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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


What changes about life in Italy in July 2022

Hot weather, beach trips, gelato, and the return of summer tourism: there are a few things we know to expect in Italy this July. But what else is in store for people living in the country?

What changes about life in Italy in July 2022

Strikes and travel disruption

While Italy has so far been spared the chaos seen at airports in many European countries recently, that doesn’t mean travel to or within the country is guaranteed to be straightforward this summer.

Dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed in two Italian airline staff strikes in June, and unions warned that these were likely to be the first in “a long series” of protests “throughout the entire summer” amid ongoing disputes over pay and working conditions.

READ ALSO: ‘Arrive early’: Passengers at European airports warned of travel disruption

Transport strikes of all types are a staple of summer in Italy, with protests often disrupting rail services and local public transit – usually on Fridays.

No further nationwide strikes have yet been announced for July. See The Local’s Italian travel news section for the latest news on any expected major disruption.

Heatwave and drought

Summer has only just officially begun in Italy, where the hot season is said to start from June 20th. But temperature-wise, this year it feels like we’ve been in the middle of summer for a lot longer already.

As July begins, one thing many Italian residents want to know is: will the weather change? As well as being profoundly uncomfortable, weeks of unusually high heat and humidity across the country have caused the worst drought for 70 years, as well as fuelling wildfires and electricity shortages

READ ALSO: Drought in Italy: What water use restrictions are in place and where?

The current heatwave is, at least, expected to break in the first days of July. But overall, it’s set to be a long, dry summer. All forecasts so far point to Italy potentially breaking heat records, set in 2003.

In the meantime, we’ve got some very easy ways to save water during the shortages, plus tips for keeping cool in the heat like an Ancient Roman.

Covid rule changes?

For the first time in a long time, Italy has almost no Covid restrictions in place and the rules are not expected to change in the coming weeks.

The remaining rules you’ll need to be aware of if visiting Italy are the continuing mask mandate on public transport (in place until at least the end of September) and the requirement for anyone who tests positive to isolate for at least one week.

Following public debate over whether the isolation rule should now the scrapped, Italy’s health minister has confirmed he has no intention of changing it anytime soon.

Mask rules have been eased in Italy except for on public transport – though they remain recommended in crowded places. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

€200 bonus payments

In July, the Italian state will begin paying out its one-off €200 ‘bonus’ – a benefit intended to offset the rising cost of living, intended for everyone with an annual income of under €35,000 gross.

But, while some details of the payment scheme remain unclear, some people will reportedly have to wait until September or October to receive their payment.

Here’s the official information so far about who will be eligible and how to claim.

Digital invoicing requirement for freelancers

Italy is bringing in new rules from July 1st that mean changes for freelancers who are on the ‘flat tax’ rate. While digital invoicing may sound like it should be more straightforward than paper, there are new regulations and online systems to get to grips with.

Find out what self-employed workers need to know about the new ‘fatturazione elettronica’ or digital invoicing system here.

Fuel price cap extended

As the cost of living continues to bite, Italy’s government has confirmed it will extend its fuel price reduction throughout July.

Motorists can expect the current 30-cent cut to the cost per litre for petrol, diesel, LPG and methane to continue until August 2nd.

Summer sales

By law, shops in Italy are allowed only two big sales a year – one in winter, one in summer – and the summer sale kicks off in early July.

The sales continue for several weeks, with the exact start and end dates varying depending on which Italian region you’re in. See this summer’s sale dates here.


Summer holidays

Schools broke up for summer weeks ago: Italy’s long school summer holidays began in June and go on until early or mid-September, depending on the region.

But adults usually don’t begin their somewhat shorter summer vacations until July, meaning this is the month many Italian families will go away.

With an estimated 90 percent of Italian holidaymakers planning to travel within their own country this year, plus the return of mass tourism from overseas, prepare to arrive early to find a spot for your towel on the beach this month.

There are no national bank holidays during July in Italy.

Festivals and events

Summer is full of events and, with Covid restrictions lifted, Italy is ready to host some of its largest festivals again. 

In July, people can look forward to the return of major events including the Palio di Siena, the first of which is held on July 2nd, and the Umbria Jazz festival from July 8-17th. There’s also the ongoing Verona Opera Festival and the Venice Art Biennale this month.

With numerous local fairs, cultural events and food-focused festivals held across the country, there will no doubt be something happening wherever you are in the country.