All you need to know to apply for Italian citizenship
Want to apply for Italian citizenship but you’re not sure where to start? Then you’ve come to the right place.
For the past 15 years, I’ve built a reputation as the Italian dual citizenship guru and I’m here to share free advice with you.
In this post I’ll go over everything you need to apply for Italian citizenship. I’ll discuss eligibility, how to apply, where to apply, and what to do with your Italian passport once you become a citizen.
So, without further ado… Andiamo!
Before you can apply for Italian citizenship, you must prove eligibility
People can become Italian citizens in a few different ways. For example, you can gain citizenship after residing in Italy for a certain period of time, or you can marry an Italian citizen.
However, if you’re eligible for a special category of Italian citizenship known as “Italian citizenship jure sanguinis” (or Italian citizenship by descent), you’re actually already a citizen.
That’s right—if you’re eligible, Italian citizenship has been your birthright all along. However, to make it official on paper you must ask the Italian government for formal recognition.
In order to do this you must prove eligibility.
Who is eligible for Italian dual citizenship?
You must meet all the following criteria to be eligible.
- Your ancestor must have been alive, anywhere in the world, on or after March 17, 1861.This is the date of Italian unification. On this date, everyone born in the territory we now know as Italy (save for a few exceptions) was automatically given Italian citizenship. Before this date, there was no such thing as Italy. Therefore, no Italy = no Italian citizenship.
- Your Italian ancestor’s naturalization date is important. If s/he ever became American, it had to have been after July 1, 1912. This is an important date in Italian history. On this date, Law no. 555 of 1912 came into effect. This is the law from which all modern Italian citizenship law derives.
- Or, your ancestor never became American at all. This is another possibility. If your ancestor never became American at all, that means s/he never lost Italian citizenship. This is a good sign for any application!
- And if your ancestor did naturalize, it mustbe after the birth of his or her child. Any Italian gaining American citizenship before August 15, 1992 automatically lost his or her Italian citizenship. No Italian citizenship means no ability to pass it on to his or her child.
- If you have women in your family, her child must have been born after January 1, 1948. Before this date, women could not pass on citizenship to their children. Therefore, if you want to apply for Italian citizenship you must show that your female Italian ancestor successfully passed on citizenship to her child.
That’s it! Those are the rules.
But what if I descend from a woman who had her child before January 1, 1948?
Not to worry. In theory, you shouldn’t be able to apply for Italian citizenship.
But in reality, you actually can. Let me explain…
On January 1, 1948, Italy got its modern constitution. Only since then are women able to pass on citizenship to their children. Before this date, an Italian woman could only pass on her citizenship if:
- The father was unknown;
- The father was missing, or
- A father’s foreign citizenship didn’t automatically pass on to their children.
So, as you can see, Italian law has not always been fair to women when it comes to citizenship. Neither has U.S. law, but that’s for another blog post.
However, lots of people decided they weren’t going to take this laying down. In 2009, the first “1948 case” came to Italian courts, arguing the unconstitutionality of these discriminatory laws towards women. And the plaintiffs won! Since then, thousands of people have successfully sought recognition of Italian dual citizenship. Today, the Italian government no longer even defends itself in court in these matters.
In order to stake your claim and apply for Italian citizenship, you need to hire an Italian attorney to represent you in court in Rome. You do not need to go to Italy for this. You may also add on as many family members to your petition as you like.
In other words, those with a potential 1948 case can’t apply through the normal channels such as the consulate and you need to hire a professional.
What documents do I need to apply for Italian citizenship?
Essentially, you need to recreate your family tree. This is done by obtaining various certified copies of vital records for each generation in your family.
These include certificates of birth, marriage, death, naturalization, and others as needed.
The goal here is to show the Italian government you descend from an unbroken chain of Italian citizenship. Typically, each applicant will need to show:
- His own birth and marriage records,
- Parents’ birth and marriage records,
- Grandparents’ birth and marriage records,
- … and so on and so forth, all the way back to the last Italian-born ancestor.
Additionally, you’ll need any relevant divorce, adoption, name change, and death records. And—most importantly—you will also need to show naturalization records proving your last Italian-born ancestor was still an Italian citizen at the time of his/her child’s birth.
If you have any serious discrepancies in your documents, you may need to get them amended as necessary. However, I recommend leaving all but the most serious ones alone and going to your appointment as-is. The consular officer will likely give you “homework” and will tell you what needs to be fixed, if anything.
Before you can hand your documents in, they must be translated into Italian. Otherwise, Italian officials won’t be able to read them! Be sure to hire a professional for this.
You don’t want to use Google Translate as a poor translation may jeopardize your application! I once had to redo a translation where the translator translated “race” (as in, ethnic origin) as “race” (as in what people do in the Olympics!).
Two things: 1) it goes without saying that you need a pro for this, and 2) I just wrote “translate” 5 times in that last sentence.
Your non-Italian documents must also be legalized. This is done by obtaining an apostille.
An apostille is a separate page containing a certification. Its purpose is to certify that the signature on the original document is authentic, and also serves to make your documents legal for use in Italy.
Each state in the United States issues its own apostilles. Therefore, documents from Maine must have a Maine apostille, documents from Kentucky must have apostilles from Kentucky, etc.
Usually, your apostilles will come from the Secretary of State’s office or the Treasury.
Where do I apply for Italian citizenship?
Italian law specifies where you must apply, and the rules are pretty clear. You can either apply directly in Italy if you are a resident, or you must apply at the Italian consulate or embassy where you live.
If you live outside Italy
If you are living outside Italy, you must apply at your local consulate. (We have a handy 8 step guide to applying at an Italian consulate for you to read here.) Take note that by “local,” I don’t necessarily mean the closest to you! I mean the one which has jurisdiction over where you actually live. Click here for a list of Italian consulates in the U.S. and their jurisdictions.
If you live in Italy
If you are living in Italy, you must apply at the town (comune) where you are a legal resident. (Curious about applying in Italy? Read our guide here.) This means if you live in Rome, you apply in Rome. If you live in Turin, you apply in Turin. And so on and so forth…
Appointments and wait times
In order to apply for Italian citizenship at the consulate, you must first get an appointment. Due to interest, many consulates are booking 2 or more years in advance. For a while, Los Angeles was booking 10 years in advance (not a typo!) but things have since calmed down as of October, 2019 when I am writing this. If you are applying in Italy, there is usually no such wait time for an appointment, though some busy towns will require you to get one perhaps a few weeks or a month in advance.
My advice? When in doubt be sure to book a consular appointment first and then gather your documents. You’ll most likely have ample time to do so! After you apply, there is a wait time which we cover in this post.
What do I do with my Italian passport?
Well, for starters—enjoy Italy! With your new Italian passport, you can live, work, and study in Italy ‘til your heart’s content. You can also live, work, and study anywhere in the European Union, enjoy affordable healthcare and education, and also even travel to countries where you wouldn’t have been able to if you only had an American passport.
An Italian passport is an extremely powerful one to wield, and it will open your horizons like few other things can.
But remember that an Italian passport also brings with it some responsibilities. We go over them on this page. Click to learn how to use your U.S. and Italian passports when traveling, how to book travel, and other important tips.
What if I’m not eligible to apply for Italian citizenship by descent?
If you’ve gone over the above requirements and are not eligible, it’s not over yet!
You still might be able to obtain Italian citizenship if you:
- Married an Italian citizen (or a person eligible for Italian dual citizenship),
- Have lived in Italy for 10 years if you’re not of Italian descent, or
- If you are of Italian descent (going as far back as your grandparents) but your grandparents or your parents lost Italian citizenship at any time, you only need to live in Italy for 3 years before obtaining citizenship
Do you want to apply for Italian citizenship and want some help from the pros? Get Italian Citizenship, Inc. has helped hundreds of clients obtain their shiny, red passports! We can provide Italian translations, look over your application for completeness, or even do everything for you from start to finish. Contact us today for more info!