Many Americans may be surprised to learn they can potentially acquire European citizenship. This is achieved by tracing their ancestors back to Europe. Within the continent, Spain is a popular choice, because the country has a fast-track program for nationals of countries that Spain colonized. Even Sephardic Jews, a community who got expelled from Spain during the Inquisition era, can now claim Spanish citizenship.
Knowing this, Americans and others are going through the process of applying for European citizenship, which has a lot of value and is relatively easy to get for those with the right family roots. This form of citizenship by ancestry is also affordable. Compared to buying a passport through Malta’s citizenship-by-investment (CBI) program, MEIN, which costs roughly $1 million and takes years, the ancestry route is a bargain. However, Malta, an EU member state, is still a good choice for those without the required ancestry, such as wealthy nationals from China and Russia. Malta is currently the only EU member with a reliable CBI program.
Another context to consider is how EU passports are among the most valuable in the world in terms of travel freedom. They’re valued at practically twice that of an U.S. passport. This is primarily due to the fact that EU nationals can live and work anywhere inside the European Union. When combined with the fact that healthcare and education are free, these are added benefits. Europe also seems appealing for its overall high safety rates compared to America’s. Murder rates of main EU cities are five to 10 times lower on average.
We receive many inquires about European citizenship via ancestry from Americans, many of whom are near retirement and want to spend a good chunk of their time cruising around Europe. They want to live the life surrounded by culture and great food. Many also see their European ancestry as part of their identity and want to pass that on to their children. Americans can shop for these types of global mobility assets that will last generations.
Being a country of immigrants, there are easy ways to estimate how many Americans could be eligible for EU citizenship based on their descent. See the chart below:
% of total population
Getting EU citizenship involves finding the right documentation, a process that can be tricky. Professional help is all but required to locate some more obscure documents, like the birth certificate of a foreign-born grandparent. To trace your lineage, you can use ancestry websites.
Let’s dive into various types of citizenship options, including EU citizenship by ancestry and marriage. Learn how you can obtain EU passport, dual citizenship and citizenship through ancestry & how you can apply for EU Citizenship.
Table of Contents
Spanish Citizenship By Ancestry
Nearly 70 million Americans may be able to qualify for Spanish citizenship by descent. This figure includes the Latin American community and those with colonial connections to Spain. However, this citizenship process is not necessarily fast. It starts with moving to Spain on a resident permit. In most cases, applicants with Spanish ancestors or colonialist ties can get fast-tracked toward naturalization after two years of residency instead of 10. The naturalization process can take one or two years to get approved. Children of Spanish citizens are instantly considered Spanish citizens as well.
Spanish Citizenship By Descent
By birth: Those born to a Spanish father or mother
After one year of residency: Those born outside Spain to a Spanish father or mother (also born outside Spain), or to a Spanish grandfather or grandmother
After two years of residency: Citizens of Ibero-American countries, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal, the Philippines or Sephardic Jews
Spanish Citizenship By Marriage
You can apply for Spanish citizenship by marriage after one year if, at the time of the application, you have been married to a Spanish national for at least one year without separation.
Spanish Dual Citizenship
Spain does not recognize dual citizenship. But nationals of Ibero-American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or persons of Sephardic origin are not required to renounce their citizenship. For those also holding American citizenship, be aware that during the naturalization process, you are asked to orally renounce your U.S. citizenship. This form of renouncement is non-binding in the U.S. and you cannot lose your citizenship in this way. In practice, this means you will be able to hold another citizenship, such as U.S. or Mexican, without any issues.
Germany Citizenship By Ancestry
Over 40 million Americans have German ancestry. It’s the most common ancestry for white Americans. Unfortunately, German citizenship by ancestry is not one that is extended back very far. Only children of German nationals are eligible. The only way this can go further back is if your ancestor’s German citizenship was taken away by the Nazi regime. This option may open doors for Jewish Americans with German roots.
German Citizenship By Descent
By birth: A child has German citizenship by birth if one parent has German citizenship. If only your father was German, a paternity test might be needed before you are 23 years old.
By repatriation: You can be issued a repatriate’s certificate in accordance with Section 15 (1) or (2) of the Federal Expellees Act. In essence, you can reclaim the German citizenship that your ancestors had taken away under Nazi rule due to political, racial or religious grounds in 1938.
German Citizenship By Marriage
Spouses and registered same-sex partners are eligible for naturalization after three years of residency in Germany. They must have been married or in a registered partnership for at least two years at the time of the application.
Ireland Citizenship By Ancestry
There are more than 30 million Americans who can trace their ancestors to Ireland. Many Irish immigrants came to America the 19th and early 20th century. Ireland has come a long way from the day of the Potato Famine and today stands as a wealthy EU nation with a highly valuable passport. Irish government makes it easier to get the Irish citizenship for descendants.
Obtaining Irish citizenship by ancestry is relatively easy. If you have Irish parents, then congratulations! You are Irish. Simply get an appointment at an Irish representation near you, bring documents to prove it and get your passport. If your parents were not born in Ireland or your claim comes from grandparents born in Ireland, you can register to the Foreign Birth Registration, a process that can take 12 to 16 months before you receive a citizenship certificate. If your claim is farther back or your grandparents were not born in Ireland, you can get fast-tracked to naturalization after three years of residency in Ireland.
Irish Citizenship By Descent
By birth: If you or your parent was born in Ireland before 2005, you are an Irish citizen. You can request an Irish passport without applying for citizenship.
By registration: If your Irish parent was born outside of the island, you will need to register via the Foreign Birth Registration. One of your grandparents needs to have been born in Ireland. If your grandparents were not born in Ireland, your connection is further back or is through adoption, you can claim Irish citizenship after three years of residency in Ireland. You will need to apply for naturalization at the discretion of the minister.
After three years of residency: For those with further back ancestry, Irish associations are at the discretion of the minister.
Here are some things to consider:
- You need to have at least three years of residency in Ireland to show you have a connection to Ireland.
- Applications going further back than a great-grandparent are normally refused.
- Applications based on being a descendent of anther relative (i.e., a brother or aunt) are normally refused.
- The process can take up to 30 months.
Irish Citizenship By Marriage
If you are married or in a civil partnership with an Irish citizen, you are eligible to become an Irish citizen by naturalization. You must have been married for at least three years and residing at least three years in Ireland, including in the 12 continuous months before the application.
Italy Citizenship By Ancestry
Over 17 million Americans may have Italian ancestry. This community is very proud of its origins and many Italian-Americans are highly motivated to go through the process of gaining Italian citizenship. Having such a connection feels part of their identity.
An American can qualify by tracing back an Italian ancestor as far back as the Unification of Italy in the middle of the 19th century. There one important detail: Up until the 1992, Italians would lose their citizenship if they picked up another one, meaning every Italian-American, in effect, would lose his or her Italian citizenship when they became naturalized Americans.
To put in simple terms, once upon a time your Italian ancestor came to America as an Italian national. After years of living in the U.S., they applied and received U.S. citizenship. As soon as they became American, they lost their Italian citizenship. Any children they had after becoming an American were not, legally speaking, Italian. They could not pass Italian citizenship on to others.
Don’t lose any excitement over the possibility of being Italian, though. In many cases, children were born in the U.S. before their parents were naturalized Americans. In that case, your ancestor was both American and Italian by birth, and the Italian lineage could not be broken after that.
This is the precise event that you need to figure out for applying for Italian citizenship by ancestry. From our experience, roughly 70% of Italian-Americans have an unbroken connection to Italian ancestry. But for the 30% of those whose Italian connection was broken, you can still apply for Italian citizenship, only through a different process. You will need to first gain residency in Italy, then apply to be fast-tracked to naturalization after three years instead of 10.
In Italian citizenship law, many sources mention the difference between male and female lineage. De jure, the process is different for both. You can only apply at an Italian embassy or consulate if you trace your ancestry from a male lineage. Those with female lineage must petition an Italian court to receive approval. De facto, both can petition an Italian court and it’s much faster. The decision is generally reached after less than a year, whereas the embassy route can take multiple years.
Italian Citizenship By Descent
- By birth: Under Article 1 of Law No. 91/92, a person acquires Italian citizenship by birth from a father or a mother who are Italian citizens.
- By descent: Italian citizenship by iure sanguinis is formalized in circular letter No. K.28.1 of April 8, 1991, of the Ministry for Internal Affairs. To ascertain that the Italian lineage is still intact, it must be proven that the Italian ancestor retained Italian citizenship until the birth of the descendants. You need to prove, using a certificate issued by the appropriate foreign authority, the date of any naturalization or lack of naturalization of the ancestor. Descent from the Italian ancestor can be proven with legalized civil status documents of birth and marriage.
- After three years of residency: Article 9 of the law grants Italian citizenship by Decree of the President of the Republic after three years of legal residency for foreigners whose descendants in a direct line of second degree were Italians by birth.
Italian Citizenship By Marriage or By Civil Partnership
A foreign-born spouse is eligible for Italian citizenship after two years of legal residency in Italy after marriage or after the three years after marriage if living abroad. These terms can be halved if you have:
- Children born or adopted with the Italian citizen
- Registered the marriage with the relevant Italian municipality
- An absence of convictions for offenses
- An Italian language certificate at a level no lower than B1
Poland Citizenship By Ancestry
Close to 10 million Americans can claim Polish ancestry. Polish citizenship by ancestry is fairly accessible, but like Italy’s law, it requires an unbroken Polish connection. It’s important to note that the connection could have been broken if Polish citizenship was given up to become a citizen of another country (which is not usually the case for Americans). Nevertheless, due to a Polish 1922 nationality law, your ancestor must have been born in a territory that was under Polish jurisdiction after 1899 or simply in the 20th century. If you qualify, know that the process can take one or two years.
Poland Citizenship By Descent
Most people whose parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in Poland qualify for Polish citizenship through descent. In essence, you need to have at least one ancestor who:
- Was born in Poland (or a territory that at the time was part of Poland) and resided there after 1920; or
- Left Poland before 1920 (but your ancestors’ residential address can be found in the Polish, Prussian, Russian or Austro-Hungarian registers) and maintained their Polish citizenship until the day of your birth.
Poland Citizenship By Marriage
To obtain Polish citizenship by marriage, a foreigner must be married to a Polish citizen for at least three years, have permanent residency in Poland for at least two years, and have knowledge of the Polish language. To obtain a permanent resident permit, the foreigner can first obtain a temporary resident permit based on marriage.
Netherlands Citizenship By Ancestry
Close to four million Americans have Dutch ancestry. If you are one of those, be aware that Netherlands citizenship by ancestry can be limited to your male lineage. For those born after 1985, you are a Dutch citizen if one of your parents was Dutch. Before 1985, this was only true from your father’s side. On the mother’s side, you would have to go through the option process to acquire the citizenship. That means that if your Dutch ancestor was a male and had only sons, this will most likely be passed down to you since these men were considered Dutch citizens at birth (even without their knowledge).
Now the key part: Just as for any country that did not recognize dual citizenship, it is important to know if the ancestry lineage was broken at the birth of your first U.S.-born ancestor. When a Dutch person became a naturalized American, he automatically lost his Dutch citizenship. Any child he has after that date will not be Dutch. But if the child was born on U.S. soil before his father was a naturalized American, the child would be both an American and Dutch citizen. From then on, it’s unlikely that the Dutch ancestry was broken, as the U.S.-born descendant would retain Dutch citizenship all the way to you.
Dutch Citizenship By Descent
By birth: You are a Dutch citizen by birth if your father was Dutch at the time of your birth (born before Jan. 1, 1985). You are a Dutch citizen by birth if you meet one of the following conditions (born after Dec. 31, 1984):
- On your birth your mother was a Dutch citizen
- On your birth your father was a Dutch citizen and married to your non-Dutch mother
- On your birth your father was a Dutch citizen and was not married to your non-Dutch mother but he did acknowledge you before your birth
- Your father is a Dutch citizen and after March 1, 2009, he acknowledged you before your seventh birthday
Citizenship by option: If you are born from a Dutch mother and a foreign father, you did not become a Dutch citizen by birth. You can acquire the Dutch citizenship through the option procedure.
Netherlands Citizenship By Marriage
A person can apply for naturalization after three years of marriage or registered partnership and cohabitation. This means at least six months per year must have been spent under the same roof. This needs to remain as long as the request for naturalization is being researched.
Netherlands Dual Citizenship
If you apply for naturalization, you are normally asked to renounce your citizenship, but this doesn’t apply to spouses and Americans since they will be exposed to paying a large sum of money to the authorities in his or her country (the exit tax).
Norway Citizenship By Ancestry
Over four million Americans can trace a Norwegian ancestor in their genealogy. According to the Act on Norwegian nationality, a child born to a Norwegian mother or father acquires Norwegian citizenship automatically at birth. This applies if the child is born in Norway or abroad, and no matter if the parents were married or not. If you were born before 2006, the only detail you need to look for is to make sure your male ancestor was married so that ancestor could pass Norwegian descent down to you.
You might think you are likely to qualify for Norwegian citizenship, but unfortunately the dual-citizenship rule drastically reduces the probability of you being eligible for Norwegian citizenship by ancestry. Any Norwegian who became a naturalized American (or any other citizen) would automatically lose Norwegian citizenship. Even U.S.-born children had to spend at least two years in Norway and request to remain Norwegian before turning 22. In brief, if your parents were Norwegian at your birth, you were Norwegian at birth, but you most likely lost that citizenship if you didn’t petition to retain it. If that’s your case, you might be able to get it back.
If your grandparents were Norwegian or further up the lineage line, you are unlikely to qualify for Norway citizenship by descent. If you have Norwegian ancestry but do not meet the requirements for becoming a Norwegian citizen, you may apply for a resident permit if you had a Norwegian parent when they were born. You can apply for naturalization after seven years.
Norway Citizenship By Descent
By birth: Children with a Norwegian mother or father (born after 2006). A child with a Norwegian mother or father (born before 2006) became a Norwegian citizen at birth if:
- The mother was Norwegian, or
- The father was Norwegian and was married to the mother when the child was born, or
- The father died before the child was born, but was a Norwegian citizen and married to the mother at the time of his death.
If the father was Norwegian, but he was not married to the mother, the child did not automatically become a Norwegian citizen. However, if the child is under the age of 18, the child can easily become a Norwegian citizen by handing in a notification of Norwegian citizenship.
Norway Citizenship By Marriage
Spouses, non-married cohabitant partners and homosexual partners in civil unions of Norwegian citizens can become Norwegian citizens after four years, provided they live in Norway for at least three years. They will need to pass a language and civics test to become naturalized.
Norway Dual Citizenship
Since 2020, Norway recognizes dual citizenship. Those who lost their citizenship before that date can request a reinstatement.
Greece Citizenship By Ancestry
A few million Americans can claim Greek citizenship by ancestry. Many Greek Americans wear their Greek heritage proudly, but very few actually hold Greek citizenship. Greek citizenship by descent is one of the easiest to get. The child of a Greek national can acquire Greek nationality by birth. Others of Greek origin must apply for naturalization, and there are no years of residency in Greece required. But be ready to wait for a long bureaucratic process that can take two to three years.
This is why many Greek Americans go ahead and apply for a Greek Golden Visa while they wait for the naturalization process to be completed. The Greek Golden Visa only takes a few months to process and provides permanent residency to those who buy property in Greece worth at least 250,000 euros.
Greece Citizenship By Descent
By birth: Children of Greek parents
By naturalization without residency: The application for naturalization of individuals of Greek origin living abroad shall be submitted to a local Greek consul, who shall then forward it to the Minister of Interior. That will include a report with documents used to prove Greek ancestry. The minister will issue a decision and return it back to the consul. The applicant will then need to take an oath at the consulate before becoming a Greek citizen.
Greece Citizenship By Marriage
Those who are married to a Greek citizen have to have resided in Greece for three to seven years if they have a child to become naturalized.
Portugal Citizenship By Ancestry
Over a million Americans claim Portuguese ancestry in their genealogy. Portuguese citizenship can be passed down from your parents or grandparents. Dual citizenship is allowed under Portuguese nationality law passed in 1981.
Portugal Citizenship By Descent
Portuguese citizen’s child: Any child of a Portuguese citizen is Portuguese at birth
Portuguese citizen’s grandchildren: Only grandparents (second-grade ascendant in the straight line) who have original Portuguese nationality may extend this right to their foreign-born grandchildren who have an effective connection to the national community. However, the requirement of “effective connection” can now be verified by the applicant’s sufficient knowledge of the Portuguese language.
Portugal Citizenship By Marriage
The foreigner who has been married for more than three years to a Portuguese national can acquire Portuguese nationality by means of a declaration made at the time of the marriage and by demonstrating the effective connection to the national community. However, the “effective connection” becomes presumed when the marriage or civil partnership exists for at least six years, and also when there are children of the couple with Portuguese nationality.
Czech Citizenship By Ancestry
Over a million Americans can trace themselves to having Czech ancestry. This ancestry can be passed down from a parent or grandparent. If the ancestor was unmarried at the time, certain additional information might be required to prove paternity. You might have to verify if your parent or grandparent retained their Czech citizenship due to laws preventing dual citizenship until 2014. During the communist regime, many Czechs were stripped of their nationality because they immigrated to the West. It’s now possible for those ancestors to get their nationality back by petitioning the government.
Czech Citizenship By Marriage
Only married people are eligible for Czech citizenship by marriage. Spouses of Czech citizens can apply for temporary residency in the country. They get fast-tracked to permanent residency after two years instead of five years. Once they are a permanent resident, they can apply for citizenship without any further residency period required.