In the year 1492, at a port city about 50 miles south of where Columbus was preparing to set sail for the New World, Spanish Jews were desperately scrambling to flee Spain.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave all Jewish Spaniards just four months notice to leave the country, convert to Christianity, or die.
They were called Sephardic Jews (Sephardic is Hebrew for Spanish), and they were forced to sell their properties and businesses. With such a small window of time to leave, these properties flooded the market, and the price of real estate crashed.
But it hardly mattered anyway, since the Jewish people were not allowed to take their gold or silver with them.
If you are Jewish, then it is more likely than not that your ancestors were persecuted — whether in Spain, Portugal, Russia, Germany, Poland, or elsewhere in the world.
It is a tragic history that some governments today are trying to fix by restoring citizenship to the descendants of those they persecuted.
So yes, if you’re Jewish or have Jewish ancestry, it’s possible you might qualify for a second passport and citizenship.
This is something where there is practically ZERO downside. Obtaining a second citizenship and passport is the ultimate insurance policy. It means you and your family will ALWAYS have another option.
No matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) next, you’ll have at least one more place to call home… where you can be welcomed to live and work. It means having more visa-free travel options, business options, lifestyle options, investment options.
So if you do have Jewish ancestry, here are five countries to consider where you could potentially obtain a second passport.
1. Spanish Citizenship By Descent
One of those countries trying to make amends for past wrongs is Spain, whose program we have written about before.
In general, Jews fall into two main categories – Ashkenazi (hailing from Eastern Europe) and Sephardic (hailing from Spain/Portugal). There are other groups, too, but most Jews around the world can claim one origin or another.
Normally, to claim heritage from a country, you have to show birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. And to some extent, you need to do so here. But nobody will likely have documents stretching back five centuries.
So to reasonably demonstrate Sephardic heritage, you’ll have to dig up, for example, family letters written in Ladino, the language of Spain’s Jews 500 years ago. Or genealogical records that show where your ancestor came from and went. Perhaps your family kept its Sephardic heritage and attends a Sephardic synagogue. Getting them to vouch for you can help, too.
The issue with claiming Spanish citizenship through Jewish ancestry is that the deadline to submit an application is October 1, 2019.
However if you miss the deadline, it may still be possible to qualify for a second passport based on Sephardic ancestry from Portugal…
2. Portuguese Citizenship By Descent
When Spain kicked the Jewish people out of the country, about 120,000 paid a hefty fee to settle in Portugal. But about five years later, Portugal also expelled its Jewish residents.
So Portugal is another country trying to repay the historic debt with citizenship, and their project is still going on. Again, you’ll have to do some serious genealogical digging. Jews in Portugal often changed their last names to words describing animals such as eagles (Aguia), adjectives such as thorny (Spinosa), or descriptors such as storyteller (Abecassis). Just having a Sephardic last name doesn’t qualify you for citizenship, but it can help.
3. Polish Citizenship By Descent
If you are of Ashkenazi, rather than Sephardic, origin, then another country to consider is Poland. Technically, you are confirming, not gaining, Polish citizenship if your ancestor was a bona fide Polish citizen, as many Polish citizens did not leave Poland but were murdered in the Holocaust.
Poland has some very strict rules around proving ancestry. The country is possibly the most rigorous gatekeeper of citizenship-via-ancestry in Europe.
Even if your last name is Adamowicz, and even if your great-grandfather’s town was destroyed in World War II, you’ll still have to prove that he was a bona fide Polish citizen. (There are myriad ways to do this, which we detail in our online library.)
But if successful, you’ll gain a valuable passport. Polish citizenship gives you unfettered access to the European Union: to schools, employment, and living anywhere you want in the territory.
Poland is also a highly self-sufficient country, so even if the EU falls apart, it can run its own economic engine.
4. German Citizenship By Descent
Germany is another country to look into if you are Ashkenazi and your ancestors hailed from there. Ironic, yes, considering the Holocaust, but I have a number of Jewish friends who have reclaimed German citizenship via their Jewish roots.
German immigration law states that former German citizens who between 1933 and 1945 were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds may reinstate their citizenship. This also applies to their descendants.
Documents that help include any birth or marriage certificates creating the family chain back to your ancestor(s), records from concentration camps, any naturalization documents that showed your ancestor’s new citizenship (if they survived persecution), old German passports or other documents showing German citizenship, and/or any pensions or other persecution-related documents.
I have a friend who was able to nab her German passport (via a grandparent) in less than a month.
And what a passport it is — the German passport is considered one of the most powerful one in the world, outranking those of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. With a German passport, you can travel in and out of 158 nations around the world, no visas required.
5. Israeli Citizenship By Descent
Finally, one last country you might want to consider is Israel.
If you are of Jewish ancestry – any at all – and are able to relocate to Israel, you can easily obtain Israeli citizenship.
As we wrote here, the benefits are numerous, including certain tax incentives.
Should you decide to live in Israel, you could save tens of thousands of dollars in taxes each year. That’s because new citizens who move to Israel are EXEMPT from taxes for the first ten years that they live there.
Plus, the government actually pays you to have kids in Israel, giving you a monthly stipend and opening a savings account in each child’s name.
But even if you don’t qualify for citizenship in any of these countries, you could still be part of the “lucky bloodline club.”
Countries like Italy, Ireland, and many more give citizenship to anyone who can prove their ancestors came from those countries.
And remember, what usually happens when you obtain citizenship from your ancestry, is that it can also pass down to your children and grandchildren.
So future generations of your family can benefit from a little bit of effort that you put in today.