Dateline: Vilnius, Lithuania
In just ten days in Lithuania, I’ve learned a few things. For one, the younger generation of Lithuanians love pizza. In a city where restaurants can be tough to find outside of Old Town, it’s hard to walk far without seeing a new pizza restaurant.
On top of that, Vilnius’ wide array of cafes features every sort of coffee imaginable, but no hot chocolate, and often few teas.
More importantly, I’ve been working with a few attorneys on the ground here in Vilnius to get to the bottom of Lithuania’s citizenship law so I can explain to you how to obtain a second citizenship in Lithuania through ancestry.
Lithuanian citizenship isn’t one that many people are talking about. Irish and Italian citizenship by descent programs are frequently bandied about on the internet by all of the second passport gurus.
However, Lithuania offers a citizenship by descent program that is just as liberal, if not more so, than the more commonly discussed European second passport programs.
Citizenship by descent in Lithuania
If you’re not familiar with citizenship by descent programs, it’s pretty straightforward. Basically, certain countries — largely in Europe — offer the ability to claim citizenship there if you can prove you have ancestors who left that country. Usually, you’re allowed to go back two or even three generations in the family tree.
In the case of Lithuania, you are typically allowed to go back three generations. That means that if you have a great-grandparent who held Lithuanian citizenship, you should be able to qualify to become Lithuanian yourself.
It’s merely a matter of proving the family connection. You’ll need a copy of your own birth certificate, as well as birth certificates all the way up the family tree until you reach the ancestor with Lithuanian ties.
You have to prove that you are related to each person in the chain (parent, grandparent, etc.), which includes getting each and every birth certificate — and, in some cases, marriage licenses — notarized in the country or state (in the US) where the document was issued.
If you don’t have all of the records proving your ties to your Lithuanian ancestor, it is likely you can obtain them through the archives in Vilnius by using a local attorney to help you.
The catch to obtaining second citizenship in Lithuania
Lithuania’s proximity to both Germany and the former Soviet Union creates some interesting angles in the Lithuanian Law on Citizenship.
For example, if your Lithuanian ancestors left the country prior to Soviet Occupation in 1940, you will need to prove that they left for political reasons, such as escaping persecution. This requirement doesn’t apply for those with family that left during the occupation of Lithuania, because the government realizes that leaving was a reasonable thing to do.
If your ancestors left prior to occupation, you may still be able to qualify for citizenship, but you will not be able to maintain dual citizenship.
While Lithuania is considering making some exceptions to this policy, you will typically need to renounce your previous citizenship.
Indeed, the Lithuanian government has gone back and forth on whether to allow dual nationality in recent years. They have also wavered on whether to allow ancestral citizenship cases at all. If your ancestors left due to political reasons, however, it is much easier to make a case that you should be allowed to maintain dual nationality.
After all, if occupation would not have occurred, your family probably never would have left and you could have been born in Lithuania.
The process for reclaiming your citizenship is relatively straightforward, as long as you understand the potential caveat with keeping your existing citizenship. Overall, the process usually takes a total of a year and a half to complete.
While I did believe it’s possible that Lithuania could possibly have changed its law on ancestral citizenship again, this has yet to occur in the three years since I originally wrote this article.
As of now, Lithuania remains a rather tricky place to obtain citizenship and maintain dual citizenship.
There is a question as to whether the law prohibiting certain people with Lithuanian blood from (easily) claiming their citizenship is constitutional, and one expert here told me he suspects things may get easier still, but there are no immediate signs of that happening.