For members


How British nationals can claim Italian citizenship by descent

Whether you're looking to move to Italy or honour your Italian roots, British nationals hoping to get an Italian passport could trace their family tree to become a citizen of Italy. Here's what you need to know.

How British nationals can claim Italian citizenship by descent
British nationals could take the route of ancestry to gain Italian citizenship. Photo by alexey turenkov on Unsplash

British nationals may have various reasons for wanting Italian citizenship – one new motivation may be regaining the benefits of being a European Union citizen once more, such as enjoying freedom of movement within the bloc.

Perhaps you want to recognise your Italian heritage or you already live in Italy and would like more security in the country you now call home.

READ ALSO: How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

Regardless of why you’re interested in getting Italian citizenship, you’ll need to be prepared for plenty of research, patience and paperwork.

Here are the steps to going down the route of citizenship by descent and the pitfalls to watch out for from a legal expert.

Knowing your right to Italian citizenship

Getting an Italian passport through the legal principle of ‘jure sanguinis‘ (which means ‘right of blood’ in Latin), is a way for you to prove your right to Italian citizenship through Italian-born ancestors.

“This route recognises your citizenship since birth, you don’t acquire it,” Giuditta De Ricco, head citizenship lawyer at immigration firm Mazzeschi told The Local.

“If your documents are in good order and there is a direct lineage with no renunciations of citizenship from family members, Italy has to recognise it,” she added.

The firm has noticed a few more enquiries about this route to Italian citizenship since Brexit, she said. If you’re eligible, it’s a surer way than the other methods.

That’s because this path is slightly different than applying for Italian citizenship by marriage, for example.

“In that case, there is discretion – the authorities don’t have to give it you. Whereas if you can prove you have Italian heritage, you’re getting a document to reflect something that was already yours,” De Ricco said.

Gaining Italian citizenship by descent involves a lot of paperwork. Photo by Lennart Schulz on Unsplash

But it doesn’t mean it’s straightforward or easy.

Your first port of call is to gather all these documents to show your Italian lineage, which can be a time-consuming process: you’ll need to show the dates and places of births, marriages and deaths back through your Italian line of descent.

If you fancy tracing your own family tree, you can, but be aware there are various laws and bureaucracy to watch out for.

How you know you’re entitled to Italian citizenship

Before you go detective on your family history, it’s wise to know if you’re eligible for this route to citizenship.

You are automatically an Italian citizen if:

  • You were born to an Italian parent, even outside Italy.
  • You were adopted as a minor by an Italian national.
  • An Italian parent legally recognises you as their child (e.g., if your father’s name is absent from your birth certificate but he confirms that you’re his child).
  • You were born in Italy to stateless parents, to unknown parents, or to parents who cannot transmit their nationality to their children.

Italy allows nationals to pass down their citizenship. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a citizen of another country, such as the UK, and you have a great-grandparent born in Italy.

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

You can go back many generations to prove your ancestry – all the way back to the founding of modern Italy in 1861, in fact. But actually, you can go back a little further than that if your research allows.

Those who were alive before Italian unification on this date automatically became Italian. So in that case, you’d need to find the death certificate to prove your relative’s death was after 1861 and they were, therefore, Italian.

If they were born and died before Italian unification, however, you don’t have a claim to Italian citizenship as Italy was not a nation before this date.

Your application will depend on the laws applicable during your ancestors’ lifetime. Photo by Lennart Schulz on Unsplash

Going so far back in history is trickier and will likely make the process longer.

“It is difficult to find birth certificates only starting in 1861 or before from town halls. We can try to find baptism certificates by researching through church records,” De Ricco told us.

“Historical research takes some time. It’s not easy but we can do it,” she added.

Using church records comes with extra paperwork, though.

Each baptism certificate needs to be issued by the parish, authorised by the bishop’s office and you’ll also need a written confirmation from the town hall (comune) in Italy that there was no registry office on the date in question.

Alternatively, you can trace your Italian roots via the maternal line from 1948 (the late date at which Italian women were granted the right to transmit their citizenship to their children).

Since 1861 various citizenship laws have been enacted and so the rules and conditions for acquiring citizenship have changed.

“Citizenship is a technical issue, because you have to analyse the births, marriages and deaths according to the law in that moment,” she told us.

For example, there was an Italian law in force until 1992 that didn’t allow dual nationality. Until that year, your relatives may have lost their Italian citizenship if they became citizens of another country.

That would mean a break in lineage, but De Ricco told us this doesn’t necessarily derail your citizenship application.

It might mean instead that you can apply for citizenship through residency but on reduced terms such as three years as a resident in the country instead of 10 and passing a language test, which you don’t need to do if applying through descent.

For information on gaining citizenship by residency or marriage, see here.

Want to recognise your Italian citizenship? You’ll need to get your paperwork in order. Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

How to apply

If you live outside Italy, apply to the Italian consulate nearest to your place of residence. While the legal criteria remain the same, different places may have different procedures and waiting times.

For this reason, De Ricco tells us you can try another consulate if the one nearest to you has a huge waiting list. Some of the firm’s clients reported one to two years waiting time for an appointment at the consulate in London, for example.

It can sometimes take months or even years just to file for an appointment, so instead you can apply to take your case before the court in Rome, providing evidence of the delays at your consulate, the immigration expert told us.

You can also apply within Italy to your local Anagrafe (registry office). 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

You should expect to provide full birth, marriage and death certificates for every relative you cite in your claim, as well as proof that that they still had Italian citizenship when their children were born. All documents will need to be translated into Italian and legalised with an apostille (an official, separate certificate that confirms their authenticity).

You’ll need to be extra diligent with checking the names and details of these documents, as any discrepancies will cost you time in delays.

This gets particularly tricky if your ancestors changed their name, which wasn’t unusual as some thought doing so might make assimilation into their new country easier, De Ricco said.

If this was the case, you’d need to contact the Vital Statistics Office to make the corrections – or you may even need to go to court if this isn’t possible.

How much does it cost and how long will it take?

Once you’ve got through the research and applying at your consulate, the process should then be finalised within two years, De Ricco told The Local.

How much it costs can depend on whether you want the help of lawyers or not – some of whom offer to check you’re eligibility for no fee and then legal fees may run to around €2000 if you want to proceed with their guidance.

The application fees are around €500 – €600 and you’ll need to take other costs into account, such as getting documents translated, legalised and notarised.

There are ways to cut costs if you’re applying as a family, however, as you can reuse the same documents.  

Do I have to give up my original nationality?

“As a British national, you don’t have to give up your nationality as Italy has allowed multiple citizenship since 1992,” said De Ricco.

“You can renounce your Italian citizenship if you like, which may be more relevant for those people who are allowed only one nationality. But that’s not the case for the UK and Italian law grants you as many citizenships as you want,” she confirmed.

Neither do you have to live in Italy – getting citizenship is different than being a resident of Italy.

If you’re confirmed as being an Italian citizen, you are entitled to stay here for the rest of your life, even if you commit a serious crime, and you can pass your citizenship on to your children. There are also no time limits on how long you can be out of the country, if you do live in Italy.

Other benefits for Italian citizens include guaranteed free access to the Italian healthcare system for you and your dependents, even if you don’t have a job, and the ability to vote.

One last requirement to clinch your Italian status is swearing allegiance to the Italian Republic in a special ceremony.

Giuditta De Ricco is the head of citizenship of Mazzeschi, an immigration and citizenship consultancy firm based in Italy. You can contact her here.

Find out more on our section on visasresidency and moving to Italy.

Please note that The Local is unable to advise on specific cases. For more information about visa applications, see the Italian Foreign Ministry’s visa website, or contact your embassy or local Questura in Italy.

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For members


How to apply for an Italian family visa

Applying for a visa to relocate your family to Italy can be a complex and sometimes lengthy process. Here's what you need to know.

How to apply for an Italian family visa

There are many reasons why you might want your family members to join you in Italy.

Maybe you’re newlyweds, or maybe you’re a single parent who’s just been offered a great job. Maybe you’re the primary carer for your elderly dad, and don’t want to leave him alone back home.

But just like no two families are alike, no two family visa applications are exactly the same. Here’s what you need to know about the process of applying for a family visa in Italy.

What is a family visa?

Family visas allow immediate relatives — barring your brothers and sisters — to join a person already possessing legal residency in Italy for longer than 90 days and to receive long-term residency (the infamous permesso di soggiorno).

If you are the legal resident, remember that their stay in the country is conditional on yours — you will be asked to demonstrate that you can support them in an adequately spacious household.

There are two types of family visas: family reunification visas and family cohesion visas. Both are explained below, based on the latest official information available.

Who is eligible?

In Italy, family visas can be issued to spouses, children, and even parents — under the right circumstances.

Spouses or civil partners alike can apply for family visas, as long you have documentation attesting to the relationship.

Children can apply if they are still minors, or if they are disabled and require care. You need not be the biological parent — children of spouses are also eligible.

Minor-aged children can be included in family visa applications.

Minor-aged children can be included in family visa applications. Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP.

Lastly, parents can also enter Italy on family visas, provided they are unable to care for themselves and have no other capable children or dependents in their home country.

If you are the parent of an unaccompanied minor legally resident in Italy, you can also apply.

Siblings and more distant family, meanwhile, are not eligible.

Plan your arrival

When it comes to family visas, how you arrive in Italy is important. It’s here the two types of family visas become distinct.

Family cohesion visas are issued at the border when families arrive together. This is typically easiest for people arriving from visa-free countries, which receive an automatic 90-day tourist visa on arrival.

If you aren’t from one of these countries, you may be able to apply at your home embassy for a familiari al seguito visa, which will allow your relative to accompany you.

If you arrive together, you will be able to apply from within Italy, at your local Questura, which typically gives you more time to get your documents together.

You will still need to prepare some key documents in your home country, though — so read on.

If you arrive seperately, you will need to follow the more complicated route to apply for a family reunification visa. These are issued by the embassy in your home country and have some additional requirements spelled out below.

There are different rules in place depending on whether you arrive in the country together or separately.

There are different rules in place depending on whether you arrive in the country together or separately. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP.

Prepare your documents at home

Many of the documents you will need to apply for a family visa must be arranged in advance while you are still in your home country.

For both categories, you will need proof of your relationship — like a marriage or birth certificate — that has been translated and certified by the local Italian embassy.

If you are traveling with a child but without one of their parents, you will also need a letter from the other parent or guardian that has been notarized by the embassy or consulate in their country of residence.

To receive a family visa for your child, partner, or parent, you will need to meet certain minimum residency, housing, and income requirements, and be able to demonstrate them.

First, you will need a residence permit (permesso di soggiorno) valid for at least one year (or, if you are arriving at the same time, proof of a long-term contract that will secure you that permit).

When you apply, you will also need to demonstrate you earn a certain minimum yearly income set annually by the government.

This amount is equal to the annual social allowance or assegno sociale plus 50 percent for each dependent.

In 2023, the assegno sociale jumped significantly due to rises in the cost of living. Now, it is equal to €6,542.51 per year.

That means, if you are bringing a single dependent, like a spouse, you need to earn €9,813.76 minimum per year. If you’re bringing two kids, a spouse and an elderly parent, that jumps to €19,627.27.

You will also need to demonstrate that you have adequate housing for all these dependents. 

That means a housing contract for an apartment with a minimum of 45 square meters of space and one bedroom for two people. Or, in the second scenario above, an apartment of more than 110 square meters, and three bedrooms.

Lastly, if you are caring for an elderly relative over the age of 65, you will need to provide proof of health insurance that will cover them during their stay in Italy.

You'll need to demonstrate you have adequate housing before you can bring family members to Italy.

You’ll need to demonstrate you have adequate housing before you can bring family members to Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

How to apply

Once you have these key documents together, you will take a slightly different route depending on where you are coming from.

If you are married to an EU citizen or come from a visa-free country, you may enter the country on a 90-day tourist visa and begin your application at the local Questura (see below).

If, however, you typically do require a visa to visit the EU, and you are arriving separately, the person you are joining in Italy must first apply for something called a nulla osta, a pre-clearance issued by the local authorities, on your behalf.

The process of applying for a nulla osta has been simplified greatly over the years, but it can still take weeks to secure — and keep in mind the person living in Italy will need to already have their residency permit before they can apply.

The process begins by buying a €16 tax stamp at the local post office. Then, they will use an online form with the Ministry of the Interior to apply.

They will need a SPID (government services login) to use the form, which they can get at your local post office.

After uploading some info, they will usually receive an appointment to bring the key documents outlined above to your local Questura.

When the application is finished, they will be given an original copy of your nulla osta, and the embassy in your home country will be automatically notified.

This clearance is valid for only six months, and you will need the original when you apply for your family visa at the embassy — so get your family member in Italy to pop it in the mail as soon as you can.

To begin the application, you will usually need to make an appointment with the embassy to go through your documents — though double-check with your local consulate, as some countries, like Canada, prefer documents be mailed.

A private Indian security guard walks into the Italian Embassy in New Delhi on March 13, 2013.

You’ll usually need to make an appointment with the Italian embassy in your home country in order to start your application. Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP.

If so, you’ll need a big envelope, because the documents you need are numerous.

These are:

  • A completed application form for a national long-stay visa (see an example from the Italian Consulate in London here);
  • A copy of your passport, valid for at least 3 months, which the embassy will take while considering your application;
  • The original and a photocopy of the residence card of the person you are joining in Italy;
  • A written declaration from that person requesting your presence and attesting to the fact that they meet the minimum requirements;
  • A copy of the housing contract showing adequate space;
  • An S1 form showing the homeowner’s consent (example here);
  • A copy of the nulla osta from the local Questura;
  • Proof of one-way travel, being either a plane ticket or, if driving, proof of license, insurance, registration, and rental documents, if applicable; and
  • Four passport photos.

For minors, you will additionally need:

  • Written consent from any parents or guardians not traveling with the child, notarized by the local embassy;
  • Photocopies of both parents’ passports

If a parent is joining you, you will need to provide proof of money transfers, rental receipts or other examples of their dependency, plus medical documentation showing that they cannot care for themselves.

Last but not least, you will need to pay a fee of €116 and enclose proof of payment with your application.

What next

If you arrive together or enter Italy on a tourist visa in the situations spelled out above, you will still need much of this documentation (aside from the nulla osta) when you apply at the local Questura for your residency.

Your residence permit will be valid for the same duration as the one held by the person you are staying with in Italy.

If you do arrive separately and apply at your local embassy, the whole process can take as long as six months or more. However, at the end of it, you will be able to work and access benefits immediately on arrival.

If not, you will need to wait until your application for a stay permit has been processed by the local Questura before you can take work or access benefits.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on visa applications. For further information, visit the Italian foreign ministry’s visa website.