Almost 16 million people in the United States identify as Italian American. Making up nearly 6% of the population, it’s the nation’s fourth largest European ancestry group. And—interestingly enough—many of them are already Italian citizens without knowing it. If you’re interested, you might want to get Italian citizenship. It enables you to live, work, and study in Europe for as long as you like—an excellent perk for any soon-to-be expat.
But how is this possible?
A long time ago, Italians emigrated by the tens of thousands to countries such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. In order to help these citizens and their descendants maintain ties with the Old Country, Italy decided upon citizenship laws that favor those who can trace their heritage back to an Italian ancestor. Therefore, as long as you have at least one ancestor who emigrated from Italy—no matter how many generations ago—you may qualify.
Qualifying for Italian Dual Citizenship
It’s easy to qualify if you know what to look for. There are 4 general rules you must remember. In order to be eligible for Italian dual citizenship, you have to meet all these criteria:
- Your ancestor must have been alive at any time after March 17, 1861. This is the date of Italian unification. Before this date, there was no such thing as the country of Italy.
- Your ancestor must have either never naturalized as a citizen of another country or if s/he did, it only occurred after the birth of his/her child.
- If your ancestor naturalized as a citizen of another country, it must have occurred after July 1, 1912, regardless of whether or not it was after the birth of his/her child.
- If you have any women in your “direct line” of ancestry, they must have had their children on or after January 1, 1948. Therefore, if any woman in your line had a child before this date, you can still apply but cannot do so through the normal channels (more on this below).
There are no generational limits. You may go back as far as you need to qualify as long as you meet the above criteria.
Also remember that a naturalization “breaks” the chain of citizenship. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know the dates of possible naturalization to figure out eligibility. As long as your ancestor either never naturalized or naturalized but only after July 1, 1912 and the birth of his/her child, you should qualify.
Here are a few practical examples to help you figure out how these rules might play out in real life.
Example #1: Citizenship through paternal great grandfather
James was born in the US in 1989. His father Jack was born in the US in 1954. Jack’s father Frank was born in the US in 1921. Francesco was born in Italy in 1890 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1944. Because Francesco was an Italian citizen at the time of Frank’s birth, Frank was born with both Italian and American citizenship. Frank and all his descendants are eligible for Italian dual citizenship.
Example #2: Citizenship through father
Rebecca was born in the US in 1970. Her brother Charles was born in the US in 1974. Their father Vito was born in Italy in 1940 and became an American citizen in 1972. Because Vito lost Italian citizenship at the time of naturalization, he was not an Italian citizen when Charles was born. Therefore, Rebecca is eligible for Italian dual citizenship and so are her descendants. Charles, however, is not.
Italian Dual Citizenship via Maternal Ancestry
Remember how above I mentioned that the rules were slightly different for women?
Before January 1, 1948 Italian women could not pass on citizenship to their children except for very few exceptions, such as:
The children’s father was unknown,
The children’s father was stateless, or
The father’s own foreign citizenship did not automatically pass on to the children
Therefore, if you descend from an Italian woman who otherwise falls into the “1948 trap,” you must hire an Italian attorney to petition your case in Rome. Since 2009, thousands of people have successfully obtained citizenship this way.
How to File Your Application to Get Italian Citizenship
If you live outside Italy, you file your application at your Italian consulate or embassy. There is a 300 euro application fee regardless of the outcome of your application.
If you live in Italy, you must file your application at the comune (town hall) where you live. There is no fee to file your application in Italy.
What You’ll Need
In order to get Italian citizenship, you’ll need to reconstruct your family tree and demonstrate a valid claim. To do that, you’ll need:
For your Italian ancestor:
Birth certificate from Italy (“estratto dell’atto di nascita”)
Marriage certificate from Italy (“estratto dell’atto di matrimonio”) or from the US; if from the US, it must be translated and legalized with an apostille
Death certificate, translated into Italian and apostilled
Naturalization paperwork or proof of non-naturalization
For you and your intermediate ancestors:
Birth certificates, translated into Italian and apostilled
Marriage certificates, translated into Italian and apostilled
Death certificates, translated into Italian and apostilled
Benefits of Italian Dual Citizenship
It goes without saying that having two passports is pretty cool in general. But beyond that, there are real concrete reasons why an Italian passport might help your expat life and why there are benefits of Italian dual citizenship:
1. You can live, work, and study in the European Union without ever needing a permit or visa again. No more worrying about the 90 day time limit imposed on you as a visitor!
2. Your European employers will never have to sponsor you for a job, and you’ll have access to a wider range of jobs because of it.
3. If you want to own property in Italy there’s significantly less red tape.
4. You will enjoy access to world class yet affordable education and healthcare.
5. You can pass on your citizenship to your children.
6. It’s relatively inexpensive to obtain (just the cost of gathering documents and the application fee).
7. Unlike the United States, Italy does not tax its citizens living in a foreign country.