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How To Become An Italian Citizen By Descent

How to Become an Italian Citizen by Descent

It might sound unbelievable, but there are millions of people across the world right now who are eligible for an Italian passport. In fact, if you qualify then you’re actually already a citizen. Claiming your Italian citizenship by descent is an easy process if you know what to do. In this post, we’ll go over everything you need from start to finish.

How Italian citizenship by descent works

Italy awards citizenship on the basis of jure sanguinis. That’s Latin for “by right of blood.” It means that as long as a child is born to at least one Italian citizen parent then that child is an Italian citizen too. This is true no matter where in the world that child is born. So, if an Italian couple moves to the United States and has a child, then that child is Italian (and American by birth, too).

That child can then have children and–you guessed it–pass on Italian citizenship to his children without even knowing it. Wash, rinse, repeat. In this way, Italian citizenship by descent can pass down indefinitely just waiting to be claimed!

There are no generational limits for Italian citizenship by descent. As long as you meet a few key criteria, you qualify. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Your Italian-born ancestor died any time after March 17, 1861. Before this date, Italy wasn’t even a country. Therefore, if your ancestor died before then, she or he technically was not Italian.
  • If your Italian-born ancestor never became a citizen of another country (and you meet the above criterion), you automatically qualify.
  • Italians who became citizens of other countries before August 15, 1992 automatically lost Italian citizenship. Therefore, if your Italian ancestor became a U.S. citizen it had to have been after the birth of his/her U.S.-born child in order to maintain the “chain” of citizenship and successfully pass it on.
  • Additionally, if your ancestor became American before June 14, 1912, then any minor U.S.-born children lost their right to gain Italian citizenship too (even if they were born before their parent lost Italian citizenship). If the U.S.-born children were 21 or over, they were not affected and could keep Italian citizenship.

One more thing: Italian law used to discriminate against women. Before January 1, 1948, Italian women could not pass on citizenship to their children. If you have a woman in your direct line of descent, pay attention to the dates she had her children. If after January 1, 1948, then you can proceed as normal. If before January 1, 1948, you can still become an Italian citizen by descent but the “normal” application channels will not be open to you and you’ll need to take your case to court. Read more here about it.

Categories of Italian citizenship by descent

This is by no means an exhaustive list. As stated above, you can go back as many generations as you need to qualify (but you cannot skip generations). This means you can go back to great grandparents, or even great great grandparents and beyond. The following table is simply a guide for you to follow.

You > Your Mother You were born in the United States, your mom was born in Italy, and you never renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.
You > Your Father You were born in the United States, your mom was born in Italy, and you never renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.
You > Your Mother > Your Maternal Grandfather You were born in the United States, your mom was born in the United States, your maternal grandfather was born in Italy, and neither you nor your mother never renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.
You > Your Father > Your Paternal Grandfather You were born in the United States, your dad was born in the United States, your paternal grandfather was born in Italy, and neither you nor your father never renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.
You > Your Mother > Your Maternal Grandfather > Your Maternal Great Grandfather You were born in the United States, your mom was born in the United States, your maternal grandfather was born in the United States, and your maternal great grandfather was born in Italy, and neither you, your mother, or your maternal grandfather ever renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.
You > Your Father > Your Paternal Grandfather > Your Paternal Great Grandfather You were born in the United States, your dad was born in the United States, your paternal grandfather was born in the United States, and your paternal great grandfather was born in Italy, and neither you, your father, or your paternal grandfather ever renounced your right to Italian dual citizenship.

How to become an Italian citizen by descent

Step #1 - Get an Appointment
As you can imagine, Italian dual citizenship is very popular. That’s why it’s important to get your appointment as soon as you can. To do so, go to your local consulate’s website and follow the instructions. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t snag one right away; keep trying.
Step #2 - Gather your Documents
You’ll need to gather a series of documents to prove your claim. Once you get your appointment you want to start requesting official certified copies of everything you need such as birth, death, marriage, and other records.
Step #3 - Go to Your Appointment
Attend your Italian citizenship appointment. You’ll hand in all the documents you have plus sign some consular forms. You’ll be given a file number and told to wait for confirmation. This usually occurs via e-mail once you are a recognized citizen.
Step #4 - Enroll in AIRE and get your passport
Enroll in AIRE (Registry of Italians Living Abroad) via your consulate. Once that’s done you can request your Italian passport. Congrats!

Documentation required for your application

Documents for Italian citizenship by descent

The documentation you’ll supply depends upon where you seek recognition. However, no matter where you apply the idea is the same. You’ll be using various birth, death, marriage, and naturalization records to prove your claim to Italian citizenship by descent. It doesn’t matter what your family lore or DNA tests state. For the purposes of Italian dual citizenship, you need to be able to show in black and white that you descent from a qualifying ancestor.

To do this, you’ll need to know birth dates, places, and names for everyone in your family from you back to your last Italian-born ancestor.

Remember that each Italian consulate in the United States has its own list of required documents. The best bet is to consult this list before doing anything else so you’ll know what you need. In general, consular applications will require:

For your Italian-born ancestor

  • Birth record from Italy (“estratto dell’atto di nascita”)
  • Marriage record from Italy or from another country, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Death record from Italy or from another country, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Naturalization records or proof of non-naturalization as a citizen of the United States
  • Any applicable divorce records and subsequent marriage certificates, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille

For your intermediate ancestors

  • Birth record, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Marriage record, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Death record if applicable, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Any applicable divorce records and subsequent marriage certificates, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille

For you

  • Birth record, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Marriage record, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Any applicable divorce records and subsequent marriage certificates, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille
  • Birth records for any minor children, translated into Italian and legalized with an apostille

Some consulates will require you to provide the above documentation for your non direct-line ancestors, too.

What happens when you become an Italian citizen

If you are a U.S. citizen, nothing will happen to you if you seek recognition of Italian citizenship by descent. You will not be penalized for holding dual citizenship and, if you qualify, you’ve actually been an Italian citizen since birth. Unless you live and work in Italy, Italy will not tax you. You do not have to serve in the Italian military.

However, there are some responsibilities that come with being an Italian citizen. You must enroll in AIRE (Registry of Italians Living Abroad) and you also have the power to vote in Italian elections. To read about what happens at a consular appointment for Italian dual citizenship, click here.

Benefits of Italian citizenship by descent

Benefits of Italian citizenship by descent

This could be the longest section on this page. There are honestly so many benefits of being an Italian dual citizen that it’s hard to whittle them down. Here are just a few:

You can live, work, and study anywhere in the European Union. As a European citizen, you never have to justify your presence in any one of the 27 EU-member nations. You also have the right to live, work, and study in the EEA (European Economic Area) which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as the right to live, work, and study in Switzerland.

You can enjoy affordable, world class healthcare. Italian healthcare is consistently ranked among the best in the world. As an Italian citizen, you can enjoy extremely low cost, high quality healthcare at a fraction of the price of what it would be in the United States.

You or your children can go to college without student loans. It goes without saying but attending university without student loans weighing you down is a huge boon to you (or your children’s) future. Education is extremely affordable in the European Union, and as a European citizen you pay local prices.

Visa-free travel to almost 190 destinations in the world. Italian citizens are afforded visa-free or visa-upon-arrival travel to almost 190 destinations, far more than holders of just a U.S. passport.

You are more attractive to employers. As someone holding two passports in the world’s most powerful economic blocs, you are doubly employable. Employers in the EU will not have to sponsor you for employment, making it easier to hire you.

On top of this, there are investment vehicles and tax incentives only available to EU citizens and it is easier to migrate to  (and stay in) Europe as a European citizen. Additionally, if you are ever abroad and find yourself in trouble you can seek help from two consulates (U.S. and Italy). Also, sometimes it’s the little things that count: even just being able to jump to the other customs line in an airport will speed up your travel!

Frequently asked questions

Do you have to speak Italian to become an Italian citizen by descent?

No! (That’s Italian for “no”). If you are an Italian citizen by descent, that actually means you’ve been an Italian citizen by birth. In fact, you’re not really “applying” for citizenship as much as you are seeking legal recognition of a status you already hold. By Italian law you cannot be tested on something you’ve had since you were born.

Do you need to be 100% Italian to be an Italian citizen by descent?

Absolutely not. You only need one qualifying Italian ancestor. That’s all.

Do you have to live in Italy to apply?

Only if you want to! Some people elect to “skip” consular wait times and apply directly in Italy. This is a valid option for those who can afford to spend 6+ months or more in Italy while waiting recognition of citizenship by descent.

How long does it take?

Officially, the Italian government has up to 24 months to process your application. Those who apply in Italy usually report far quicker wait times than at consulates.

How much does it cost?

Costs vary wildly on whether you DIY it or hire a service provider. On top of that, it costs 300 euros to apply for Italian citizenship by descent at a consulate. Plus, you’ll also need to pay for certified copies of vital records, apostilles, and translations.

Can a spouse also apply?

Yes. If you are a man and married a woman prior to April 27, 1983, your wife automatically becomes an Italian citizen when you do and there is no language exam requirement for your spouse.

However, if you married your wife after that date or if you are a woman married to a man, the rules are different. In these cases, you must be married to your spouse for at least 3 years before s/he can apply (2 years if living in Italy; these wait times are halved if you have minor children). Your spouse must pass an Italian language exam as well.

Do children become citizens when their parents do?

If under the age of 18, yes. If 18 or over, children must file their own application.

Ways to become an Italian citizen if you don’t qualify

  1. If you are the child or grandchild of a former Italian citizen and don’t meet the above criteria, you can still become an Italian citizen by residing in Italy for three years. You must show proof of legal residence and proof of income for each year over €8.263,31. There is an Italian language exam.
  2. If you are a non-EU citizen (or a person of Italian descent who otherwise doesn’t qualify), you can become an Italian citizen after ten years of legal residence in Italy. There is an Italian language exam.
  3. After three years of marriage with an Italian national, you may become an Italian citizen via marriage. If you live in Italy, this wait time is whittled down to 2 years (all wait times are halved if you have minor children). There is an Italian language exam.

Do you want to get started on becoming an Italian citizen but are feeling overwhelmed? Contact us! We can professionally guide you through the process or do a full document suite for you to present at your consular appointment.

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Author: Get Italian Citizenship

Get Italian Citizenship, Inc. is a consulting company offering Italian heritage services worldwide.

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