arisen around the application process. Due to the multiple tests , the strict requirements, the excessive costs and fees for all applications, translations and certificates, the vague stipulations regarding Sephardic surnames, the excessive paperwork, and the time limits, the application for citizenship for descendants of Spanish Sephardic Jews has proven to be an extremely frustrating process for many current applicants. It has also served to severely limit the number of individuals who have actually succeeded in obtaining citizenship. Of the estimated several million who could qualify for citizenship, less than 10,000 have actually done so. One Spanish delegate expressed his disappointment at the passing of the law as follows:
“We want to express our disappointment because this law, which was supposed to restore justice, has become increasingly complicated. If we observe the procedures, the prerequisites, the number of documents to be submitted, the certified translations, the fees, the language and culture exams and the need to travel to Spain, we cannot but wonder about the reason for all of these hurdles…Considering all of these factors, we believe that this law does not right a wrong. This law is more of a symbol, a first step, but not a law that will serve to satisfy the majority of Sephardim who would like to obtain Spanish nationality.”
Some websites claim to post lists of “Sephardic” surnames, and state that if an individual has one of these surnames in their recent ancestry, they may qualify for citizenship under the new law. While this could be helpful, it is important to note that while there are some surnames that are unique to the Sephardic community, many (if not most) of the surnames utilized by Sephardic Jews are also found in broader non-Sephardic Iberian populations. Many Spanish and Portuguese surnames originated simultaneously in different areas. Just because a Sephardic Jew may have utilized the Gomez surname does not mean that all other individuals with the Gomez surname are also tied to Sephardic families.
Finally, most individuals who approach us regarding Spanish Sephardic citizenship wish to obtain “dual citizenship” with Spain. However, Spain may grant dual citizenship to citizens of Iberoamerican countries like Andorra, Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal, but in all other cases, applicants for Spanish citizenship must make an oath to “renounce their previous nationality.” The effect of this renunciation depends on the previous nationality of the applicant. In the case of the United States, this renunciation is not considered legally binding under American law. Therefore, in the United States you would be considered to only have American citizenship and in Spain you would be considered to only have Spanish citizenship. While technically illegal to continue to hold other nationalities in conjunction with Spanish citizenship, it appears that this is a common practice among American expats in Spain.
Obtaining Citizenship in Portugal
In order to obtain citizenship under the Portuguese law, individuals must demonstrate their connection to a Community with Portuguese Sephardic origins through genealogical documentation. Application for citizenship is submitted to either the Jewish Community of Lisbon or the Jewish Community of Oporto, and must include copies of the birth certificate, passport, and proof of residence of the applicant as well as genealogical documentation of the applicant proving their connection to a Community of Portuguese Sephardic origins and a 150 euro fee for review of the application. Though these requirements seem less arduous than the Spanish citizenship process, as of October 2016, only 8% of the applications received have been approved for citizenship. The good news is that while Spain has issued a deadline for the submission of Sephardic Jewish citizenship applications, Portugal has not.
Because of the difficulties listed here, we generally recommend pursuing citizenship only if you have demonstrable and recent connections to established Sephardic communities, strong family traditions of Sephardic Jewish, converso, or crypto-Jew ancestry, or known Sephardic Jews among the members of your family tree. In all other cases it can take hundreds of hours to trace each family line back far enough to determine if a connection is there, and the ultimate outcome might still be that the there is no connection – or it is unable to be documented.
Whether you are interested in obtaining citizenship in Spain or Portugal, our experts can assist in performing the required research to demonstrate a connection to Sephardic Jews. While we can never guarantee specific results, we know the most efficient ways to search for the records you’ll need. Contact us today to discuss which project would be best for you!
 Soeren Kern, “Spain’s Law on Citizenship for Sephardic Jews ‘Does Not Right a Wrong,’” Gatestone Institute, https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/6010/spain-citizenship-jews, accessed May 2017.
 J.S. Herzog and AP, “Portugal has only approved 8% of Sephardic Jewish applications for citizenship,” www.ynetnews.com, 24 October 2016, accessed May 2017.
Currently, please note that the fee is actually $590 euro to be paid via bank transfer to the Jewish community of Porto in which they only review your initial application. They cite this enormous fee as mostly made as a donation to the Jewish community of Porto.
Amber Brown says
Thank you for sharing this information!
Linda Fisher says
Good morning,I am interested to find out whether or not I may have Sephardic heritage? I was born here in the United Kingdom, but both my parents are from Spain,my father is from Barcelona and his surname is Porcar, which as far as I am aware is not Sephardic?However, on my mother’s side her Single status surname was Gil and my maternal grandmother was Luquez Diaz.We also have on my maternal grandmother’s side, family living in Torrox Malaga and they are named Bravo.My mother and my maternal grandparents were born in Malaga,Andalucia.My maternal grandfathers Spanish surname was Santaella Gil.We also have the surname Godoy.
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
We would love to help! Request a free consultation at https://www.legacytree.com/contact-us
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
We would love to help! You may request a free consultation here.
Chief: Carol Reynolds says
The Godoy are related to me going back many generations. Some of the Jew Godoy mixed with the Beothuk who were brought from NEWFOUNDLAND LABRADOR CANADA approx. Yr 1497- 1500. Some of the Godoy family who carry the Beothuk Jew DNA came out of Portugal Spain and went to Chili, and Mexico and USA & CANADA. THEY WENT FULL CIRCLE. SO I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT THE GODOY NAME GOES ALONG WAYS
I actually have an established genealogy to sephardic heritage as 3 or more of my ancestors were in the inquisition and were forced to convert and were still tried even after converting. I do not know how Spain will react to that but I will see how it goes.
Ronald Huertas says
hi im from Philippines and my last name is HUERTAS can i apply for this? i don’t know where my origin.
Dana B Sheldon says
Yes of course you can.
Florinda Schob says
My last name is Paredes. I have my genealogy up the late 1700.
I know that PAREDES are same parts of Galicia and same parts of Portugal. I was in a town very close to porto name PAREDES , but I couldn’t find any information. The parts from my father and mother when to Santa Barbara in Honduras. How you can you help me trace my heritage? My other name is Fajardo , I know that that part came from Valencia Spain. I have a book published by the Gerona Sephardic comunity in which stated that 4 of my last name are Sephardic . If you see I can have a change , can you let me know. I am convert to Judaism now, also was educate in a Hebrew school.
Do you have any thoughts on genetic research, such as that shown at this site:
One of my family names is Elizalde, which is Basque, but that site says that Elizalde is associated with two paternal haplogroups that are Semitic in origin, J1 and J2. Most of the Basque names listed there belong to European haplogroups, but here’s what it says about Elizalde:
“Semitic origin. Haplogroup J is found in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and North Africa. This haplogroup contains the Cohen modal lineage which is found in about 5% of those with this origin. Sephardic Jews and Arab Moors belong to this Haplogroup and they were among the earliest settlers of Spain. About 28% of Sephardic Jews have this origin. 3% of modern day Spaniards have J, J1, or J2 origin.”
I wonder if this suggests possible Crypto-Jewish or Converso heritage? What do you think?
Will De Los Arroyos says
I have Sephardic lineage Aswell as two surenames tying me to Spain del Arroyo and Simpson my father’s last name Westbrook is actually from Benalmádena Málaga Andalucía Spain I speak Llanító which is a mixed Andalucían-Castilian language of Ladínó origin plz keep in mind there is two types of Llanító you have inglañol=Spanglish(spoken by modern day Gibraltarians) and Llanító Ladínó= judezmo/ Judeo español (spoken in Cádiz(Gaditanos),Gibraltár (La Linea de la Concepción or the original Gíbraltáreños) and Málaga(Málagarianos
Reinaldo L Robles says
My name is Reinaldo Luis Robles. For the past three years I have been building my family tree with the help of Ancestry.com. Every since I was a little boy my parents told me to always be proud of being Puerto Rican and also that we have Jewish ancestry from our roots in Spain. Well in 2017 my wife gifted me with the DNA test kit through Ancestry.com and my Iberian Peninsula results are as follows:
European Jewish: 5%
With these results, what would be my next step to prove that I have Sephardic lineage?
Any advise would be much appreciated.
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi Reinaldo. This article on our blog discusses the process of applying for citizenship based on Sephardic ancestry. https://www.legacytree.com/blog/citizenship-sephardic-jews You may also request a free consultation so that a member of our team may contact you to discuss the specifics of your research goal. We look forward to helping you!
john paul pacheco says
shalom I am separdic jewish may surname is Pacheco I see to the list of separdic surname release by Spanish and purtugal I am filipino with blood line snanish purtugal with jewish blood , I qm imyerested to apply for separdic purtugal citezinship hovever its difficult because of to much process and test .toda raba
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi John, it can be a very time consuming process. If you would like our team to assist, feel free to contact us for a free quote.
This is incorrect. If you read the bill published by the Spanish Government, this specifc law does not require Americans to renounce their previous citizenship. It is in the first sentence of the bill.
“The Law makes the acquisition of Spanish citizenship possible for the Sephardic Jews that are descendents of those expelled from Spain in the 15th Century without renouncing their current citizenship and without requiring residency in Spain.”
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
This article was written in 2017 and at the time that it was written, the clarification described on this particular website of the embassy of Los Angeles was not present. Also, the legal aids consulted for the preparation of this article had not yet been updated to indicate that this was not a requirement for the descendants of Spanish Sephardim. Thank you for pointing out this unique element of this particular law. Consultation of the original text of the law in Spanish (found here: https://www.boe.es/boe/dias/2015/06/25/pdfs/BOE-A-2015-7045.pdf) does clarify that the oath of renunciation is not required of Spanish Sephardim, but not in the first sentence of the introduction as it would appear through the translated version on the Los Angeles embassy website. Rather this stipulation is referenced in section III and in section IV of the disposición final primera.