In the early the 19th century, Portuguese overseas territories were referred to as "overseas dominions", but administrative reforms made the term "overseas provinces" begin to be used. That was in keeping with the idea of pluricontinentalism, or the idea that Portugal existed as a transcontinental country and that its territories were integral to the Portuguese state. Overseas possessions had already been seen as an element of Portuguese identity. Although administratively classified as an overseas province, the Portuguese Indian retained the honorary title of "state".
By the 20th century, most of these territories were referred to as "colonies", but the term "overseas province" continued to be the official designation.
The Portuguese Colonial Act - passed on 13 June 1933 as one of the fundamental statutes of the Estado Novo regime led by Salazar – eliminated "overseas province" as the official designation of the territories and fully replaced it by that of "colony". The colonies of Angola and Mozambique were themselves subdivided in provinces. Portuguese India retained the title of "state".
The name was made official in 1951 as part of the policy of Salazar's government to retain the remaining colonies and to appease anticolonial demands from the United Nations. The following territories were then reclassified:
The classification lasted until the 1974 Carnation Revolution, which led to the fall of the Estado Novo regime, the rapid decolonisation of Portuguese Africa and the annexation of Portuguese Timor by Indonesia. Meanwhile, in 1970, the provinces of Angola and Mozambique received each one the honorary title of "state".
In 1976, the territory of Macau was recognized as the "Chinese territory under Portuguese administration" and was granted more administrative, financial and economic autonomy. Three years later, Portugal and China agreed rename Macau once again to as a "Chinese territory under (temporary) Portuguese administration". That classification lasted until the Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau and transfer of sovereignty of Macau from Portugal to the People's Republic of China in 1999.