How to Get an EU Passport – Citizenship by Descent
As a retiree or boomer, you have decided you want to take up residence in a European country. You may be a Canadian or American by citizenship but you want to move to perhaps Spain, Ireland or Turkey for that matter. If you are seriously considering living in Europe the value of an EU passport cannot be denied. As housesitters we have come across many folks living in Mexico that wanted to experience living in Europe long term. It is not easy but you can apply for residency through descent and get an EU passport.
As a retiree, you can obtain a very different lifestyle from that of Canada or the US and live in the home of your ancestors or simply a place you are passionate about. I have met many expat North Americans who would give their eyeteeth to live in France or Italy but they just don’t know how to go about it.
Even if you are not a retiree and want to experience living in Europe you can apply for residency or citizenship by descent if your parents and sometimes grandparents emigrated from an EU member country.
These are the current European Union Countries plus the UK, which of course is planning to leave due to Brexit.
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK
For those of us from North America the law of jus solis (right of soil) and jus sanguinis (right of blood) might be the answer for you. What this means is that most European countries have a mechanism by which those who have never resided in the country can obtain residency and citizenship.
This right of blood means that depending on the country you may have a right to a passport for that country through your parents or grandparents. In some cases, there are countries that are welcoming back individuals who were forced to leave or became a citizen of another country due to civil disputes and wars that carved up nations, or those who were forced from their countries of birth through fascism, pogroms, escapees from Nazi Germany, Poland and so on.
A large part of obtaining citizenship in the country of your ancestors will rely on obtaining the necessary documentation. This can be a somewhat stressful procedure, as many of the smaller European countries like Greece have not centralized their databases of this kind of information.
You do not need anyone’s permission to obtain copies of birth certificates, death certificates or marriage certificates. You simply apply online as most countries have this facility by providing the dates and names according to the demands of the system, pay your money and the certificate will be mailed to you. If you are unsure of dates, many government databases can help with the searches. For example, we had to find a marriage certificate, we knew the approximate dates and the names of both parties and the search facility that we used found the certificate for us – it was dated a year later than expected but nevertheless we now have the certificate.
We will start with this one as both my husband and I have a right to an Irish passport. It hasn’t been easy and some of the rules are simply ridiculous. We attempted to get our Irish passports when we moved back to Ireland – mistake – should have done it from Canada. Anyway we are still in the process, as we had to abort any attempt to get our Irish passports while living there and actually apply from Canada, it’s a long story and ridiculous by any countries rules.
Anybody born on the island whether they are born in Northern Ireland or in the Republic is automatically entitled to Irish citizenship. If your parents or grandparents are Irish, you are also entitled to claim citizenship. You can even pass on Irish citizenship to your children as long as you register your citizenship before your children are born.
Just so, you know England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are not nations. They’re all part of the UK, they each have their own parliaments and laws but they are still considered one nation. The Republic of Ireland — that is to say, the southern part of Ireland — is not part of the UK.
British nationality law stipulates that you must have a British parent, and furthermore, that parent must be British-born, not a citizen by descent. It used to include grandparents but that has now been changed.
The UK is known for its strict immigration policies, but they allow a path to citizenship for those who can prove that one of their parents was born in the UK.
This online quiz will reveal whether you qualify.
Theoretically, anybody with a grandparent born in Italy can claim citizenship, just as a prospective Irish citizen can. In fact, Italy is even more generous: you can even claim citizenship through an Italian-born great-grandfather on either side. (But not a great-grandmother.)
Italian citizenship is passed on from parent to child without limitation of generation. You only need to produce evidence that everyone in your direct line of ascendants has maintained their Italian citizenship without interruption since 1861.
Read the government statement on Italian nationality law here.
As with Ireland and Italy, anybody with a grandparent born in Greece is theoretically entitled to claim Greek citizenship… An uncentralized system of documentation does make it quite difficult in Greece to obtain the required ancestral certificates and documents though so be prepared for a lot of searching.
If you succeed, a word of warning: Greece is one of the few European countries that still has mandatory military service for males aged 19–45.
Germany will only give you citizenship if your mother or father was a citizen. A child becomes German through birth if at least one parent holds German citizenship. This applies irrespective of the place of birth. However, a child born to a German abroad does not acquire German citizenship if the German parent(s) themselves were born abroad on or after 1 January 2000 and continue to live there, unless this means the child would be stateless or the birth is registered with the German embassy or consulate within a year.
If only the father is German and he is not married to the mother, acknowledgement or legal establishment of paternity is required. This sort of procedure may only be initiated before the child turns 23.
The citizenship of the other parent is irrelevant with regards to acquiring German citizenship, though the child usually also acquires the foreign citizenship of the other parent by birth, resulting in multiple nationality. Germany has one exception to the standard rules:
Former German citizens, who between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 were deprived of their citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds, and their descendants, shall on application have their citizenship restored. They shall be deemed never to have been deprived of their citizenship if they have established their domicile in Germany after May 8, 1945 and have not expressed a contrary intention.
Germany confers citizenship for children and grandchildren of former Germans who were deprived of their citizenship status between January 30, 1933 and May 8, 1945 on racial, political, or ethnic grounds. You can read more about it here.
I was a little surprised by Dutch law, as it appears to be very sexist and a little strange when you consider who the one who gives birth is. If your birth was prior to 1984, you can only be a Dutch citizen by law if your father was a Dutch citizen at the time of your birth. It does not matter whether you were born in the Netherlands or abroad.
If you were you born after 31 December 1984, you can become a Dutch citizen if your mother or your father was a Dutch citizen but your father must have acknowledged you as his child before you were born. In other words, his name must be on your birth certificate.
There are also some issues with having to give up your nationality if you want Dutch citizenship these are the rules:
In addition to your Dutch nationality you might have one or more other nationalities. Depending on the situation you might have to choose between your Dutch and other nationality.
Renouncing other nationalities after naturalisation
If you have more than one nationality, it is not always clear what your rights are. For instance, your country of origin may require you to do compulsory military service. The Dutch government wants to limit dual nationality as much as possible. If you have only one nationality, it will be clear what your rights are. That is why people who want to acquire Dutch nationality through naturalisation are, as a rule, required to give up their other nationality if possible. This is called the renunciation requirement.
Loss of Dutch nationality
You might automatically lose your Dutch nationality if you acquire another nationality.
Exceptions to the renunciation requirement
- In some countries you automatically acquire the nationality of that country if you are born there. And it is up to every country to decide when their nationals lose their nationality. Greek and Iranian nationals, for example, cannot give up their nationality: it is not legally possible. In Morocco giving up your nationality is not accepted in practice.
- If you are married to a Dutch national, you may keep your own nationality. The same applies in the case of a registered partnership.
- Refugees who want to be naturalised are allowed to keep their original nationality. This only applies to people who are recognised as refugees in the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao or St Maarten.
Other nationalities no longer recorded in the personal records database
Since 6 January 2014, second or multiple nationalities are no longer recorded in the Personal Records Database. If you have another nationality besides Dutch nationality, this will no longer be noted when you register.
Poland has generous but complicated rules about citizenship, that revolve around “unbroken succession.” This seems to be based on military service, which was compulsory until 2009.
If your Polish ancestor became a citizen of another country after 1951, you should be eligible to claim citizenship. If they became a foreign citizen before 1951, it was considered to be a renunciation of their Polish citizenship, which breaks the line of succession.
However, Poland also seems to have considered citizenship for its male citizens to be unrenounceable if they had military service obligations. Therefore, you may still be eligible to claim Polish citizenship even if the military service was to another country. If you can get around this mess of conflicting laws and regulations, great-grandparent born in Poland can assure you of citizenship by ancestry.
Hungary updated its nationality law in 2011 to permit anybody with Hungarian ancestry, including great-grandparents, to claim citizenship by descent. However, you have to speak at least a rudimentary level of Hungarian and pass a language test.
While most people that apply for Hungarian birthright citizenship attain citizenship from their parents, grandparents or great grandparents, you can try tracing back further with the right paper trail. Hungarian legislation was updated in 1993 to allow more opportunity for Hungarian descendants to return to their homeland.
To obtain Spanish citizenship either or both of your parents must have been born in Spain. There is one exception like Germany to atone for its fascist past. If you have a Spanish ancestor who left Spain between 1936 and 1955 (i.e., during the years of the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship), you’ve got a good chance of claiming Spanish citizenship.
We have spent many months exploring Spain as a retirement destinations and we just love Southern Spain in particular the region around Almeria. If you are interested in moving to Spain and living in the country you will find a super informative piece written on how to do this by the Wandering Wagoners Abroad Blog. The Move to Spain blog has all the information you need to move here on a non-lucrative visa.
BY DESCENT: Child of a recognized Estonian mother or father, regardless of the child’s country of birth, even if the father dies before birth.
BY DESCENT: Child of a recognized Latvian mother or father, regardless of the child’s country of birth, even if the father dies before birth.
There are some exceptions in Latvian law due to WWII.
Pursuant to Clause 1, Article 2 of the Citizenship Law, namely persons who were citizens of Latvia on 17 June 1940 or their descendents and who are not citizens of another country.
Pursuant to Article 2 of the Citizenship Law, a procedure under which the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs accepts and examines applications and registers a person as a citizen of Latvia is established by Cabinet Regulation of 24 September 2013 Procedure for Registering a Person as a Citizen of Latvia.
Exiles (those who were forced to leave Latvia between June 17, 1940 and May 4, 1990 due to foreign occupation) and their descendants who were born until October 1, 2014
Latvian citizenship can be requested by those who were citizens of Latvia on June 17, 1940 and who fled occupation and left Latvia between June 17, 1940 and May 4, 1990, and for this reason did not return to Latvia, as well as their descendants, who have been born until October 1, 2014. Dual citizenship is allowed with any other country!
At the time of birth at least one of the parents was a citizen of Latvia
In this case dual citizenship is allowed for those who are citizens of the member states of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), NATO or if you are a citizen of Australia, Brazil or New Zealand (children are eligible for dual citizenship with any country, but at age 25 will have to make a choice).
BY DESCENT: Child of a recognized Lithuanian mother or father, regardless of the child’s country of birth, even if the father dies before birth. As well as being able to claim descent through grandparents, and great grandparents that were citizens of the Republic of Lithuania which existed from 1918 to 1940 and your ancestor left the country before it restored its independence in 1990.
Whether they were born in or out of country, you can become a French citizen so long as one of your parents is as well. All generations before you must have registered birth certificates before you can register your own.
France is a founding member of the European Union and like other countries in the EU, becoming a French citizen gives you the access to live, study and work in any of the 28 EU countries.
BY DESCENT: Child of a recognized Portuguese mother, father or grandparents, regardless of the child’s country of birth, even if the father dies before birth.
BY DESCENT: The son/daughter, who was born prior to the 21st of September 1964, of a female who was born in Malta and who became or would but for her death have become a citizen of Malta on the said date.
The son/daughter of a female citizen of Malta (who acquired Maltese citizenship by birth in Malta, by registration or by naturalization, and who was a citizen of Malta at the time of your birth) and you were born outside Malta on or after 21st September 1964 and before the 1st August 1989.
The direct descendant, second or subsequent generation, born abroad of an ascendant that was born in Malta of a parent who was also born in Malta. (If the descendant is a minor, then the person who at law has authority over that child shall submit the relative application).
BY DESCENT: Child of a recognized Belgian mother, father or grandparents, regardless of the child’s country of birth, even if the father dies before birth on or after 1 January 1985. Belgian citizenship is acquired by: birth in Belgium to a Belgian citizen OR; the Belgian parent was born abroad and makes a declaration, within a period of five years following the child’s birth, requesting that he be granted Belgian nationality.
BY DESCENT: Bulgarian citizen by descent is any person of whom at least one of the parents is a Bulgarian citizen. This is a two-stage process; the applicant must first apply for a Certificate of Bulgarian origin with the State Agency. Once this is received, they can then apply for Bulgarian Citizenship with the Ministry of Justice.
BY DESCENT: Children automatically become Austrian citizens at the time of their birth, when the mother is an Austrian citizen. The same applies in case the parents are married and only the father is an Austrian citizen.
If the parents are not married and only the father of the child is an Austrian citizen, however the mother is a national of another country, the child acquires Austrian citizenship, when within 8 weeks the Austrian father recognizes his parenthood or the fact that he is the father is determined by court. In all cases where recognition of fatherhood or the determination by court is done after his timeframe, children may be awarded Austrian citizenship in a simplified procedure.
BY DESCENT: Those born abroad to at least one Cypriot can register with a local consulate for citizenship. Those born between 1960 and 1999 to a Cypriot mother can register as a citizen of Cyprus upon turning 21.
BY DESCENT: If the child is born to Czech parents outside of the country said, child can obtain citizenship ex lege.
BY DESCENT: If either the mother or father of the child born outside Denmark is Danish, they can obtain citizenship by descent.
BY DESCENT: This may be granted a residence permit if at least one of your parents or grandparents is or has been a native Finnish citizen.
If your grandparent or parent has subsequently lost his/her Finnish citizenship when applying for citizenship in some other country, for example, it will have no impact on the matter.
BY DESCENT: If either parent was born in Luxembourg, their children can claim citizenship by descent.
BY DESCENT: The children born from Romanian citizens on Romanian territory are Romanian citizens.
Furthermore, Romanian citizens are also those:
- a) Born on the Romanian territory, even if only one of the parents is a Romanian citizen;
- b) Born abroad and both parents, and only one of them has a Romanian citizenship.
Romanian nationality law is founded on the social policy of jus sanguinis by which nationality or citizenship is not determined by place of birth, but by the citizenship of one’s ancestor. It contrasts with jus soli (“right of soil”), in which citizenship is determined by one’s place of birth
BY DESCENT: Citizenship of the Slovak Republic is automatic for a child who at least one of the parents is a citizen of the Slovak Republic
BY DESCENT: A child gains the Slovenian citizenship by birth:
– If both parents of the birth mother and father are Slovenian Citizens,
– if only one parent of the child born is Slovenian Citizen and the child is born in Slovenia,
– if one parent of the child born is Slovenian Citizen, and the second is unknown or has unknown citizenship or is without second parent and the child is born in a foreign country.
BY DESCENT: A child born before 1 April 2015 acquires Swedish citizenship at birth if: the child’s mother is a Swedish citizen (Swedish mothers have only been able to pass on their citizenship since 1 July 1979); or – the child’s father is a Swedish citizen, the child is born out of wedlock, and the child is born in Sweden.
Swedish nationality law determines entitlement to Swedish citizenship. Citizenship of Sweden is based primarily on the principle of jus sanguinis. In other words, citizenship is conferred primarily by birth to a Swedish parent, irrespective of place of birth.
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