If you’re thinking about retiring abroad, your options may be limited based on your ability to legally stay in a country for a longer period of time. Sometimes for instance, the most affordable countries in Europe have the strictest immigration policies. This is a bummer for a lot of folks.
But for some, there may be another option. Citizenship by descent, or citizenship by ancestry, is one of those options. Basically, if you have a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent or other ancestors who were born in another country, you may be able to claim citizenship.
Some countries have stringent requirements where you must have a parent who is from that particular country - but others are much easier. Irish and Italian descendants...I'm talking to you. If you have family from either of those countries, you'll have an easier time than most in getting your dual citizenship.
Imagine, if you can claim citizenship for a European country that is a member of the EU. Suddenly all countries in the EU are open to you relocating for the long term. But often there is a bigger reason for wanting to get citizenship by ancestry.
For instance, in my case, I want to be closer to my heritage. My grandparents always wanted to go back to their country. They left under duress and I have this need to close the loop for them. They both have passed away but being able to become a citizen of the place where my grandparents were born (and my mother) is a big deal.
My Citizenship by Descent Journey
The process took me a little longer than normal because I had an error on my birth certificate. I never worried about it but in order to do this, I had to get it fixed. Of course, the first request was returned because I didn’t do something right. Instead of 6 months, it took me 8 months to gather everything I needed. Sigh.
So here’s everything I had to do:
- Request my mom’s birth certificate from her home country
- Request apostilled copies of my birth certificate, my marriage certificate and my mom’s marriage certificate. Apostilled copies are certified by the Secretary of State
- Get my birth certificate and marriage certificate translated by an embassy-approved translator
The last step is to visit the embassy in person to apply for citizenship. I was ready to make the appointment but COVID happened and everything shut down. Once things open up again, I’ll make that appointment. I can't wait!
Update: I was finally able to go visit the embassy in Washington D.C. in June 2021. I provided all of my paperwork and the visit went quite smoothly. If I'm approved, I'll have to fly back to apply for my passport in person.
A friend of mine's husband just got his UK citizenship by descent and he doesn't have to go back to the embassy in person for his passport. Apparently this can all be done virtually. So, the process will very much depend on which country you are applying.
2023 Update: Well, it finally happened! I got my Slovak passport last summer. Woot!
The only thing is I really haven't done much with it yet. The great part is I feel official - I am a Slovak citizen! I can't wait to spend more time there. I think the next part of my journey is to find long, lost family.
Beware of companies who claim they can verify whether you are eligible and then help you with the process. I first reached out to one of these companies and was told that I was not eligible. Luckily I didn't take their word for it so I called the local embassy and in fact, I was eligible.
How to Get Dual Citizenship by Descent
The process and requirements vary from country-to-country so I’ve compiled a list of country requirements. If a country isn’t on this list, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity, so please check. Also, take this list as a jumping off point.
Laws frequently change so if your country is on this list, your next stop should be contacting your local embassy. They should be able to tell you whether you're eligible or not. I've also included links to pages that are clear in how to obtain your citizenship by descent.
Here is the list:
One parent must be a native of Argentina at the time of your birth
One parent must be a Australian citizen at the time of your birth. More info...
One parent must be an Austrian citizen with some specific requirements. More info...
Have at least one parent be a Brazilian native at the time of your birth.
At the time of your birth, one of your parents need to have been born in Canada or became a naturalized citizen. More info...
Have a Chilean parent who can prove one of their parents was granted Chilean citizenship by birth or naturalization.
Have at least one parent who was a Colombian citizen by birth or naturalization.
Have at least one parent who is a Costa Rican citizen.
One parent must have been a Croatian citizen at the time of birth, but you must have been registered with the Croatian government before your 18th birthday. But, you're eligible for citizenship if both of your parents are Croatian citizens, even if you don't register.
Have at least one parent or grandparent who was a Czech or Czechoslovak citizen. More info...
One parent must be a Danish citizen at the time of your birth.
Have at least one parent who is a Dominican citizen.
You can obtain a residence permit in Finland if at least one of your parents or grandparents is or has been a native Finnish citizen. A native Finnish citizen is a person who has received Finnish citizenship at birth. Otherwise for citizenship, you must have a Finnish mother or father. More info about Finnish citizenship by decent
Have at least one parent who was a French citizen at your time of birth.
Have at least one parent who was a German citizen at your time of birth, though there may be other exceptions to allow for citizenship.
Have at least one parent with Greek nationality; citizenship can be transmitted from generation to generation indefinitely.
Have at least one Hungarian parent or grandparent and may have to pass a basic Hungarian language test. More info...
Have at least one parent or grandparent with Irish citizenship. If grandparent, he or she must have been born in Ireland. More info...
Have at least one parent who is an Israeli citizen at your time of birth, or claim through Law of Return.
Have Italian heritage. More info...
Have at least one parent who is a Mexican citizen born in Mexico.
Have at least one parent who was a Dutch citizen at the time of your birth.
Have at least one parent who was a Norwegian citizen at the time of your birth.
Have at least one parent who was a Filipino citizen at the time of your birth. More info...
Have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who lived in Poland after 1920 or whose address can be found in various registers. The must also have held Polish citizenship until the day of your birth.
Have at least one parent or grandparent who was a Portuguese citizen. If grandparent, you must be familiar with the Portuguese language and have ties to the local Portuguese community.
Have at least one parent or grandparent who was a Romanian citizen at some point in their lifetime. Or, have a great-grandparent who was a Romanian citizen and lost citizenship involuntarily.
Have at least one parent who was a Singaporean citizen at the time of your birth. More info about Singapore citizenship
Have at least one parent who was a Slovak citizen at time of birth. Also, you can apply for citizenship by descent for a parent, grandparent and great-grandparent who at one point held Slovak citizenship, was born in Slovakia (today's borders) and the applicant must have a residence permit. More info...
Have at least one parent or grandparent who was a Slovenian citizen.
Have at least one parent who was a South African citizen at the time of your birth. More info...
Have at least one parent or grandparent who was a Spanish citizen, with some restrictions.
Have a Swedish parent at the time of your birth.
Born to at least one Swiss parent regardless of their place of birth, although the child must be registered at the local Swiss consulate by age 22 if born abroad.
Have a father who is a Taiwanese citizen at your time of birth.
Have a Thai mother or a Thai father who is married to your mother.
Have at least one parent who is a Turkish citizen at your time of birth.
Have at least one parent who was a British citizen at the time of your birth. More info...
Have at least one parent who was an American citizen at the time of your birth.
If you're not able to secure citizenship somewhere...there's also the option to live a nomadic lifestyle and travel the world. Check out what Sam Roberts has to say about living that digital nomad lifestyle.