What are the benefits of having Italian citizenship vs residency?

Applying for Italian citizenship can be a lengthy and costly process - so why bother? There are plenty of advantages to being an Italian citizen over simply a foreign resident.

It applying for Italian citizenship really worth it?
Is applying for Italian citizenship really worth it? Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP.

Italian citizenship applications can be drawn-out and often expensive affairs, requiring months of appointments and vast quantities of documentation, and sometimes taking years to be finalised.

The procedure varies depending on whether you’re applying for citizenship via ancestry, residency or marriage, but those who’ve done it tend to agree that it’s an uphill slog – and it’s not cheap.

READ ALSO: The three ways to apply for Italian citizenship

So if you already have residency, why bother with applying for Italian citizenship?

Here’s are the key benefits of citizenship to bear in mind when weighing up whether the application process is worth it for you:

It doesn’t expire

Italian residency permits must be renewed every six, 12, or 24 months, depending on the kind you have – an arduous process that’s liable to vary depending on where you’re living and which local official is handling your case.

If you obtain permanent residency after five continuous years of living in Italy, this doesn’t expire – but you still have to renew your card every 10 years in order for it to remain valid as an ID document.

READ ALSO: Permesso di soggiorno: A complete guide to getting Italy’s residency permit

You can’t lose it

Permanent residency only gives you the right to remain in Italy if you are, well, permanently resident.

It’s hard to lose permanent residency, but not impossible: leaving the EU for more than 12 consecutive months, or leaving the country for six continuous years, will do it.

Being considered a national security threat, being placed under police special prevention measures, or being found to have obtained your permit fraudulently will also get your residency status revoked.

Italian citizenship, by contrast, is something that can’t be taken away from you, regardless of where you go or what you do.

It confers rights non-citizens don’t have

Healthcare: As an Italian citizen, you have the automatic right to free healthcare in Italy, regardless of your employment status.

Voting: Citizens can vote in all elections, including, local, national, and EU elections, and stand for election if you’re above the age of 18 – even if you live in another EU country outside Italy.

Foreign EU nationals who are resident in Italy can register to vote in municipal and European parliamentary elections, but not national and regional elections.

You can also pass your Italian citizenship on to any children under the age of 18.

Once you have Italian citizenship, you’re not at risk of losing it. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

It gives you access to the rest of the EU

Having an Italian passport allows you to freely move around and work in the EU more or less without limitations.

Of course, if you already have an EU passport, this isn’t going to be a plus point for you.

READ ALSO: Mythbuster: Can you really ‘cheat’ the Schengen 90-day rule?

But for non-EU Italian residents who can only spend three months out of every six in another EU country under the 90-day rule, it presents a massive potential benefit.

Disadvantages of Italian citizenship

Considering the advantages laid out above, why wouldn’t anyone want to apply for citizenship?

For one, some countries – like India – don’t allow dual citizenship. For many, the benefits of gaining an Italian passport won’t outweigh the disadvantages of having to forfeit citizenship of your country of origin.

Foreigners with their sights set on a career with their home country’s diplomatic or consular services might also not want to apply for Italian citizenship.

While it’s not necessarily a barrier to entry, having more than one citizenship can make things more complicated for those who want to work in a high-level government position with access to classified information.

READ ALSO: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

Finally, there’s an emotional as well as practical component to naturalising. In Italy, for example, you’re required to take an oath of allegiance to the Republic.

If you won’t receive much in the way of material benefits, and don’t feel particularly aligned with Italian culture, you may prefer to stick with the citizenship you have.

In all other situations though, there are no major drawbacks to acquiring Italian citizenship – and plenty of advantages.

What about taxes?

Many people, particularly US nationals, looking at Italian citizenship are concerned about dual taxation, i.e. having the same income taxed both in Italy and their home country. 

While US citizens must file annual tax returns and declare their global income regardless of where they live, Italy does not have citizenship-based taxation rules, meaning it does not tax its citizens if they are not residents.

Reader question: Will Italian citizenship mean I have to pay tax in Italy?

You have to pay Italian tax on your worldwide income if you’re an Italian tax resident, meaning you live in Italy for at least 183 days out of the year, or if you have income sources (such as rental income) originating in Italy.

Double taxation agreements mean you won’t be taxed twice in both Italy and the US – up to a certain threshold and on some types of income. US public pensions may be taxed in Italy, but again this is dependent on residency, not nationality. You can read more about the rules on double taxation for US nationals here.

Can you have dual citizenship?

Yes, as long as your country of birth allows it. Italian law does not put any limit on the number of citizenships an Italian citizen may hold.

There’s a lot of confusion about this and a widespread belief that Italy does not allow citizens to hold more than one nationality, as this was not allowed until a law change in 1992.

READ ALSO: How many people get Italian citizenship every year?

If you should later want to renounce your Italian citizenship for any reason, you are legally allowed to do so, and the process involves roughly the same documentation and fees as that of filing your citizenship application.

Will this mean more bureaucracy?

Living in Italy means you enter a complex world of bureaucracy, even more so for foreign nationals resident in Italy than for Italian citizens.

For those living in Italy, citizenship makes many bureaucratic processes simpler, plus it removes the need to apply for and renew residency permits.

If you’re an Italian citizen living outside of Italy, you will probably need to register with the Anagrafe degli Italiani Residenti all’Estero (AIRE, the registry of Italian citizens resident abroad). This is a relatively simple procedure. Find out more about that on the foreign ministry’s website.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on individual cases. For more details on what obtaining Italian citizenship would mean for you, seek advice from the Italian consulate in your country or consult a qualified legal professional.

See more information in our Italian citizenship section.

Member comments

  1. You forget one other drawback to citizenship. If you’re getting a U.S. State or Federal pension it becomes taxable in Italy when you get citizenship. This is not insignificant financially.

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks very much for your comment. Would this be in the case of someone claiming a US State or Federal pension while resident in Italy? Italy’s taxation rules are dependent on residency, rather than citizenship, so this should not be the case if an Italian citizen lives in the US, but we can look into this further for a future article.

      Thanks for reading,
      – Clare

      1. An Italian citizen not resident in Italy is not taxed by Italy, he is taxed by the state in which he is a tax resident. Unlike the US which taxes US citizens not resident in the US. My comment was aimed at people who are tax residents of Italy. If not a citizen the US taxes the pensions. If they become a citizen then Italy taxes the pension. But only if they are resident here.

        1. Thanks Nancy! As far as we are aware, Italy’s taxation rules are all based on residency rather than citizenship, but we’ll check that out with one of our tax experts.

  2. I think the article could have provided a deeper discussion of the obligations of citizenship. i can think of a few: registering in AIRE or keeping up with other required bureaucracy, taxes might be higher as a citizen, being politically informed and voting. if mandatory youth service were reinstated, youth would have to comply.. I also understood that once conveyed it is difficult if not impossible to give up Italian citizenship. It’s a decision that should not be taken lightly

    1. Hi Jamie,

      Thanks very much for your comment and suggestions. We have now updated the article to include a mention of AIRE registry (for Italian citizens resident abroad), taxation (which in Italy is not dependent on citizenship), and the rules on renouncing Italian citizenship. At the moment there is no discussion of mandatory youth service being reinstated in Italy.

      Thanks for reading,
      – Clare

  3. Hi. I have been told that if I am a resident on an elective visa(retirement) and quailify for the 7% tax break for living in a small southern town, then if in the future I am recognized as a citizen of Italy (dual with US) the I no longer qualify for the 7% tax break since I have resided in Italy during the prior 5 years. Makes no sense to me. Is it true?

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What a law from 1912 means for your claim for Italian citizenship via ancestry

Recent changes to how Italian courts are applying rules dating from 1912, known as the ‘minor case’ issue, can prove an unexpected obstacle for some citizenship applications.

What a law from 1912 means for your claim for Italian citizenship via ancestry

Ius sanguinis is, in theory, one of the most straightforward paths to Italian citizenship, simply requiring the applicant to demonstrate they are a direct descendent of an Italian citizen.

In reality, however, acquiring citizenship through ancestry can be more complex than it sounds – and lawyers who specialise in the process say that recent changes to how the courts apply the law are making things more difficult for some applicants.

READ ALSO: An expert guide to getting Italian citizenship via ancestry

We spoke with Arturo Grasso, an attorney and citizenship specialist at the Rome-based firm My Lawyer in Italy, about what these developments could mean in practice for someone seeking ius sanguinis Italian citizenship.

A little-known obstacle to citizenship

It’s widely known that a key requirement for an ius sanguinis citizenship application is that the ancestor through whom you’re applying must have been an Italian citizen at the time of their child’s birth.

That means if they ever renounced their citizenship in the process of naturalising as a foreign citizen (as many emigrants did), they must have done so after their child was born; otherwise the line of descent ends with them.

What’s less well-known, however, is that if you’re bringing your application before Italy’s courts, it’s likely to be rejected if your ancestor naturalised when their child was still a minor – that is, under the age of 21.

That’s all because of a 1912 law on the topic; legislation that’s still in place today.

Why a law from 1912 matters today

At first, Italy didn’t have any laws on citizenship; but as more and more of its citizens emigrated, it decided it needed one. In 1912, a law was passed to regulate how Italian citizenship was handed down.

READ ALSO: How foreigners can get ‘fast track’ citizenship in Italy

This law contained two clauses that were somewhat contradictory, based on the fact that Italy in general did not allow dual citizenship at the time, but also wanted to stop hemorrhaging citizens.

One said if the child of an Italian was born abroad (e.g., in the US) and gained birthright citizenship of a foreign country, they remained legally Italian.

But another said that if a child’s parent naturalised as a foreigner before the child turned 21, the child automatically lost their Italian citizenship as well.

That means that for people whose Italian parent naturalised as a foreign citizen before 1992 (when Italy first officially sanctioned dual citizenship), the rules are hazy – and this is where the courts’ interpretation of the law is key.

FACT CHECK: Is Italy tightening the requirements for citizenship via ancestry?

In 1990, Italy’s Administrative Court said the clause allowing the children of Italian citizens to keep their citizenship should take precedence – what’s known as the ‘minor case’ rule.

What does a 1912 law have to do with applications for Italian citizenship? Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

But more recently, in 2019, the Court of Rome issued a judgement saying it thinks the other clause should take precedence, meaning anyone whose parent renounced Italian citizenship when the child was under the age of 21 should not be considered Italian.

Since then, Grasso says almost all court applications that fall into this category have been rejected. Some are later overturned on appeal, he says; but this only happens in a small minority of cases.

Does the minor case issue apply to me?

It’s important to note that you should only run up against the minor case issue if you’re applying for citizenship through Italy’s courts – going the administrative route via a consulate or comune should be straightforward, because they continue to apply the Administrative Court’s more lenient guidelines.

However, as there are now years-long delays to get appointments at many Italian consulates, large numbers of applicants are now petitioning the courts to review their application in order to speed things up.

It’s important to check your dates to see whether your Italian ancestor naturalised as a foreign citizen when their child was under 21; if so, taking your case to court is very likely to jeopardise your application, and you’re better off waiting.

Grasso also notes that it also only tends to be paternal line applications that are thwarted by the Court of Rome’s 2019 ruling.

That’s because the 1912 law considered Italian women non-entities, barring them from passing down citizenship and automatically stripping them of their own if they married a foreigner. In the years since, various laws have been passed aimed at rectifying this injustice.

READ ALSO: How the ‘1948 rule’ could affect your Italian citizenship application

That means maternal line applications tend to rely on a different set of laws; and in Grasso’s experience to date, he says judges tend not to care when the maternal ancestor forfeited her citizenship, since she often had no say in the matter anyway.

What about applicants whose ancestors naturalised as foreign citizens before the 1912 law came into being?

Unfortunately, Grasso says, people in this situation likely won’t be eligible for ius sanguinis citizenship either through the Italian consulate/comune or the courts, regardless of when their children were born, as there was no mechanism in place to allow dual citizenship under any circumstances at the time.

However, he points out that in the case of the US, naturalisation records were not centralised until 1906.

If US applicants contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asking for their ancestor’s naturalisation record and none is found, then, Grasso advises them not to keep digging – a Certificate of Non-Existence from USCIS is usually enough to satisfy the courts.