EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen

The recent surge in applications for Italian citizenship is hardly surprising when you consider the advantages and benefits that Italian citizenship brings. It gives you the freedom to live, study and work in Italy and the EU indefinitely, plus access to free or low cost universal healthcare and education.

EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen
Photo: Getty Images

“I’m very glad I did this,” says Kristopher Imbrigotta, an American who now has Italian dual citizenship. “I don’t need to worry about visas, work permits, or any hurdles in health or education systems. I also learned that the Italian passport is currently a more powerful document than my US passport. It feels great to be American and European!”

While the benefits are clear, applying can be a complicated process, which is why it often makes sense to bring in specialist lawyers such as those at Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA). The Local, in partnership with ICA, looks at three common routes by which you may be able to become an Italian citizen.

Could you have the right to Italian citizenship? Learn more and get your free preliminary eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by descent

“I always felt a connection to my Italian heritage, kept alive by my father’s family,” says Kristopher. “Both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s families are from Italy and immigrated to the US in the early 1910s or so. I remember hearing Italian spoken at their house and enjoying many Italian traditions.”

If you also have Italian ancestors, like more than 16 million Americans, you may feel motivated to explore whether you could become a citizen. You may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent if you have an ancestor who was both alive and an Italian citizen on or after the formation and unification of Italy on March 17th, 1861. 

You’ll have to show that each descendent in your family line then passed that citizenship through to you, and that no-one was naturalised before the birth of the next person in your family line before 1992. Until August 15th, 1992 Italian citizenship was exclusive so if you took another country’s citizenship, you automatically lost your Italian citizenship. If you apply for citizenship through a female ancestor, she must have given birth to the next person in the Italian family line on or after January 1st, 1948.

Under the 1912 Citizenship Law only men could pass on citizenship until the 1947 Italian Constitution gave women the right to do so for births on or after January 1st, 1948. This 1948 rule was applied retroactively in 2009. There are also other possible exceptions. Proving a claim to citizenship can be complex. Documents must be found, translated where necessary and made legal by relevant apostilles. Once you’ve applied, it takes a maximum of two years. 

You can also claim Italian citizenship if you were born to an Italian citizen or adopted by an Italian citizen by the age of 21 (until 1975) or by the age of 18 (after 1975.)

Kristopher, a professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, says Italian Citizenship Assistance helped him determine “that I was likely eligible to be recognised through both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s family as no one had renounced their Italian citizenship after moving to the US”. 

He adds: “After gathering all required documents and two consular interviews in San Francisco, my Italian citizenship was recognized retroactively from birth.”

Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union

Residents in Italy can apply for Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union two years after getting married, or after one year if the couple have children under 18. If you live outside Italy, you can apply for citizenship after three years, or after 18 months if the couple have children. In July 2016 same-sex couples were recognised including same-sex marriages which were celebrated abroad. 

The first thing you’ll need is your B1 Italian language certificate. You then create an account on the Ministry of Interior portal, complete an online application and upload your exam certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate and criminal background check, with translations into Italian, and legalised for international use by means of an Apostille where necessary. You then file your application at the local Prefettura if you live in Italy or at the Italian Consulate that covers the jurisdiction where you reside via the AIRE (Anagrafe degli Italiani Residenti all’Estero), which is the Registry of Italian Citizens Residing Abroad.

You’ll be invited for an interview with your local Prefettura or the Italian Consulate in your country of residency with the relevant documents. These will then be sent to the Ministry of the Interior.

It costs €250 to apply for citizenship by marriage. Processing time is 24 months to 36 months, although applications are cancelled in case of divorce or death of spouse. Women married to Italian men before 1983 can apply for citizenship also if they are divorced or their spouse is deceased, provided they can show proof that the marriage was valid on April 26th, 1983. 

Italian citizenship by residency

To apply for Italian citizenship by residency Non-EU citizens have to prove continuous legal residency for 10 years. For EU citizens this is four years, whereas those with parents or grandparents who are/were Italian by birth must have been resident for three years. Three-year residency also applies to non-Italian citizens who were born in Italy.

Acceptance involves proof of at least €8.263,31 yearly income for the past 3 years. This is €11.362,05 if you’re married with a financially-dependent spouse, with an extra €516.46 for every dependent child. In case of insufficient personal income, you can indicate a household member’s income. You’ll also need a B1 Italian language certificate.

The process is similar to that of citizenship by marriage. You submit an online application, upload the necessary documents and pay a fee of €250. Once your application has been approved, you then need to provide the local prefecture (Prefettura) with original copies of the documents. The whole process generally takes 24 months, and if your application is successful, any children who are minors and living with you when you swear your oath six months later will automatically receive Italian citizenship. 

Photo: Supplied

Enjoy the advantages

ICA, which has offices in both Italy and the US, now receives enquiries about Italian citizenship from around 300 people per month. Since becoming an Italian citizen, Kristopher has reaped the benefits of having two passports, voted in an Italian election, and now says he may one day buy property in Italy or even retire there. Could you follow in his path?

Think you could become an Italian citizen? Get your free, no obligations eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance

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Visas and residency: What you’ll need for retirement in Italy

Retiring in Italy is a dream for many, but before it becomes a reality there are some bureaucratic hoops you’ll have to jump through.

Visas and residency: What you'll need for retirement in Italy

Italy’s warm climate, lower cost of living and relaxed pace of life all make it appealing to retirees – as do financial incentives such as a flat tax rate for pensioners.

So what exactly do you need if you want to retire in Italy?

Regardless of where you’re from, the first things you’ll need are a valid passport, proof of sufficient means of income, proof of medical insurance and proof of accommodation.

READ ALSO: Eight pitfalls people need to avoid to make the dream move to Italy

This is just to start with, though, and depending on your particular set of circumstances the overall bureaucratic procedure involved ranges from straightforward to challenging.

The criteria are obviously different for people from the EU and for those from outside, but both groups still have to complete a number of processes before they can obtain full long-term residency in Italy.

EU/EEA nationals

Moving to Italy for retirement is a lot easier for citizens of countries within the European Union (as well as the European Economic Area) who benefit from the right to freedom of movement.

There’s no need for a visa and, while there is always paperwork, some parts of the bureaucratic process are more straightforward and there are fewer fees to pay.

It’s a requirement to register as a resident at your local Anagrafe (Registry Office) and obtain a certificato di residenza (residency certificate).

Besides your application form (which may not always be available in English), you’ll be asked to submit documents including proof of accommodation and evidence that you have sufficient economic means to support yourself and any dependents. Read more about this requirement here.

Once you’re officially resident, you can also choose to register with Italy’s national health service, though this is not free – it means paying an annual registration fee if you’re not working. See more details about who can register and how the process works here.

Non-EU nationals

Those coming from outside of the EU often find that the road to retirement in Italy is not such an easy one, mainly because of stringent visa rules.

Many people do it every year regardless, but they’ll likely tell you it takes time, patience, and money. It also helps to do your research and get started early.


If you’re from a non-EU country such as the UK, USA or Canada you will need a visa and for most retirees the most appropriate option will be an elective residency visa (ERV).

The ERV doesn’t allow applicants to work or run a business but rather to live off their savings or passive income, making it a suitable choice for pensioners – full details here.

You’ll need to apply for your ERV at the Italian consulate in the country and city nearest to where you are legally resident.

EXPLAINED: How to apply for an elective residency visa to move to Italy

In theory, the minimum required income for the ERV is around €31,000 per person per year, or €31,000 plus around 20 percent combined income for married couples, though experts warn that requirements vary enormously by consulate and appear to be getting stricter.

Other requirements include proof of suitable accommodation in Italy and proof of health insurance, and many consulates also require a letter of motivation.

Legal experts advise anyone starting the process to be careful and thorough – the rejection rate for the ERV is high and the exact requirements are not always clear.


Once you have your visa and you’re in Italy, you will need to apply for a permesso di soggiorno residency card

This permit will be valid for one to two years, after which you can renew it. After five years, you become eligible to apply for a permanent residency permit.

This is a major milestone for many international residents, as it brings with it the right to work in Italy, if desired, and having it simplifies many bureaucratic processes.


You’ll need to be aware that legal residents (and others classed as tax residents) are liable to pay Italian income tax on all worldwide income, though pensions may not be taxed and you should be protected from double taxation under Italy’s bilateral agreements with the US and other countries.

Italy famously has a seven percent flat income tax rate for people moving to certain regions with a foreign pension, but anyone planning to take up this offer may want to seek professional advice as it is subject to restrictions and a complex claims process.


When applying for an ERV, you will need to show proof that you already have health insurance that will cover you in Italy.

READ ALSO: Which foreign residents have to pay for healthcare in Italy?

In the past many British citizens used their EHIC (European health insurance card) to cover them in the gap between arriving and getting residency status, but this is no longer allowed.

Once you’re resident in Italy, you can choose to register with Italy’s national health service by paying a fee in proportion to your income.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. As the process will vary depending on your personal circumstances, anyone who is unsure of the requirements is advised to contact their nearest Italian consulate and/or a qualified immigration law specialist.