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The ultimate guide to getting Italian dual citizenship, also known as "Why I can thank the NY consulate for my business today"

The ultimate guide to Italian dual citizenship

The beginning

I remember it like it was yesterday.

When I first heard about Italian dual citizenship, I was in high school. Because I spoke fluent Italian, a friend of the family asked me to translate some documents into Italian so he could get his Italian dual passport.

Uh, what?

Italian dual passport?” I stammered. He might as well have been speaking Greek.

“Yeah, don’t you know that you probably qualify for one?”

I didn’t know. But that was all I needed to hear. My interest was piqued, especially because I had always been into in my heritage and one day wanted to move to Italy. That afternoon, I rushed home and turned on my (hunter green) Dell PC.

Imagine my surprise when I searched for what little information I could find online (this was 2003, after all) and discovered that I, too, was eligible. Luckily, we had my grandfather’s naturalization certificate hanging on the wall in a frame so it wasn’t hard to figure out.

I soon found myself on an odyssey of writing letters to Italy, gathering the rest of my paperwork, talking to my grandparents, translating documents at a feverish pace, obtaining apostilles, and going back and forth to the Consulate General of Italy in New York. In those days they weren’t as busy as they are now and would sometimes answer the phone.

My Italian dual citizenship appointment

Finally, the day of my appointment had come. I had done everything perfectly. Dotted my i’s, crossed my t’s, gotten every bit of paperwork. I walked up the time-withered spiral staircase and sat across a woman behind a large mahogany table. (Back then, I don’t think they saw people at the window for jure sanguinis applications). She went over my documents with a fine-toothed comb while I sat silently, staring at the walls.

Finally, she placed a perfectly manicured finger on my grandfather’s birth certificate. “Signorina,” she growled, “it says here your grandfather’s last name is ‘Di Falco,’ but on his marriage certificate it is spelled ‘De Falco.’ We cannot accept your application.”

I felt like a balloon that had been pricked with a pin.

I protested, “But surely you can see they’re the same person? It’s just a spelling error. Di Falco sounds like De Falco in English. Who’s to say the person writing the certificate didn’t just spell it phonetically? The dates and spouses and children’s names are the same…”

It was of no use. She sat, cross-armed and stared. “You will have to rectify this… or else.”

Or else? I wasn’t going to get a court order to change a document. And I certainly wasn’t going to legally change my name. And my grandfather–rest his soul–would have preferred I not get dual citizenship anyway. I was stuck. The tears welled in my eyes and I gathered my paperwork, politely said goodbye, and walked out.

Besides, I had an application for a student visa for the University of Catania anyway. Under my breath, I vowed never to apply at the Italian consulate again and–come what may–just try and apply in Italy. I didn’t even know if I could, but I sure as heck would try.

(It eventually worked out in the end because applying directly in Italy for Italian dual citizenship was infinitely easier. From handing in my application to receiving my citizenship, it took a little less than 3 months. And the best part? When I handed my documents to the kindly man at the comune, he took one look at the name discrepancy and laughed. “Non c’è problema!”, he said. There’s no problem.”)

The aftermath

And so it was decided. I would dedicate my professional life towards helping people apply for Italian dual citizenship and avoid the pitfalls I fell into. I’d been doing translations for Italian citizenship jure sanguinis since 2003 and helping gather Italian documents and U.S. vital records anyway, so when I shifted towards becoming a full-fledged Italian dual citizenship service provider in 2009 the switch was easy.

Now that my story’s out of the way, let’s get on to the good stuff: the ultimate guide to getting Italian dual citizenship (Italian citizenship jure sanguinis). Buckle in, because it’s a lot of info.

But, beyond that, an Italian passport is so much more. It means bringing your family’s long history full circle. It means holding in your hand the results of your commitment to your heritage. It means a real, quantifiable connection to the land of your ancestors. When you obtain Italian dual citizenship, you are bringing your own family’s journey home and unraveling your personal Italian story.

What is Italian dual citizenship?

What is Italian dual citizenship?

Essentially, Italian dual citizenship is just as it sounds: it means having both Italian citizenship and the citizenship of your home country.

Italian citizenship jure sanguinis—the very basics

In Italy, citizenship is passed down from parent to child. This is called citizenship “jure sanguinis” (Latin for “right of the blood”).

Many European countries follow jure sanguinis citizenship law, but Italy is more generous than most (I’ll explain more on this later).

This contrasts with U.S. citizenship which is “jure soli” (Latin for “right of the soil”). Unlike Italy, the United States bestows citizenship upon everyone born on U.S. soil.

Finally, Italy does not give Italian citizenship to people just because they are born in Italy. In order to obtain Italian citizenship, you must be born to an Italian parent (or parent who qualifies for dual citizenship), or actively naturalize as an Italian citizen in some other way.

So, just to recap:

  1. In Italy, citizenship is passed down from parent to child. An Italian citizen parent passes down Italian citizenship to his or her child.
  2. In the U.S., citizenship is bestowed upon people born on American soil.
  3. Italian citizenship is not passed down to people just because they are born in Italy.

Italy’s citizenship laws are very favorable to people of Italian descent.

Many years ago, widespread famine and economic hardship caused millions of Italians to leave Italy and search their fortunes abroad. This understandably had a devastating effect on the country. To right this historical “wrong,” Italy has made it relatively easy for Italian descendants to obtain dual citizenship.

According to Italian law, any child born to an Italian parent is he himself an Italian citizen. This is similar to many other European citizenship laws.

There are no generational limits. Seriously!

But Italy takes it one step further. Not only do children born to Italian parents qualify, but there are also no generational limits to qualifying. What’s more, Italian citizenship is passed from parent to child in an unbroken chain across generations.

This means that any child born to an Italian citizen is given Italian citizenship at birth. And then, that same child passes on citizenship at birth to his children, who then pass it on to their children, and so on through the generations.

That’s how people who have Italian ancestry from generations ago can qualify. Essentially, Italian citizenship is passed down at birth even if it’s not formally recognized by the government. When you apply for recognition of Italian dual citizenship, you’re simply asking the Italian government to formalize something you’ve possessed since birth.

As long as one of your ancestors was either a dual U.S.-Italian citizen or qualified for dual U.S.-Italian citizenship, then the right to have dual Italian citizenship passes down indefinitely.

Here’s a practical example:

John was born in New York in 1950 to an Italian citizen named Salvatore. John was born with U.S. citizenship as well as the right to have Italian dual citizenship jure sanguinis because his father was an Italian citizen at the time of his birth.

John marries Mary in 1972 and has a daughter, Joanne. Since Joanne was born with U.S. citizenship to John—a person qualifying for Italian dual citizenship—Joanne qualifies too.

Joanne marries Will and has a son, Jerry. Since Jerry was born to Joanne—a person qualifying for Italian dual citizenship—Jerry himself qualifies.

This can continue on throughout the generations.

Again, Italian dual citizenship is passed down indefinitely as long as one ancestor was either a dual U.S.-Italian citizen, or a person qualifying for dual Italian citizenship.

How to qualify

how to qualify for Italian dual citizenship

There are almost 16 million people in the U.S. who identify as Italian Americans. That makes up nearly 6% of the U.S. population. It’s likely that a large percentage qualify for Italian dual citizenship.

Figuring out how to qualify for Italian dual citizenship is as simple as answering these 3 key questions.

1. When was your ancestor born and when did he die?

Italy officially became a country on March 17, 1861. Before that date, there was no such thing as Italy like we know it today. Pre-unified Italy was inhabited by various city states and monarchs.

Thus, any person living in Italy before that date was not actually an Italian citizen. On March 17, 1861, people who were born in the territory we now call Italy officially became Italian citizens.

Therefore, your ancestor must have been alive—anywhere in the world—at least on or after March 17, 1861. Additionally, your ancestor must have not naturalized as a citizen of another country before that date. If he naturalized before becoming an Italian citizen in the first place, then he could not pass Italian citizenship on to his children.

2. Do you have any women in your direct line leading back to your last Italian-born ancestor?

On January 1, 1948, Italy’s citizenship law changed in a big way. That date marks when Italy’s modern constitution came into effect.

Before this date, Italian women could not pass on citizenship to their children. So, check if there are any women in your direct line leading back to your last Italian-born ancestor. If any child (male or female) in your family was born to a woman before January 1, 1948, that child could not receive Italian citizenship through their mom.

Said in another way, unless the child was born on or after January 1, 1948, you will have to find a different way to qualify. A practical example is two children born to the same Italian mother—one in 1947 and one in 1952. The older child could not receive citizenship from his mom, but the younger child could.

Note that this rule is commonly referred to as the “1948 rule” or Italian dual citizenship via maternal descent and has been successfully challenged in court many times. However, you cannot challenge the 1948 rule as a first resort and you must show that you do not qualify through any other family members before you can proceed. If you wish to fight this rule, you must hire an Italian attorney. Contact us for a consultation if you have any questions about “1948 cases.”

3. When did your ancestor lose his Italian citizenship/naturalize?  

Under Italian citizenship law, the right to obtain recognition of citizenship can pass on indefinitely as long as the chain is not “broken.” This chain is broken when the original Italian ancestor naturalizes.

However, if a parent naturalizes after the birth of a child born on United States soil, that child not only gets born with U.S. citizenship, he or she also inherits the right to obtain Italian dual citizenship even if his or her parent naturalizes at any time after their birth.

As long as your last Italian-born ancestor naturalized after the birth of his or her child born in the U.S., the chain is not broken. The same goes for an ancestor who never naturalizes at all.

One more thing: the 1912 rule

There’s one more bonus rule you need to know about: the 1912 rule. Italian citizenship law as we know it came into effect on July 1, 1912 (read this law here in Italian). This law set forth the current rules for Italian citizenship that we still follow today. These rules allow(ed) a parent to pass on citizenship jure sanguinis to their child. Consulates do not apply this law retroactively.

So, if you apply for recognition of Italian citizenship at a consulate, the consulates say that citizens naturalized before July 1, 1912 cannot transmit Italian citizenship to their children regardless of when they were born.

There are two exceptions to this rule:

1. 

If the child was still residing in Italy when the father naturalized.

2. 

If the child reached legal adulthood before the father’s naturalization (age 21 before March 10, 1975 and age 18 after that).

Putting all the rules about qualifying for Italian dual citizenship together

So, now you’re an expert on how to qualify for Italian dual citizenship! Let’s recap the rules one by one.

1. 

Your ancestor must have been alive anywhere in the world on March 17, 1861

2. 

Your ancestor must not have naturalized before July 1, 1912 (save for the 2 exceptions listed above)

3. Your ancestor or direct line ascendant, if female, must have had her child on or after February 1, 1948

4. Your ancestor must have still been an Italian citizen at the time of his or her child’s birth

How to decide where to apply for Italian dual citizenship

where to apply for Italian dual citizenship

Italian law states that you must apply where you are residing. This means that you can apply for Italian dual citizenship at your local Italian consulate in the U.S., or you can actually elect residency in Italy and apply there. There are even laws which make it easier for people of Italian descent to obtain residency in Italy (we’ll discuss these later) in order to file their application.

Each choice has its pros and cons, and we’ll explain them here.

Applying at a Consulate for Italian Citizenship Jure Sanguinis

In recent years, the secret about Italian dual citizenship has gotten out.

Now, people are applying for Italian dual citizenship through the consulates in record numbers. It is becoming harder to get appointments, and consulates are unfortunately perpetually understaffed and overworked.

A decade ago, appointments could be had almost immediately even in the busiest consulates like New York and Los Angeles. Now, wait times for an appointment in New York hover around 3 years and an abysmal 7-9 years (we’re serious) in Los Angeles.

However, there still are very good consulates such as Detroit and Houston where appointment times go very quick and the staff is not as overextended.

And if you simply cannot make it to Italy to apply for Italian citizenship, you’ll have to go through your consulate – even if it’s one of the ones with long wait times.

Pros of applying for Italian citizenship at a consulate

  • Consulates are local and convenient. You just make an appointment and show up.
  • Costs to apply at a consulate are low. There is only a (non-refundable) 300 euro fee to apply at a consulate.
  • Some consulates are flexible and accommodating.
  • The process itself is generally regimented, and you’ll get a file number and receipt while waiting for recognition.
  • Some consulates have quick recognition times.
  • When you’re recognized you’ll automatically be enrolled in AIRE (Registry of Italians Abroad)

Cons of applying for Italian citizenship at a consulate

  • Consular rules can sometimes be opaque. Websites aren’t always updated with the latest requirements, and sometimes consular officials want documents that aren’t even mentioned on their website.
  • Long wait times for appointments at many consulates.
  • E-mails and telephone calls almost always go unanswered.
  • It’s very difficult to check the status of your application.
  • Consulates always require more documents than actually needed by Italian law to claim Italian dual citizenship (I think they do this to discourage applicants and lighten their workload, but that’s just me)
  • Many consulates have long recognition times (over 2 years).
  • Consular officials sometimes ask for unreasonable amendments to documents or court orders to remedy name and date discrepancies on documents.

A word about the consulates:

Even though Italian consulates are located on U.S. soil, they’re operated like Italian offices. Things take time. They might be disorganized. They might never answer e-mails or the phone no matter how many times you call. Sometimes, even consular workers do not know the relevant laws. Other times, you might get a consular worker who is having a bad day and doesn’t want to help. Alternatively, you could get a gem of a person who is incredibly sweet. Or, worst of all, you may end up at a consular appointment with a hostile worker who doesn’t like Italian dual citizenship laws and will try to make you jump through hoops.

The point is just to remain calm and do whatever they tell you. Realistically, you have very little recourse against a hostile consular worker, so the best course of action is just to comply and get everything they ask for. In the end, your passport is worth it.

Note: Be aware that a consular worker may ask for a document not specified on their website or a document that is not even needed in accordance with Italian law. Just smile, bring the document in, and cross your fingers!

Applying in Italy for Italian Citizenship Jure Sanguinis

Fewer people apply in Italy, so there is usually a very short wait for appointments (or no wait times at all). However, since fewer people apply in Italy there is always the chance you will find someone who doesn’t know the relevant laws. This may be a problem if you do not speak Italian or are not accompanied by an Italian speaker.

In order to apply in Italy for dual citizenship, you must first be a resident in the comune (town) where you wish to apply. Italian law has made it easy for you to become a resident, which we have discussed on a previous post.

Once you are a resident of the town where you intend to apply, you can then hand in your paperwork and wait for processing. If your application takes more than 90 days to process, then you’ll need to obtain a permesso di soggiorno in attesa di cittadinanza (permit to stay while awaiting citizenship) so you can stay in Italy legally if you intend to be there longer. You will need to go to the post office and get a permesso di soggiorno kit. Then, you’ll include all your citizenship receipts and hand it in. You’ll receive an appointment date to give fingerprints, and then a further date to pick up the permesso. Pros for applying for Italian dual citizenship in Italy

Pros of applying in Italy for Italian dual citizenship

  • Fewer applicants means fewer wait times.
  • Even if some busier comuni have wait times for an appointment, it’s usually in terms of weeks or months, not years.
  • Italian towns by and large follow the letter of the law, meaning fewer documents for you to hand in.
  • Recognition times tend to be quicker; we’re not sure why, but consulates respond with the attestato di non rinuncia (proof neither you nor anyone in your family renounced their right to Italian dual citizenship) quicker when the comune is “on their tail” to make sure applications are processed.
  • There is no application fee when applying in Italy, but some towns require you to purchase a 16 euro tax stamp and place it on your paperwork.
  • You get to be in Italy while you apply! That’s pretty cool in and of itself.

Cons of applying in Italy for Italian dual citizenship

  • If you don’t speak Italian, it’s difficult to apply alone.
  • You’ll need to source a place to stay and gain residence.
  • You’ll have to spend some time in Italy, which can be difficult if you have to take time off work.
  • You might encounter a comune worker who doesn’t know the laws, and you may struggle to explain them.

A Word on Italian Dual Citizenship Service Providers

You may hand off your application to a professional if you choose. There are many service providers who can compile all your documents for a fee. Additionally, some service providers can accompany you on your application in Italy to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

It is up to you to weigh how much time and effort you can put into your Italian dual citizenship application, and whether or not you would like to hire help. You can do everything on your own if you choose, or you can hire someone to do as little or as much work as needed for you.

If you would like to consult with an Italian dual citizenship expert, please click here.

Making your appointment for Italian dual citizenship

Once you have determined eligibility for Italian dual citizenship, you will (depending on your consulate) want to make your appointment as soon as possible. Some consulates have VERY long wait times, so it is good to make your appointment quickly and then gather your documents in the meantime.

First, find your Italian consulate. Each one serves a different area of the U.S. You can only apply at the consulate with jurisdiction over your area.

Then, visit that consulate’s website. Here is a list of Italian embassies and consulates in the United States.

On their website, navigate to the “Prenota Online” system to make an appointment. Your screen will look something like this:

how to make an appointment for Italian dual citizenship

Each consulate is different

Note that each different consulate has a different “home” screen in the Prenota Online system. I did a little “experiment” and figured out that each consulate asks for slightly different information when you sign up, too.

Click “New User Registration” and put in the required information.

Then, you’ll be presented with either a screen where you can select what type of appointment you wish to make or a calendar showing available days.

Appointments are snatched up very quickly. Here are some tips for using the Prenota Online system.

Tip 1:

Appointments are added every day at 12 am, Rome time. Figure out what time this is in your timezone and plan accordingly.

Tip 2:

Join our Italian dual citizenship Facebook group and see if there are people who would like to swap appointments with you. We have over 500 members, and growing!

Tip 4:

Here’s where you need to get industrious. The Prenota system allows you to use as many e-mails as you want to sign up, even if they’re for a person with the same name and address. Make a second gmail account and put a period somewhere like this:

If your normal e-mail address is [email protected], sign up using that e-mail with Prenota, but also sign up using [email protected]

Prenota will recognize these as two different e-mails but Gmail will send all mail for [email protected] to [email protected]

Then, open two tabs of Prenota. Grab the first appointment you can with your first e-mail address while you have the website still open in the tab with the second address.

What happens next

The page will automatically refresh every 15 minutes, but if you click on “make an appointment” and go through the motions it will also refresh. When the page refreshes you will automatically see appointments that open up. Keep doing this in one tab while holding the appointment with the other until you get the appointment you want.

Gathering your documents

Italian dual citizenship records

Before you can apply for Italian citizenship, you’ll need to have a complete set of documents.

Generally, you will need to obtain a number of birth, marriage, death, and naturalization records. The idea is to show an unbroken chain of citizenship from your last Italian-born ancestor back to you.

(As an aside, most Italian towns will not require death certificates, because death certificate are not required by law. Consulates will want them.)

A practical example

For example, if your father was born in Italy, you’ll need to gather the following direct line documents as a general idea:

  1. Your father’s birth certificate from Italy
  2. Your parents’ marriage certificate from the United States, plus translation and apostille
  3. Your birth certificate from the United States, plus translation and apostille
  4. Your marriage certificate from the United States, plus translation and apostille
  5. Your father’s death certificate from the United States, if applicable, plus translation and apostille
  6. Your father’s naturalization records from the United States, if applicable, or proof of non-naturalization. Consulates usually do not require naturalization records to be translated or apostilled, but check with them to be sure!

But take note…

Some consulates will also require non-direct line documents. This means that you’d also need to get documents for your non-qualifying ancestors, in this case your mom’s birth certificate. You’d need to check with your consulate to make absolutely sure if they require both sets of documents or just those regarding the direct line.

Getting your documents legalized (apostilled)

Getting your documents legalized

In order for your documents to be handed in to the Italian consulate (or directly in Italy), they must be legalized. Neither the consulates nor Italy will accept them unless they are accompanied by some form of legalization that makes them valid for use in Italy.

That legalization is known as an “apostille.” Getting an apostille is a simple process, but make sure that you follow all the steps correctly.

What is an apostille?

In the early 1960s a bunch of countries came together to devise a uniform way of legalizing documents for use between them.

This resulted in the apostille, which is a separate sheet of paper affixed to an original document. The apostille serves to certify the signature on the original document, and also makes it legal for use outside of its issuing country.

When you apply for Italian citizenship by descent, your American documents must be apostilled. Otherwise they will not be legal for use in Italy.

apostille for Italian citizenship

How to get an apostille

In order to get an apostille, you will have to contact the Secretary of State (or sometimes the Treasury) of the state which issued each document.

Each state can apostille only documents issued in that state. For instance, if your document comes from New Jersey, you must get a New Jersey apostille.

For more information on apostilles, click here. One helpful tip is to google the name of your state plus the word apostille, and choose the first official government or state link you see.

Don’t hire a private apostille company. It’s really not worth it!

Private apostille service companies are very expensive, so you will save possibly hundreds of dollars by cutting out apostille services and following instructions directly from the state.

All you need to do is fill out the state-issued form, put a check in an envelope, include your original document, and a self-addressed stamped envelope and send it off.

Ordering translations for Italian dual citizenship

Italian dual citizenship translations

Once you have all of your documents gathered and legalized (apostilled), they must be translated into Italian. This is true whether you apply at the consulate or directly in Italy.

You can do the translations yourself, but please be careful! Your application may be rejected if the translations are not correct. I have had to correct many poorly done translations (for example, one client came to me whose translator translated the English word “race” as “gara” in Italian. “Race” in the context of a vital record means a person’s ethnicity, but the translator translated it as “race” as in foot race! Buyer beware).

Each consulate has a list of consular-approved translators, but by no means is this list exhaustive. If you would like, you can even hire us to do your Italian translations for you.

Going to your Italian citizenship appointment

Italian citizenship appointment

The big day finally comes and you’re going to your appointment! There’s no reason to be nervous, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

Try and speak Italian if you can

This is by no means a deal breaker if you can’t, but in our experience consular workers appreciate if you can converse in Italian.

Put your documents together in an orderly way

Consular workers love when you file everything nice and neatly so they can go down the list, generation by generation. It makes their work easier which in turns makes the experience more pleasant!

Bring identification with you, plus a recent utility bill

You need to prove that you live within their jurisdiction.

Make sure you have payment of the 300 euro fee on you

Payment can only be made in cash or money order. No cards or checks are accepted. If you’re paying by money order it must be completed in its entirety. Make the money order our to “Consulate General of Italy – (Name of Consulate)” and must have your name and address indicated in the appropriate area. The money order must be for the exact amount, and made in USD.

Make sure you get a file number before you leave

Once you hand everything in, you will receive a file number. If you ever want to reference your application with the consulate, you’ll need this number so don’t lose it!

The consulate will keep your vital records

So, if you want to have copies, be sure to order extras when compiling your application paperwork.

The hard part: waiting for recognition of Italian dual citizenship

waiting for recognition of Italian dual citizenship

There’s really nothing you can do after you hand everything in but wait.

There are a whole bunch of mechanisms that go into effect once you apply–not only does the consulate have to contact your ancestral comune back home in Italy for confirmation, it also has to look through their own records and make sure neither you nor anyone in your family renounced their right to citizenship. Also, if people in your family have lived in more than one consular jurisdiction, every relevant consulate will check their records for a lack of renunciation, too.

Wait times are unpredictable

Unfortunately, neither you nor any service provider can predict wait times. The best thing to do is forget you applied so that when you receive the good news, it comes as a welcome surprise! Currently, recognition times vary between consulates and can be as little as 4 months or longer than 2 years.

Once all that has taken place and you’re a recognized Italian-U.S. dual citizen, your citizenship will be signed into effect.

Congratulations! You are now a recognized Italian citizen

recognition of Italian dual citizenship

Auguri (Italian for “congratulations”)!

Once you are a recognized citizen, the consulate should automatically enroll you in A.I.R.E. (Registry of Italians Abroad). From your recognition on, you are considered an Italian living abroad because you reside outside Italy.

Additionally, you may receive information in the mail about voting.

Getting your passport

If you would like to obtain an Italian passport, you will need to make an appointment with the consulate. Bring identification, proof of recognition, proof of living within the consulate’s jurisdiction, and payment of the passport fee, as well as Italian passport-sized photos. Your passport will be given to you the same day!

Now that you are an Italian citizen, you can enjoy all the benefits and privileges (as well as obligations) that come with being a full-fledged Italian.

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