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How to become Italian: A guide to getting citizenship

How to become Italian: A guide to getting citizenship
Photo: AFP
Is it time to get yourself an Italian passport? The Local breaks down what you need to know about becoming a citizen of Italy.

Whether you’re a foreigner in Italy wanting more security or you’re honouring your Italian heritage, applying for citizenship is not to be done on a whim.

It can be a long, long process, requiring plenty of patience and paperwork. But becoming an Italian citizen is a reward that is (hopefully) worth all the bureaucracy.

Read on for advice from a legal expert, as well as some recently anointed citizens who reached for their Italian dream and lived to tell the tale.

Do I need citizenship? Can’t I just be a resident?

Marco Permunian, legal consultant at Italian Citizenship Assistance, says: “A resident permit holder does not have the right to vote and in some cases they have a limited right to benefit from public healthcare.”

And if you’re not from another EU member state, you won’t have the same right to live, work and travel freely anywhere within the EU (depending on what type of resident permit you have).

That’s especially relevant for Brits living in Italy who are planning to stay here after Brexit. They will need to be legally resident in order to secure their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.

READ ALSO: What are the differences for Brits between moving to Italy before or after December 31st?

Do I have to give up my original nationality?

Don’t worry: most people don’t have to give up their first passport to get an Italian one.

“Most countries allow dual or even multiple citizenships,” according to Permunian, who says that’s the case for Italy, the US, UK and Canada to name but a few. “So acquiring Italian citizenship will not affect most people’s other nationalities.”

READ ALSO: Brexit meets Italian bureaucracy: How to deal with the ultimate paperwork nightmare

Photo: AFP

Am I eligible for Italian citizenship?

There are three main ways to qualify for Italian citizenship:

  1. Ancestry
  2. Marriage
  3. Naturalization

Let’s go through them one by one.

1. Ancestry

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 recognizes 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.

Because Italy allows its nationals to pass down their citizenship, citizens of other countries who descended from a grandparent, great-grandparent or other ancestor born in Italy may have a claim to Italian citizenship through iure sanguinis, or “right of bloodline”.

There is no limit to the number of generations back you can go, provided you can prove that the line of citizenship is uninterrupted – i.e., that none of your ancestors renounced their Italian citizenship before their descendants’ birth. In theory you could claim citizenship via the paternal line all the way back to the founding of modern Italy in 1861 (though good luck finding those documents), or via the maternal line from 1948 (the late date at which Italian women were granted the right to transmit their citizenship to their children).

This online tool can help give you a quick idea whether you qualify.

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

How do I apply?

If you live outside Italy, apply to the Italian consulate nearest to your place of residence. You can also apply within Italy to your local Anagrafe (registry office). While the legal criteria remain the same wherever you apply, different places may have different procedures and waiting times.

You should expect to have 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 legalized with an apostille (an official certificate that confirms their authenticity).

Photo: DepositPhotos

2. Marriage

“After two years of legal residence in Italy, or three years if living abroad, the spouse of an Italian citizen can apply for Italian citizenship through naturalization,” says Permunian of Italian Citizenship Assistance. “This time will be reduced by half if the couple has children (natural or adopted).”

Then you’ll need to wait up to four years for the application to be processed. This was increased from two years by a law change by former interior minister Matteo Salvini in 2018, as part of a raft of measures making the process more difficult.

The same law change also means that applicants must take a B1 language test, and applications from spouses can now be rejected, whereas before they were almost guaranteed to be approved.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about taking Italy’s language test for citizenship

If you’re a woman who married an Italian man before April 27th, 1983, congratulations: you got Italian citizenship automatically before the law was changed.

You cannot apply for citizenship if you’re divorced from your Italian spouse, if she or he has passed away, or if you’ve been convicted of certain crimes. 

How do I apply?

The first thing to do is probably to take your language test.

That’s because it can take severa months to get your results back – and because most other documents you’ll require including copies of your marriag certificate will expire six months after the dae of issue. Your language certificate however does not have an expiry date.

First, make sure your marriage is registered in Italy. If your wedding took place in another country, you’ll need to submit the marriage certificate (translated and legalized), plus a signed declaration, to the Italian authorities.

Once you’ve done that, apply to your local prefecture if you live in Italy, or to your closest consulate if you live abroad. In certain countries – for instance the US – you can make the application online. You’ll need to submit your marriage certificate, birth certificates for you and your parents, your criminal record and proof of your spouse’s Italian citizenship. 

READ ALSO: How to get married in Italy

3. Naturalization/residency

Once you’ve been living legally and continuously in Italy for a minimum period of time you can apply for naturalization as an Italian citizen, provided you don’t have a criminal record and can demonstrate sufficient financial resources.

The minimum period varies:

  • For most non-EU nationals, ten years.
  • For EU nationals, four years.
  • For refugees or stateless persons, five years.
  • For people who have an Italian parent or grandparent, three years.
  • For people born in Italy to foreign parents, either the first 18 years of their life or three years’ residence as an adult.

How do I apply?

Apply in Italy to your regional prefecture.

Expect to be asked for your and your parents’ birth certificates, proof of your history of legal residence in Italy and tax returns for the past three years.

Those applying via residency now also have to take the B1 level Italian language exam for citizenship, under a 2018 rule change.

If you’re successful, you’ll be granted citizenship by none other than the president of Italy.

READ ALSO: What Italy’s new laws mean for your citizenship application

Readers’ advice: ‘Start now and be patient’

Just how painful is the process of acquiring citizenship? We spoke to some dual citizens who fought the bureaucratic battle and won.

Mindi Zilli, US-Italian citizen by ancestry

“I have dual citizenship from my paternal side. I actually was able to go back to my great-grandfather. My father’s family is originally from Piacenza.

“In order to obtain my dual citizenship I had to first find out if my great-grandfather renounced his Italian citizenship or became a naturalized US citizen. Luckily for me, he was naturalized. Once I had that information I had to request all of the other documents. I needed the birth certificate, marriage certificate, and death certificate of each relative on my paternal side. So I had all of the documents for my great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my father. I also had to have the information on myself. Once I had the original documents I had to have them all translated into Italian and then have the apostille for each one.

“I used a company to help walk me through all of the steps. Nicola Colella at Italiamerica was knowledgeable and supported me the entire way until I had my dual citizenship. He was also very patient when I was asking a million questions! 

“The next step was to make an appointment at the Italian consulate in Los Angeles. The consulate you go to depends on where you are live, or where your ID is from in the United States. The appointment time is long: mine was at least six months from the date I made it. Now it is a year to even two years in some states.

READ ALSO: How can an American get Italian citizenship?


Photo: DepositPhotos

“I had my appointment in September 2014. When I arrived I had to present all of the certificates, as well as complete a couple of other forms for background information on my family. There is a fee involved, around $460. I did not have to take any test or speak in Italian. 

“I finally received my dual citizenship in May 2016. I spent about two years gathering all of the required documents, then the processing time. So overall it took me almost four years. It could be done faster, but I spread out the certificates and the translations because it is not an inexpensive process.

“Once I found out that I could apply for my dual citizenship I knew I wanted to have it. I have always been drawn to living overseas from the US. I wanted my dual citizenship so I could live and work in Italy. I will also retire in Italy one day.

“My dual citizenship has helped me because I do not have to worry about getting a permesso to work in Italy. I can use my Italian passport until I get my Italian ID card, which is in the works. It is also helpful to have an EU passport because it opens up more doors if I want to live or work in another EU country.

“I would definitely recommend getting your Italian dual citizenship if your family is originally from Italy. I feel a sense of belonging, living and working in Italy with my dual citizenship. It is like returning home to my family roots!”

David Trulli, US-Italian citizen by ancestry

“I completed the iure sanguinis process and was recognized as an Italian citizen about a year ago. The entire process, from when I started to gather documents to completion took three years. I was lucky, as my initial appointment was only six months in the future.

“My advice: make your appointment right away, regardless of whether you have any documentation. The wait time is so long that you will have plenty of time to compile what you need. If not, you can always reschedule.

“When researching the date of naturalization of an ancestor, don’t believe census data. Immigrants at that time would often tell the census takers that they were citizens (even if they were not) out of fear of deportation.

“Don’t be afraid of doing the process yourself. Many people are put off by the requirements, but I found the process rewarding. I felt much more connected to my ancestors and their journey.

“Ask for help and use the internet. There’s a great Facebook group called Dual US-Italian Citizenship with advice and many answers for anyone interested in pursuing citizenship. Browse through and you will find tons of information. If you don’t find the answer to a question, just ask the group and many will help.

“Finally, be organized, thorough and most of all, patient.”

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

Photo: AFP

Britta George, Australian-Italian citizen by ancestry

It took Britta eight years to obtain her Italian citizenship from Australia.

Her tip: “If an ancestor has an Italian name on some documents and an anglicized name on others, get them all in one name ASAP – including their children’s birth and marriage certificates. My nonno’s name was anglicized and I had to change his AND my mom’s docs.”

Kristie Prada, British national applying for Italian citizenship by marriage

“I’ve applied for Italian citizenship as I’ve been with my husband a long time and now qualify. However, the Italian consulate in London are absolutely useless and take two to four years to open an application. I’m at year two!

“Wish me luck! I think we will have moved to Italy before it happens!”

We’ve heard different things about whether it’s better to apply for citizenship outside or within Italy. One reader reported receiving her citizenship within an extraordinary four months after submitting her application in Italy via an agent, while other readers said that jumping Italy’s notorious bureaucratic hoops slowed them down. And while waiting times for appointments at consulates outside Italy might be long, there’s always a chance you’ll get as lucky as one of our readers and be able to nab a slot that someone else cancelled.

And finally, it’s worth doing your research: more than one person told us they thought they didn’t qualify for iure sanguinis, only to discover that someone along the line had lied about their age or nationality and in fact they had a claim. One brave soul went all the way back to his great-great-grandfather: 18 official records, 11 apostilles and 11 months later, he’s looking forward to receiving his citizenship soon. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Italy


Photo: Alberto Fava/Flickr
 

This is an updated version of an article first published in 2018

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Member comments

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  1. This is said to be an updated version of one first published in 2018, but it makes no mention of the important changes enacted in the security decree of December 2018. Most important is the Italian government’s current requirement of certification of language competence to B1 level for anyone applying via marriage, a major change which is proving a challenge to many. The decree also doubled the amount of time a consulate has to process all applications, from two years to four.

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