The Best Citizenship by Descent Passports From Your Ancestors

Having a second passport is an important step for anyone looking to plant flags, increase their freedom, and give themselves a “Plan B”. For many casual observers, the process of becoming a dual citizen is one reserved for the wealthy, but this is not true.

While there are a growing number of economic citizenships, these programs start in the mid-five figures and, practically speaking, the low six figures.

A cheaper alternative is to obtain a second residence permit in another country and wait years to be naturalized. This is a good option, but if you want a fast second passport, you will usually have to wait at least a few years.

However, for those lucky enough to have ancestors from a wide number of mostly (European) countries, getting a second passport can be as easy as filling out some forms and waiting. A number of countries offer what’s called “citizenship by descent”, a process which allows you to apply for citizenship based on having family born in that country.

In many countries, such citizenship by descent is limited to one generation: your parents. For example, you can only become British if at least one of your parents is British. The fact that your ancestors came over on the Mayflower won’t cut it.

However, some countries are willing to bestow citizenship to those with family trees that go as far as three or even four generations back, depending on the circumstances. Here are six of the best countries that offer citizenship by descent:

1. IRELAND

best citizenship by descent Ireland

Ireland makes it easy to get their passport – the only requirement is a confirmation that one of your grandparents was born there.

There are more than fourteen million Irish passports in circulation, despite Ireland’s population of barely four million people. Thanks to friendly government policies, getting an Irish passport by descent is a relatively straightforward process. If at least one of your grandparents was born in Ireland, you are entitled to Irish citizenship no matter where you or your parents were born. You must simply register yourself in the Foreign Birth Register and then apply. You can also ensure eligibility for your future children whose great-grandparent was born in Ireland by registering their birth in the Register when they are born.

While Ireland has had its problems, it’s a beautiful country with amazingly friendly people. You can live in Ireland up to 280 days per two years before becoming tax resident. You also have certain rights to live and work in EU or EEA member countries. You can learn more about obtaining Irish citizenship by descent here.

2. ITALY

best citizenship by descent italy

Though Italy is a great place to experience and spend some time, the situation in the country itself isn’t that great, but getting their passport might grant you some additional travel freedom.

Claiming your Italian citizenship is a relatively bureaucratic process, but eligibility is fairly broad. For the most part, you can claim Italian citizenship by descent if your grandparent was an Italian citizen and neither your parent (their child) nor you expressly gave up your rights to such citizenship. You can even make a claim based on a grandparent’s birth in Italy, provided no one along the line was naturalized elsewhere in a way to abandon their Italian citizenship. It can get a little tricky based on when you were born and even based on your sex, but a lot of foreigners are actually entitled to an Italian passport.

Whether Italy is a safe haven is a different story. Strikes there are frequent and the country is broke. Getting an Italian passport for sentimental reasons, or just as a back-up is one thing. Living there is another. It’s fine for now, but if the place turns into the next Greece, you might want to be careful moving too many of your eggs to Italy’s basket.

3. ISRAEL

best citizenship by descent israel

If you are Jewish, you will get Israeli passport relatively easily, but be warned, there are countries where you won’t able to enter because to them, Israel doesn’t exist.

While not exactly a citizenship by descent program based on nationality, Israel allows Jews and those who convert to Judaism to enter the country under the Law of Return. Once there, you can rather easily obtain Israeli citizenship. The Law of Return also allows for the spouse of a Jew or the child or grandchild of a Jew to return. The law was made to be broad in response to government oppression of Jews in other countries, such as Poland, where Jews often had non-Jew family members living with them.

Getting an Israeli passport does come with certain civic obligations. For one, all Israeli citizens are required to serve in the military, including women. Also, Israelis are not permitted to visit a number of countries: Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and Iran — even using a foreign passport — given that these countries don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. The UAE, Bahrain, Algeria, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Bangladesh also don’t allow Israelis to visit with their Israeli passport. If you’re a US citizen looking to reduce geopolitical risk, an Israeli passport likely won’t help you, but you can get one without fulfilling a residency requirement.

Learn more about Israeli second citizenship here.

4. POLAND

best citizenship by descent poland

Poland is an EU member, so Polish passport will allow you to move freely through Europe. When it comes to traveling to the US or Australia, you still require a visa.

Polish citizenship by descent laws can be downright confusing. The citizenship law requires uninterrupted lineage between you and one grandparent with Polish citizenship, which was only possible after 1918. If someone got naturalized and gave up their Polish passport along the way, it could likely mean the chain is broken and you may not be eligible. To make things more tricky, there are various Citizenship Acts that set different standards. The results are somewhat interesting, such as the fact that you may be eligible for citizenship but your sibling may not be.

However, Poland is a growing central European country. Poland’s currency was on a roll for a while, but has been battered by the emerging markets plunge. However, as a Polish citizen, you also enjoy the benefits of being a citizen in an EU member country with full freedom of movement, although Poles cannot visit the United States without a visa.

5. SPAIN

best citizenship by descent spain

There are ways to get Spanish citizenship by descent, or you can apply for a second residency program if you wish to buy a property there.

Spain’s Law of Historical Memory was passed in 2007 as a way to condemn the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing Franco dictatorship. Part of the law allowed for children and grandchildren of Spanish exiles to apply for Spanish citizenship, regardless of whether or not they or their parents were born in Spain. While the window for the Law of Historical Memory has closed, Spain offers other ways to become naturalized through a period of residence. If you have citizenship by birth in almost any South American country, you can apply after one year of residence. If you’re a Sephardic Jew, you can apply after two years of residence.

Spain also offers a second residency program for those who buy real estate in the European country. The property market has gotten so bad there that squatters now dominate apartment blocks in several cities. Nevertheless, if you’re not of Hispanic descent, or your ancestors weren’t expelled from the country, it’s a way to get residence — not citizenship — in highly unemployed Spain.

6. HUNGARY

best citizenship by descent hungary

Hungarians have an excellent passport, though obtaining it by descent will take some time and bureaucracy, not to mention that you have to speak Hungarian too.

Hungary has an interesting history in Europe, and from our perspective parts of it were less than pleasant seeing that the country used to impose taxation based on citizenship the same way the United States does now. While that practice no longer exists, we have some reservations about Hungarian citizenship and future challenges.

That said, Hungary is a full member of the European Union and its passport is one of the best in the world. Ethnic Hungarians can go through a complicated but doable process to claim ancestral citizenship as far back as their great grandparents, or three generations. You have to be able to supply proof from the Hungarian archives in Budapest that shows you are the descendant of an emigrant from the country. Once you can establish the chain (in the Hungarian language, of course), you may apply for a passport.

HOW TO GET CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT

While this article lists the best programs for citizenship by descent, there are other countries that offer citizenship based on your ancestry as well. Among these are Lithuania and other European countries.

A select number of Latin American countries also offer citizenship to grandchildren or great grandchildren of ancestors who were citizens there.

Here’s the catch: because of the cheap price, these governments aren’t tripping over themselves to move with any speed in most cases. While Ireland isn’t particularly challenging, most other citizenship by descent programs can take years and a lot of bureaucratic hoop jumping.

When citizenship in Cyprus is purchased for an investment of two million euros, the government moves quickly. If they didn’t, wealthy people would simply go elsewhere. On the flip side, the Italian embassy in your country has little incentive to shake a tail feather to help you reclaim your citizenship when you pay a $25 filing fee.

For example, a friend of mine has spent almost three years finalizing the process of Italian citizenship for himself and his children. While his great grandparents came from Italy, the process of tracking down the right documents, sending them to the right place, and waiting for appointments that are unclear caused a long delay in his process.

If your goal in obtaining ancestral citizenship is for fun, or to feel closer to your great aunt from County Donegal, then the slow and uncertain process of citizenship by descent may be for you.

However, if you are looking for a second passport as a means for internationalization, or to renounce your current citizenship, or for any other business or economic reason, I would urge you to consider the other ways to obtain citizenship. The time you waste jumping through hoops and being delayed might be more expensive in the end than just buying a passport or waiting through a short naturalization period in a country like Peru.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Jul 6, 2020 at 11:14AM

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28 Comments

  1. Samuel Chapman

    Poland itself may offer citizenship relatively easily but be aware that they don’t treat anyone with it as a dual-citizen. Once you have Polish citizenship, you’re a Polish citizen.
    The country remains relatively left leaning, anti business and part of the relative success has been investment from the EU and EURO2012 tournaments which ended last year.

  2. Ted

    You can get Italian citizenship even if your great-grandfather was an Italian citizen. As long as he was naturalized after the birth of your grandfather(I’m talking about US citizens since birth automatically entitles one to US citizenship) Italy recognizes anyone born to an Italian citizen abroad to be Italian regardless of whether their parent renounces citizenship later. Of course this only applies to the paternal side before 1949.

  3. jennifermavens

    No, it simply means that when you are in Poland, you are considered Polish, and you may not use your other citizenship there, nor seek consular assistance from your country while in Poland. Outside of Poland, you may use whichever citizenship you choose (unless your home country has similar restrictions there also).

    • Sivapriya

      Well, it’s like that for a lot of dual citizenships. Why would you need consular assistance while you are in one of your home countries?

  4. Janice

    My father was a Jewish Austrian citizen forced to flee in 1938. Is it possible for me to acquire dual citizenship based on ancestry? I’ve read that Austria doesn’t allow dual citizenship except in certain cases and wonder if this is one exception.

    • Scrupulous.Geographer

      It’s not certain. Austria paints itself as a victim of Hitler and everything but in fact it’s very right wing, and despite saying that it is willing to return stolen pieces of art to its rightful owners, in reality, it really doesn’t seem eager to do so, or to compensate victims of persecution/prosecution. It’s worth a try, though.

  5. Escamilla 89

    If I was born in Mexico and my great grandmother was born in santander, españa. How can I get the passport. Note my grandmother she stills live she is 82 years old. Can I just go to an embassy and ask for the passport? Of course with the birth certificate.

    • UnoAnt

      The window for us to do that has closed -__-

  6. Jay

    What if my great grandmother was an Italian citizen. Would I be eligible?

    • Andrew Henderson

      Possibly; it depends on the year she left and if the chain of citizenship was broken. Use our contact form to send us a message and we’ll see if we can help you.

    • Scrupulous.Geographer

      It is extremely likely, if not certain

    • Sivapriya

      Doubtful. It is through the paternal line if born prior to 1943 or something like that.

  7. PeacefulLife

    Slovakian is pure hell if you were born between 1949-1969. Due to Trianon, Hungary offers “simplified nat” — catch is you need SOME language ability. Grandparents born before 1920 in the FORMER Kingdom of Hungary (Slovakia, Romania, Serbia etc)
    I will try again in 3 weeks. I have had papers certified and now its just a language interview that will decide a yes or no.

    • myrablusilky

      Hi, I have my families actual immigration papers from Romania. The only thing is they are from the late 1800’s to early 1920’s (I’m not sure I have to check they are not on me). I’m not sure how many generations back that makes it. Does it help that I have original documentation?

      • PeacefulLife

        Of course it does. If at least one grandparent was born in the FORMER border of Hungary, google a map of Hungarian Austrian Empire before 1920, you can apply with simplified naturalization..

  8. Dr. Hoo

    I want to live in the UK or europe America sucks . Some european woman marry me so I can get a greencard or whatever you guys have, I work and I hate muslims.

  9. Jenna Grant

    Hello, hoping someone can point me in the right direction, my story is a little complicated. So I am after obtaining a eu passport, both my parents were born in Australia, but my mums stepdad was born in Hungary, now, he has been a part of our lives for over 40 years, I call him grandad, he also has a son to my grandmother, a half brother to my mum. A there a possibility I would be able to get an eu passport? Or where to begin!

    • vegan_markg

      Jenna, I don’t think so. I say this because I went in for my initial interview for Hungarian citizenship through the law of return. I had to show a connection to my grandparent. So, I produced his birth certificate, my mom’s birth certificate showing him as her father and my birth certificate showing my mother as my mother. I asked the consulate if they needed any marriage certificates or anything else and they told me no and that they were impressed that I had clearnly down my homework. So now I have an interview in Hungarian in a week or so but I’m told it’s very basic. And, all of my children will get a Hungarian passport after mine.

  10. iLaw

    A bit off topic on the countries mentioned above, does Argentina offer these kind of ancestry route? Like my paternal great grand father who’s a Argentinian citizen, by any slight possibility of a chance like myself to get hold of it? Well everyone knows beaucracy is always there & they wouldn’t just give citizenship to someone who haven’t set foot their. So yeah, any opinions?

    • vegan_markg

      It’s a bit different with Argentina. I just checked and they will only give you citizenship if one of your parents was born in Argentina.

  11. Ammar Salhab

    what if my mom
    is a citizenship of spain
    can i be a citizenship in spain ?since iam 23 old

  12. Michelle Rodoni

    Question: Great grandmother married Swiss citizen, naturalized in US. She herself was not naturalized until after the birth of my grandfather. Would I still be eligible for Dual Swiss citizenship?

  13. Santiago Xavier

    There is a little mistake in this section. Not all Southamericans can apply for Spanish citizenship after 1 year of legal residence in the country. First it’s not 1 but 2 years of residence as a requirement and is applied for citizens of some South American countries and others (those who were former Spanish colonies), plus Andorra, Portugal, Philippines or Sephardic Jews (very difficult to prove it), and Equatorial Guinea. But the processing time is one of the longest and tiresome in Europe, due to the horrific Spanish bureaucracy, besides the current goverment’s policy is restricting each day more and more the access to the citizenship (very hyprocitical policy). For the time being the Ministry of Justice has more than 200.000 applications in the state of waiting, or not even registered. The number of citizenship applications resolved in 2015, 2016, and 2017 are 0.

    • Luis Hernandez

      In addition, Puerto Ricans possessing a Certificate of Puerto Rican Certificate issued by Puerto Rico’s Department of State can apply for Spanish citizenship after 2 years of residency. Also, in 1917, the US Department of State forced U.S. citizenship on island residents via a campaign of misinformation using English-language signage. My grandfather who was a Spanish national never renounced his citizenship, thus me and my mother can qualify for Spanish citizenship by descent. The first female governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderon, singer Ricky Martin, and actor Benicio del Toro all have received Spanish nationality via descent.

      • Manuel Villalaz

        I just called the Spanish Consulate here in Miami and they told me the law that allowed grandchildren of Spanish Nationals to obtain Spanish Nationality is no longer active. It was a law that ran from 2008-2011. My grandfather was born in Spain, my father has Spanish Nationality through him but i think i may be stuck without Spanish Nationality.

      • The Thinker

        Nobody forced American citizenship on Puerto Ricans, cabrón. It was lobbied for by Puerto Rican politicians like then-Resident Commossioner Luis Muñoz Rivera and Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa (the latter founded the Republican Party of Puerto Rico and was the founder of the statehood movement in Puerto Rico). And when the Jones-Shafroth Act became law in 1917, the vast majority of the then population of 1.1 million in Puerto Rico gladly accepted American citizenship.

  14. cosmia

    If my great-grandparents were Hungarian citizens, could I claim citizenship through descent
    ? My grandfather is full-blooded Hungarian but was born in the US.

  15. Sivapriya

    If you are eligible as British by descent, one just simply applies for a passport. If you are abroad, it takes up to 6 weeks. Not too shabby! That’s what I’m in the process of doing now.

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