How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent

Since 1992, when Italy legalized dual citizenship, a large majority of Italian-Americans have been eligible to become Italian citizens by descent. Find out below whether you qualify and, if you do, how to realize your dream of becoming an Italian – and European – citizen.

How to find out if you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent
Photos: Italian Citizenship Assistance (L), Francesca Tirico on Unsplash (R)

Many Italian-Americans who have Italian ancestors are not aware that they may have inherited a right to Italian citizenship by descent – otherwise known as Italian citizenship jure sanguinis. The caveat, however, is that even if you know for a fact that you do qualify, you must be able to demonstrate this legal right – in legal terms.

Taking the first steps

The first thing you need to do if you’re looking to apply for Italian citizenship by descent is to make a note of the dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths of your family members in your Italian line of descent, including your Italian ancestors. If available, you also need to find out the exact dates when your Italian-born ancestor(s) became naturalized citizens of the United States.

Once you have this information, the rule of thumb is that you are eligible if you meet the criteria right below. If you are still uncertain whether you qualify, free eligibility assessment services such as the one offered by Italian Citizenship Assistance, a network of Italian and American lawyers with offices in Italy and the US, are a useful resource.

Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Criteria for eligibility

  • You are of Italian descent or were adopted by at least one person of Italian descent as a minor (21 if born before 1975; 18 if born after 1975)

  • At least one of your Italian-born ancestors was alive and an Italian citizen after the year of 1861 (the Italian unification)

  • Neither your Italian-born ancestor nor any of your ascendants in your Italian line became a naturalized citizen of another country before the birth of the next person in the Italian line 

Look out for these exceptions

Unfortunately, even if your first steps indicate that you qualify, there are a few exceptions to the general rule. The first disqualification is if you have renounced your Italian citizenship voluntarily prior to August 15, 1992. Other things that would make you ineligible for Italian citizenship by descent include:

  • Your Italian-born ancestor was naturalized before June 14, 1912

  • You have an Italian female in your Italian line who gave birth to her child before January 1, 1948. 

  • You were born before 1948 and your only Italian legal parent is female. 

Note: People whose cases fall in the two latter categories may pursue Italian citizenship via the Italian court system.

READ ALSO: A new Q&A with Marco Permunian of Italian Citizenship Assistance: could you be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent?

The documents you need

If you have established your eligibility, gathering the required legal documents is where things get a bit more complex. The first thing to know is that all the U.S.-issued vital records (including birth, marriage, and death certificates) that are relevant for your application must be certified “long form” copies (i.e. an abstract will not do). In addition, they must bear the official seal of the Registrar’s Office as well as the date when each certificate was filed. Finally, each document must not be a genealogical copy or photocopy, and also have an affixed APOSTILLE, the legalization provided by either the United States Department of State or the Treasury Department.

Photo: Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

Now the catch is that it is never enough for you to merely obtain your own certificates. In all cases, you have to collect – and translate into Italian – the certificates of all the people who are relevant to the transmission of your right to Italian citizenship by descent. Unless you are making use of a legal service such as Italian Citizenship Assistance’s Executive Full Service package, the process of identifying, obtaining, authenticating, and translating all of the required documents is often the most time-consuming and complicated phase of the application process. There are no simple answers here, since it all depends on your particular family history and Italian lineage, your state of residency, as well as whether you are applying in Italy or the United States.

Applying in the US or Italy

Once you have secured translations of all of the required legal documents – and had the translations certified by an Italian consulate or Embassy – it is time to submit your application either to the Italian consulate nearest to where you are legally residing or to an Italian municipality in Italy. If you let Italian Citizenship Assistance handle the application process for you they can cover this step too.

If you choose to apply in Italy, Italian Citizenship Assistance can assist you throughout the entire process as part of one of their Full Service Executive packages. Italian Citizenship Assistance will also be able to assist you in setting up your legal residence in Italy, which is required if you want to apply in Italy.

Examples of successful applications

Applying at the consulate:

Theresa*, who lives in Brooklyn, found out she may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent, since her grandfather Vincenzo was born in a small village in southern Italy at the end of the 19th century. While working on her family history, she found out her Italian-born grandfather Vincenzo emigrated to the US in 1910, where he met Mary, Theresa’s grandmother. In 1911, Theresa and Vincenzo got married in the borough of Queens. Theresa’s father was born in 1920, just a couple of years before Vincenzo’s naturalization as a US citizen. Thanks to ICA’s findings, she was able to confirm her eligibility for Italian citizenship. ICA started preparing Theresa’s application for Italian citizenship, which was submitted at the Italian consulate in New York City in August 2017. Her appointment at the consulate went smoothly and no integration was required. Less than one year later, she received an e-mail from the Consulate, formally stating she is an Italian citizen by right of descent. She was then entitled to apply for her Italian passport, and she is now living in Europe as an Italian citizen.

Applying in Italy:

Joseph* has always wanted to reconnect with his Italian roots and, once retired, move to Italy with his entire family. When he found out that he was eligible to apply for Italian citizenship, he reached out to ICA seeking assistance in the process of applying for Italian citizenship by descent directly in Italy. He wanted ICA to provide an “assistance package” tailored to his needs (he wanted to apply together with his son). His case was very peculiar, as it involved some discrepancies in his documents to be fixed on some key documents, and some records that were hard to locate. After ICA successfully amended all the inconsistencies and retrieved all the missing records in the correct format, Joseph and his son were ready to move to Italy and file their citizenship application directly in Italy. ICA helped them finding appropriate accommodation in town and walked them through every step of the process, from establishing the residency in Italy to submitting the paperwork to the citizenship clerk. A few months later, Joseph and his son received the confirmation of Italian citizenship from the Municipality, and they are now in the process of purchasing a property in Tuscany.

* Names have been changed

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Italian Citizenship Assistance.

For members


Married an Italian? Here’s how to get your Italian citizenship abroad

You can apply for Italian citizenship if you get — and stay — married to an Italian citizen, but if you live outside of Italy there are some extra steps to know about.

Married an Italian? Here’s how to get your Italian citizenship abroad

So you’ve married an Italian — tantissimi auguri! A long life of good meals and sunny family reunions hopefully await you. And there are other perks, too.

Just this year, the Italian passport was ranked as the second most powerful in the world, meaning gaining your Italian citizenship is no small thing. An Italian passport will entitle you to live and work anywhere in Europe, and make residing in Italy much easier if you choose to do so in future.

Under Italian law, foreign spouses of Italian nationals are entitled to apply for Italian citizenship, with some qualifications — but the process can be anything but easy.

Here are the steps you need to follow to claim Italian citizenship by marriage from abroad.

Step 1: Register your marriage

First, if it was performed outside of Italy, you’re going to need to make sure your marriage has been properly registered with Italian local and national authorities.

Your Italian spouse must make sure to register with AIRE, the anagrafe italiani residenti all’estero or register of Italian citizens abroad. It’s possible they’ve already done this, as it is necessary for voting abroad and renewing any government documentation.

This is free and can be done at your local Italian consulate or via an online portal.

Then, as soon as possible after your wedding, you will want to register the marriage with your local Italian consulate.

This is done by filling out an application form and submitting it to your local consulate along with: 

  • a photocopy of the non-Italian partner’s passport or identity document
  • an original copy of your full-length marriage certificate, and
  • a translation of that marriage certificate, provided by a translator certified by your local consulate.

The certificate and translation must be additionally verified by legal authorities in your own country and those at the local consulate, a process known as apostille. This process varies from country to country and can involve paying for official translation or other additional costs.

Keep in mind that if you had a destination wedding abroad, your certificate, translation and apostille certification must come from that country, not where you reside.

READ ALSO: Eight of the most common mistakes when applying for Italian citizenship

Certain European countries are exempt from the apostille requirement. You should check with your local consulate to be sure of local requirements.

If you have a legally recognized civil partnership, these same processes will apply.

The consulate should take these documents and forward them to the correct municipality — the one your spouse included in their AIRE registration — to create a record there. But you may want to check, as having a local record in Italy is important later on.

You'll need to gather a number of documents in order to apply for Italian citizenship by ancestry.

You’ll need to gather a number of documents in order to apply for Italian citizenship. Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

Step 2: Wait – and learn Italian

You’ll need to wait a while before you will be eligible to apply for citizenship. In the case of couples not resident in Italy, you need to be married a minimum of three years before starting your application.

This time is reduced to 1.5 years if you have children (either biological or adopted).

In the meantime, you might want to take the opportunity to brush up on your Italian, which you will need to secure your citizenship. Since 2018, it has been a requirement that those applying for Italian citizenship by marriage can meet the B1 standard of Italian or higher.

TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

When you think you’ve reached this level, you will need to take a test to certify it.

For the purposes of citizenship applications, only certificates from private or public institutions recognized by the local consulate will be accepted. Contact your consulate for a list of eligible testing centers before booking a test.

Step 3: Prepare your documents

Once you have an account, you can begin uploading the documents necessary for your application. It’s a long list, but some you will already have from registering your marriage. Here’s what you need:

  • An original, full-length birth certificate that was issued no more than six months previously
  • An original criminal record report from every country you have lived in, going back to age 14 — you may also need to have these signed by a local police official.
  • A copy of your passport or identity document
  • Proof of address and/or residency (if you are not a national of the country where you reside)
  • A copy of your full marriage certificate, issued from the Italian municipality where it has been registered, and no more than six months old
  • Your proof of Italian proficiency to B1 level from a recognized language school
  • Proof of payment of a €250 fee to the Italian interior ministry (paid online via the ministry’s online portal — see below)

Any legal documents not in Italian — meaning, at least, your birth certificate and criminal record — must be translated into Italian by a certified translator and additionally certified apostille, as you did with your marriage certificate.

Once you have all those documents ready and your minimum time has elapsed, you can finally proceed to the application.

Step 4: Register and upload your documents

You need to apply for citizenship via the consulate in the country where your Italian spouse is registered with AIRE, and where you are a long-term resident. You’ll also need to be cohabiting with your spouse at the time, or able to provide documentation explaining why you aren’t.

To start the process, you will need to register with the interior ministry’s online portal. If you have a SPID you can use that to log in — otherwise, you can register for an account with your email.

Keep in mind this is the email they will use for all correspondence during your application.

Next, you’ll upload digital copies of all your documents and certifications, and pay your €250 fee. Make sure all the data you enter in the online form matches your documents exactly.

READ ALSO: Will Italian citizenship mean I have to pay tax in Italy?

You will also need to specify any children from previous relationships, and all addresses going back to when you were 14 years old. There can be no gaps.

After you submit, you will need to wait for the consulate to check that everything is in order. If your application is accepted, you will be invited to submit originals of all your documents to the consulate, including your passport, which will eventually be returned to you.

The details of the process for the document check, and other aspects of the citizenship application process, can vary by consulate.

Step 6: Wait again

The application process can take up to three years to be completed, though the authorities are supposed to try and complete their assessment within 24 months. 

If your application is successful, the interior ministry will send your local consulate a ‘citizenship decree’ that will authorize you to take the oath of citizenship. But hold on — you aren’t done yet.

Before you take the oath, you will need to be able to confirm, with a newly issued marriage certificate obtained from an Italian municipality after the date of the decree, that you are still married to your Italian spouse.

You will also need an updated criminal record check, translated and apostilled, to show you haven’t committed any major crimes while your application made its way through the system.

Lastly, you’ll pay any outstanding fees.

Step 7: Take the oath

Finally, after those final checks, you’ll be invited to take the oath of citizenship, which reads: Giuro di essere fedele alla Repubblica e di osservare la Costituzione e le leggi dello stato — “I swear to be faithful to the Republic and observe the Constitution and the laws of the state.”

From the moment you’ve taken the oath you are officially an Italian citizen, and you can apply for your Italian passport the next day.