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Global Citizen

How to Get Italian Citizenship by Descent

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Based on the latest census data of the United States, around 15.9 million people in America identify as being of Italian descent. 

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

But did you know that your Italian heritage could qualify you for Italian citizenship by descent and a passport? 

The Italian citizenship by descent program is one of the best-known ones and is pretty liberal. 

While other countries will limit the number of generations that you can go back to claim your 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.

With Italy allowing dual citizenship, what’s holding you back from claiming your European passport? Enjoy the advantages of second citizenship, including greater freedom to travel and do business and the benefit of lower taxes. 

Become a Nomad Capitalist client, and our team will help you get the right passport for you, whether through heritage, marriage, residency, or investment. We’ve helped our clients obtain citizenship in 28 different countries. 

Nine Citizenships by Descent That Go Way Back

What’s Italian 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.

The difference generally 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 Italian citizenship by descent requires an entirely different approach.

Essentially, you can become a citizen if you 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 backward, 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 offers and how you can go through the process.

Qualifying Is Key

You can qualify for Italian citizenship if you can prove your Italian ancestry.

With the Italian citizenship by descent program, the biggest issue when pursuing it is the time it takes to determine whether you qualify.

The laws and 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 must have been alive on March 17th, 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, acquiring Italian citizenship for them became impossible. 

Italian Citizenship – The Application Process

Have you determined that you might be eligible to apply for Italian citizenship? 

In this section, we’ll take a look at all of the paperwork that needs to be put together and the application process, which can take at least three 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. 

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 Italian Citizenship Worth It? 

Whether you want Italian citizenship to become an essential part of your personal and financial life or so you can spend some time in Italy or the European Union further down the line – citizenship by descent is perfect for reaching both of those goals. 

If you qualify, getting Italian citizenship by descent is easy and 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’s citizenship by descent program is really the only one that doesn’t involve such a dragged-out and unclear process (it’s actually relatively easy, and getting citizenship in Ireland is worth doing for anyone who qualifies based on their ancestry). 

Of course, applying for citizenship by descent 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 pursuing citizenship by descent because you intend to renounce US citizenship, then time may be of the essence. There are easier ways to get that second residency than opting for citizenship by descent in places like Italy.

Your time is valuable; we can help you keep more of it. 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. 

At Nomad Capitalist, we act as architects and general contractors, creating holistic offshore plans. We have helped clients reach their freedom goals and obtain residence permits in over 38 countries. Apply to become a client, and we will help you “go where you’re treated best,” whether via permanent residence, citizenship by descent, or citizenship by investment.


How valuable is the Italian passport?

Italian citizenship is one of the most highly sought-after in the world. Ranking 16 on the Nomad Passport Index, the Italian passport gives you visa-free access to around 190 countries. 

An Italian passport also offers you the advantage of access to the European Union and Schengen Area, as well as the option to hold dual citizenship. 

How to get Italian citizenship?

There are a few routes you can take to obtain Italian citizenship, including:
citizenship by descent
citizenship by investment 
naturalization via residency

If you obtain permanent residence in Italy, you can then apply for Italian citizenship after ten years. Contact us today to explore the avenues that fit best for you. 


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