How to Get Italian Citizenship by Descent

Written by Andrew Henderson
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Last updated: September 21, 2020
Dateline: Doha, Qatar

Based on the latest census data of the United States, there are at least 17.8 million people in America who self-identify as being of Italian descent. 

Chances are you are too or have at least one ancestor that was Italian. 

But did you know that this Italian ancestor could qualify you for an Italian passport? 

Italy’s citizenship by descent program is one of the best-known ones and a pretty liberal one too. 

While other countries will limit the number of generations that you can go back to claim your Italian citizenship, Italy lets you go back at least three generations and more, if you’re able to establish a paper trail that connects you to that ancestor.

And, with Italy allowing dual citizenship, what’s holding you back from claiming this passport that might be on the table for you? 

Worried about the repercussions? Don’t want to go through the process alone? Both are reasonable concerns that we can help alleviate. 

We recently established a premium service, helping Nomad Capitalists everywhere obtain citizenship by descent. 

We’ll do the hard work for you, so all you have to do then is enjoy your second passport. 

What’s Citizenship by Descent?

As you know, having a second passport is an essential step towards truly internationalizing your life. 

Whether your reasons for getting that second passport are economic or otherwise, the process can either be as simple as filling in some forms, or it can be an arduous, grueling duel with bureaucracy.

In general, the difference depends on the country where you are applying for citizenship and how you qualify. 

As opposed to getting a passport through residency or an economic citizenship program, qualifying for citizenship by descent requires an entirely different approach.

Essentially, you can become a citizen if you can prove you have ancestors from that country. How far back you can go – e.g. grandparents, great-grandparents, or even further – depends on the country.

Lots of different countries, particularly in Europe, offer these programs, which are a great way to obtain a European passport. 

The biggest downfall, however? The time it takes to process these citizenship applications.

As you can imagine, the bureaucratic apparatus of a country isn’t going to bend over backwards, looking over your application and making sure you haven’t forged your documents for a measly $100 application fee, if that.

So, with its benefits and downfalls, let’s take a look at what the Italian citizenship by descent program exactly offers and how you can go through the process if you so wish. 

QUALIFYING IS KEY

best citizenship by descent italy

If you can prove your Italian ancestry, you may qualify for Italian citizenship.

With citizenship by descent programs, the big gamble with pursuing it is the time it takes for you to determine whether or not you actually qualify.

The laws, and their exceptions, can be all over the place, making it impossible to discern.

Luckily, we have some great professionals that we work with and have collected all of the important eligibility criteria.

First, your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents can qualify you for Italian citizenship, but you can even go back further than the three generations if you have the necessary paperwork. 

In fact, the oldest Italian ancestor from whom Italian citizenship by descent can be proven to be derived from must have been alive on 17th March, 1861.

The ancestor that may qualify you for citizenship had to be born in Italy and be an Italian citizen at the time of the applicant’s birth.

In other words, if the ancestor renounced her/his Italian citizenship prior to your birth, you won’t be eligible to apply through them. 

If you’re applying via a parent, there are also eligibility requirements for yourself.

Were you born before August 16th, 1992? Lucky you – you’ll be able to apply, but only if your Italian parent didn’t naturalize to another citizenship before your birth. 

And now, let’s get historical. How do you know which of your ancestors were Italian?

Well, citizenship normally passes from Italian parents to their children. 

However, if your family member was naturalized before June 14th, 1912, he/she wouldn’t have been able to transfer their citizenship to children who were born before they naturalized. 

Also, the transferral of citizenship via the mother wasn’t automatic for people who were born before January 1st, 1948. 

Finally, people born between April 27th, 1965, and May 17th, 1967, had a window of opportunity to get Italian citizenship by descent for a period of 1 year starting on their 18th birthday.

If they didn’t claim it, the acquisition of Italian citizenship for them became impossible. 

The Application Process

Have you determined that you might be eligible to apply? Or have you skipped the previous section with the hopes of someone figuring it all out for you?

Well, this section won’t get any easier as we’ll talk about all of the paperwork that needs to be put together and the application process that can take at least 3 years (but usually longer). 

In total, there are 10 documents that need to be presented to the Italian government, all apostilled and translated into Italian of course. 

N.B. You can skip the translation part of some of the documents if you apply at an Italian consulate in the United States. 

  1. A copy of your passport and ID/driver’s license
  2. Proof of residency 
  3. An application form 
  4. Birth certificate of the Italian ascendant born in Italy (issued by comune in Italy)
  5. Birth certificate of the applicant and every relevant ancestor
  6. Marriage certificates
  7. Death certificates 
  8. Divorce judgments, if applicable
  9. Copy of the Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization issued by the National Archive 
  10. Naturalization certificate, if your ancestor was naturalized in the US

 If your ancestor never naturalized, you’ll need to present two additional documents: 

  1. Original certificate of the nonexistence of records issued by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services 
  2. Copy of the census first available immediately after the birth in the US of the direct descent

Now, that’s enough paperwork to make anyone’s head spin!

Once the records have been found and the forms have been filled, you’ll need to set up an appointment at your nearest Italian Consulate. 

That’s the much slower and dragged-out process; you can wait for a year to get an appointment. 

But we’re not surprised. If a country like Italy doesn’t do such a great job of running its own internal affairs, then how good are they going to be at running things at a consulate in another country?

If you want to expedite it somewhat and be able to legally live in Italy while your citizenship by descent application is getting processed, you should travel to Italy.

That’s because requesting citizenship at an Italian town hall is a much faster option, not to mention you can remain in Italy thereafter and have residence status.

Is the Italian passport worth it? 

No matter if you want the Italian citizenship to become an imperative part of your personal and financial life, or if you just want to get citizenship so you can spend some time in Italy or the European Union further down the line – citizenship by descent is perfect to reach both of those goals. 

If you qualify, getting citizenship by descent is easy and it’s cheap. 

And luckily, Italy allows dual citizenship, so you wouldn’t have to renounce your current citizenship(s) if you claim your Italian one. You can have your cake, and eat it too. 

The one major downfall that we see with Italian citizenship by descent is the long wait and the bureaucratic maze that you have to go through.

Ireland is really the only country that doesn’t involve such a dragged out and unclear process (it’s actually quite easy and getting citizenship in Ireland is worth doing for anyone who qualifies based on their ancestry). 

Of course, it also depends on your personal motivation. 

If you simply want to reconnect with Uncle Giuseppe’s side of the family, then the length of the process might not really matter to you. 

If, however, you are doing it because you intend on renouncing US citizenship then time may be of the essence. Rest assured there are easier ways to do get that second residency than by opting for citizenship by descent in places like Italy.

All things considered, we’d recommend hiring someone to do the work for you when it comes to Italian citizenship as it’s far quicker and easier. 

After all, your time is valuable and we can help you keep more of it to your personal and business endeavors. 

Here at Nomad Capitalist, we recently started offering a service that helps people claim their Italian citizenship by descent. 

We help you confirm eligibility, collect documents (from your country and from Italy), deal with the bureaucracy, and file for citizenship alongside our trusted lawyers and agents on the ground. 

You can learn more about our premium citizenship by descent service here.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Sep 21, 2020 at 10:02PM

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6 Comments

  1. lizfirefly

    I went through this process the article describes that the lawyer did (or didn’t do efficiently or adequately) for the individual in the article. The Italian consulate in NYC (where I live) won’t give me an appointment until may 2019. An unreasonable amount of time to wait. Especially when the laws of their requirements changed and are NOT on their website (I found out from speaking to them about this on the phone) , AND the website clearly states it will probably ‘take up to a year’ to get an appointment … NOT close to three years. I’d like to try getting this directly IN Italy. Do you have any insight, or advice on how to go about doing it this way as an American? I found the documents stating I am eligible through one of my ancestors and I’d like to expedite this and not wait til 5/2019, as it sounds very likely that I will encounter obstacles even if I follow the instructions to a “t”… seems they like to change the rules and not tell anyone about it ….
    I’d really appreciate any input. Googling this (obtaining it IN Italy), is not proving useful. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. MrT

    Just wanted to let you know that I was approved for Italian citizenship by descent through the Houston consulate. It took me 6 months total from the time of learning I was eligible to the appointment where my application was approved. Total cost was approximately $2000. I did everything myself, no lawyers involved. It really depends on your consulate jurisdiction and how easily you can get the required documentation. There is no limit to how far back you can go in your ancestry if you have all the vital records.

    Reply
    • Frances T Davis

      How did you get an appointment?

      Reply
    • flavio dolce

      Hi.
      Do you have to be a Houston resident to apply ? I am fromNY.
      thank you

      Reply

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