As reported in The Portugal News on 26 June 2023 - Applications for Portuguese Nationality Soar - Israelis are the largest national group to seek Portuguese nationality in 2022. According to the SEF annual statistics reports, the numbers of Israeli applicants in 2021 and 2022 were 21,263 and 20,975, respectively. This means that for the past two years, Israelis have been the largest group to apply for Portuguese nationality, overtaking Brazil, a country with a population 20 times larger and unlike Israel, with strong, longstanding, cultural, historical and linguistic ties to Portugal.

Yet, whereas other national groups who apply for Portuguese nationality have correlating numbers of residents in Portugal, the Israeli immigrant group does not. With over 60,000 Israelis holding Portuguese nationality as of 2022, only 569 Israeli citizens reside in Portugal (per the 2022 SEF report). As a comparison, the same report indicates that 239,744 Brazilians live in Portugal. If Israelis don´t seek residency in Portugal, then why do they apply for nationality in such high numbers?

Lior, is an Israeli national who applied for and received Portuguese nationality. He is 47 years old and was born and raised in Tel Aviv, where he lives with his wife and three children.

“It started around 20 years ago,” Lior recalls, “with a buzz about the benefits of having a European passport. People discussed the freedom of movement in the EU and the US visa waiver program for EU nationals. This was a big deal for Israelis as carrying an Israeli passport is much more restrictive. This general conversation also touched on higher education. The academic prerequisites for state universities in Israel are high, and private schools are costly. In the EU, however, the terms of acceptance are more relaxed, and the cost is lower if you are an EU national. This general discussion motivated many families with European origins to apply for EU nationalities.”

But Lior, like many Israelis holding Portuguese nationality, does not intend to use it in any way.

“I don´t think of investing in Portugal, as some do, or moving there. I don´t know if there will ever be any benefit for me or my family from having Portuguese nationality. I just see it as a good thing to have.”

What are benefits?

An online search in Hebrew for “Portuguese nationality” and “Living in Portugal” yields over 100,000 results. Most are businesses and lawyers offering the facilitation of applications for Portuguese nationality. Others provide paid services for Israelis in Portugal: real estate agents, medical insurance, tour guides, etc., and many articles about Israelis living in Portugal.

As per the numerous articles, the main advantages Israelis see in Portugal are paying less taxes, reducing the cost of living, and leading a less stressful life. The disadvantages: the language barrier is significant, assimilating children is a daunting challenge, and the lower cost of living is proportionate to lower income levels.

Amikam, an Israeli healthcare professional in his forties, applied for Portuguese nationality in 2017 after seeing an advert about the Portuguese Government policy of awarding nationality to descendants of Inquisition-era Portuguese Jews (known in Israel as the Descendants’ Policy).

“It made me think of the opportunities embodied in EU citizenship, and I also thought that living in the EU would better suit my liberal views. And it´s always good to have a plan B in case things in Israel turn for the worst.” As far as Amikam recalls, the process was pretty standard. “It cost 10,000 ILS (around 2,500€) and took about two years for most people.”

But Amikam doesn´t consider moving to Portugal. “I wouldn´t move because that would mean giving up on a career I have invested in and giving up on the income it generates.”

Lirun, an Israeli lawyer who has accompanied thousands of nationality applicants in previous years, sees the Israeli cultural element surrounding family as a crucial reason for Israelis who opt not to migrate. “Israelis heavily consider the effects that moving away may have on their children. Israelis are often closely connected to their extended families, so uprooting the family poses a significant barrier to migration.”

According to Lirun, “a small percentage of Israelis holding Portuguese nationality actually use it for residence in Portugal, about one in five, I believe.”

End of a trend?

But the trend is over, he adds, “2022 was the last window for Israelis to apply for nationality in Portugal under the Descendants Policy.”

It would be hard to predict the trends of Israeli emigrants to Portugal and elsewhere; however, based on data published by the Israeli statistics authority, despite the escalating trend of acquiring foreign nationalities, there has been an opposite trend of returning Israeli nationals who have tried emigrating abroad in the past three decades.

Aggregating these trends and testimonies could help illuminate some of the characteristics which define Israel and Israeli society today, namely- a small, complicated and volatile country made up of people with a history of migration, which drives its citizens to have a safe plan B, yet at the same time, a country with a strong economy and inherently profound communal and familial bonds.


With a passion for surfing and writing, Yariv Kav moved to Portugal´s wave capital from his native Israel. He was awarded a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Manchester back when Oasis was still cool, and a diploma with distinction from the London School of Journalism in Feature and Freelance Writing. Loves travel, languages and human stories.

Yariv Kav