Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

Founder of Nomad Capitalist and the world’s most sought-after expert on global citizenship.

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Second Passport

How to Obtain German Citizenship By Descent

The economic powerhouse of Europe and, indeed, the world, Germany, and its people have been through a lot – historically speaking. 

Wars, dictatorships, genocides… There has been so much turmoil in the country over the last century, and it comes as no surprise to us that Germany has a citizenship by descent program.

Why?

This program allows many of the descendants of the Germans who left the country under no good circumstances to have a chance to become European citizens. 

It’s relatively quick, and it’s definitely many times cheaper than obtaining European citizenship by investment

Do you have German ancestry that you think could make you eligible to apply for German citizenship? You might be right. German Americans are the largest of the self-reported ancestry groups in the United States

With over 44 million people who have full or partial German ancestry, you too could claim this European passport that is the third-best travel document in the world, opening doors and opportunities that you never knew existed. 

By having a second citizenship, you can enrich not just your personal life but also your wealth management options too. 

But first, you’ll need to work through your family tree, determine if you’re eligible to apply, take care of the extensive paperwork, and play the waiting game. 

We won’t lie – the citizenship by descent process gets tricky at times. 

From our experience in guiding clients through getting citizenship by ancestry in multiple European countries, we recommend consulting a professional to save you all the headaches and a lot of time. 

That’s why we’ve established our new, all-inclusive service where we’ll do all of the work for you. We’ll take care of everything from eligibility checks to the application process so that you can enjoy your German passport as soon as possible. 

What Is Citizenship by Descent?

Are you familiar with the notion that you should know where you come from in order to know where you’re going?

If you’ve ever thought that you should dig around your family’s past and find out exactly where your ancestors come from, you could also be inadvertently doing the foundational work for claiming citizenship by descent.

This type of citizenship is granted to the direct descendants of a country’s national who has since moved to a different country or isn’t even alive anymore.

For example, let’s imagine you had a German great-grandfather who arrived in the United States, then had your grandfather, who later had your father. 

All three generations that came before you could be German citizens, as would you. 

Citizenship by descent helps one reclaim citizenship that’s rightfully theirs but, due to various circumstances, has been lost throughout the years. 

Various countries around the world allow people to claim citizenship this way, but most of them are located in Europe. 

German Citizenship by Ancestry

Germany is one of the countries that offer the members of its diaspora the opportunity to get their citizenship by way of ancestry. 

The program is not as well-known as the programs in Italy or Ireland, but it still attracts a fair few applicants every year. 

Germany allows people to apply on the basis of their parent(s), grandparent(s), or great-grandparent’s ancestry. 

Demonstrating your connection to your parents should be easy for most. But things can get tricky when it comes to grandparents and especially great-grandparents.

Claim German Citizenship by Descent

How do you determine that your ancestors were German citizens? How can you uncover the paper trail that connects you to the country of Germany?

It’s not always easy, but it is the most important part of the entire citizenship by descent process. 

That’s exactly why you should spend the most time establishing your eligibility to avoid disappointment a few years down the line.

Eligibility 

Did you know you could be eligible for acquiring German citizenship even if you’ve never visited the country and do not speak the German language at all?

Citizenship by descent makes it possible, continuing citizenship eligibility by passing it down through the bloodline.

As we already mentioned, you could be eligible if your parent(s), grandparent(s), or great-grandparent(s) are/were German citizens. 

However, it is not always automatic that citizenship gets passed down. That’s where eligibility requirements come in. 

In essence, you can reclaim your German citizenship by descent if: 

  • Your ancestors had their citizenship taken away under the Nazi rule on political, racial, or religious grounds in 1938 (more on this in the section below)
  • Your ancestors were born in German territory before 1914, have held German passports in the past, or were employed by the German government before 1949
  • You were born before 1975 as the legitimate child of a German citizen father
  • You were born after 1975 as the legitimate child of a German parent whether a German father or German mother
  • You were born after June 1993 as an ‘out of wedlock’ (illegitimate) child of a German citizen father and paternity was proven before you turned 23

The laws of German citizenship are strict, so if your scenario isn’t one that’s set out above, it’s highly unlikely that you’re eligible to apply. For example, children born to former German citizens are not granted German citizenship by the German nationality law.

Amendments to the German Nationality Act 

Starting August 2021, children born after May 23, 1949, to a German parent but were excluded from German citizenship due to gender-discriminatory rules can now claim German citizenship. The new rules will be in force for ten years. These amendments will be of benefit to you if:

  • Your German mother married your foreign father before you were born and had to give up her German nationality – so she couldn’t pass it to you.
  • Your German mother married your foreign father after you were born, so you and your mother lost your German citizenship.
  • You were born to unmarried parents, but your father was German, and your mother was foreign, so you were exempt from German nationality.

If you are the child or grandchild of someone listed above, you may also be eligible for German citizenship by descent.


Can you lose your German citizenship?


You automatically lose German Citizenship:

• If you have obtained foreign citizenship, your German citizenship is automatically lost.
• German women who married foreign nationals before May 23, 1949. have lost their citizenship even if they became stateless. They can be re-naturalized if certain conditions are met.
• If you got adopted by a non-German and you’re not legally related to your German parents, you lost your German citizenship.
• If a German citizen had their permanent residence abroad more than ten years before 1914, they automatically lost their German citizenship unless they registered themselves in Konsulatsmatrikel or continued to apply for passports. 

  • German women who married a foreign citizen between May 23, 1949, and May 23, 1953 lost their German citizenship if they did not have another citizenship.
    •  After April 1st, 1953, German women marrying foreign citizens was no longer a reason for losing German citizenship.

The Restoration of the German Citizenship Program

Berlin Holocaust Memorial
The Berlin Holocaust Memorial represents a supposedly orderly system that has lost touch with human reason.

Let’s talk about the first scenario in more detail. 

Germany has set up a special program for people to re-obtain/ acquire German citizenship if it was lost due to persecution on political, racial, or religious grounds between May 8, 1945, and January 30, 1993.

This special provision mostly includes Jews but can apply to many other people too. For example, those who lost their German citizenship because they were from the political parties that opposed the Nazi government (e.g., Communist or Social Democratic parties) can also qualify. 

Not only are the people who directly lost their citizenship eligible to apply but also their descendants. 

To determine if you might be eligible, you should be able to answer the following question positively: 

Had your ancestor in question not been deprived of his/her German citizenship, would you – a direct descendant – have acquired citizenship by birth according to the applicable German citizenship law?

Keep in mind that this only applies to cases where one was persecuted based on political, racial, or religious grounds, and had to flee the country. 

Applying for citizenship by descent under the Restoration of German Citizenship program follows the same application process as do the other routes of citizenship by descent in Germany.

The Application Process 

Luckily, Germany’s citizenship by descent process is one of the most straight-forward ones out there

There’s no comparing it to Poland or Italy’s bureaucratic programs. 

Perhaps it’s a stereotypical way of looking at things, but Germany does its best in processing applications for citizenship by descent. 

Known worldwide as a country of punctuality and order, it also does a great job of keeping you informed as to what’s happening at all times. 

That said, even though the country has clearly set criteria for its citizenship applications and you won’t get bureaucrats coming back to you and asking for more paperwork, the process is still lengthy.

Since you’ll only need to pay €25 to apply, the government obviously won’t bend over backward or hire more people to process these applications. It can take as long as two or even three years to hear back about your citizenship status in Germany. 

We couldn’t stress the importance of making sure you’re eligible to apply, but if you’re absolutely sure and have connected all of the historical dots, you’re now ready to lodge the actual citizenship application.

You can do so at your nearest German embassy or German consulate, as well as in the country itself. 

Acquire German Citizenship with These Documents

The documents that are needed for the certificate of citizenship are:

  • Your birth certificate
  • The birth certificate of the relevant ancestor
  • A pedigree chart – a recorded ancestry or lineage of your family
  • The marriage certificate of the applicant (you), if applicable
  • The marriage certificate of the relevant ancestor
  • Family books, a form of German record that’s a booklet which denotes the relationships within a family
  • Foreign personal documents (passport, identity card, alien card)
  • Applicant’s residence permit in the country of residenc, if applicable
  • Documents concerning the non-acquisition of another foreign nationality, if applicable
  • Proof of the acquisition/possession of other nationalities, if applicable
  • Name change documents, if applicable
  • Vollmacht, which is a form filled out to give another person a Power of Attorney to complete the application process on your behalf if you choose to do so remotely

You will also need to complete an Appendix V form for every generation of your family until you get to a relative who:

  • Possesses/possessed a certificate of nationality issued by a German authority
  • Was born in Germany before 1914 or was a German citizen who emigrated from Germany before that date
  • Acquired German nationality by any other way than descent (e.g., marriage or adoption)

The Pros and Cons of German Citizenship 

The Pros and Cons of German Citizenship
One of the biggest drawbacks of German citizenship is that they generally do not allow dual citizenship.

Every citizenship in the world has its pros and its cons, and German citizenship is no different. Before you make any such move – for instance, obtaining an additional citizenship or moving abroad to reside in a foreign country – you should weigh up both sides. 

So, here are a few things you should consider when it comes to German citizenship by descent. 

Benefits 

There are numerous benefits to having German citizenship, way too many to list here. 

However, it all boils down to the power of the German passport – it’s currently ranked as the 14th most powerful passport in the world (2022). 

Not only does it pack a punch when it comes to visa-free travel but it also gives you free access to all of the European Union and everything that it has to offer.

Want your children to study art in France? They’ll be able to, pretty much for free. 

Want to have a holiday villa in Corsica to spend your summers in? You got it. 

Your time in the European Union will be unlimited, and you’ll be free to not just reside but also legally work anywhere in the region too. 

That’s why it’s also a great Plan B

Germany is a huge economy that’s stable and could offer you a great place to live if you ever wanted to, or if it ever came to that. Top-notch healthcare, education, and industry are some of the most valued things about Germany. 

German’s are stereotyped as people who love punctuality, order, and stability. Sound like your cup of tea? Then your ancestral homeland might be just for you.

Drawbacks

With all the free public services come… the taxes, of course. 

Germany’s tax environment is quite unfavorable to the high-net-worth Nomad Capitalist, but as always, there are multiple legal ways around it. 

If you just claim your citizenship in Germany and do not become its tax resident, you won’t be liable to pay any tax.

That’s because Germany, unlike the United States, uses the tax-friendly system of territorial taxation.

However, if you ever decide to move to Germany for the long term, be prepared for personal income tax going all the way up to 45% and corporate tax rates of 20.5%, plus many other miscellaneous taxes and levies. 

And then there is the case of dual citizenship. Germany isn’t the most liberal of places when it comes to its citizens holding additional citizenships.

Only in certain cases does the German law allow people to hold more than one citizenship. 

Specifically, children born to a German and a non-German parent will acquire the nationalities of both parents at the time of birth. 

In other cases, Germans can apply to be considered for dual nationality, which would technically allow them to acquire some other citizenship but retain their German one too. 

However, this is more of an exception than a rule, so don’t count on it when it comes to building your global passport portfolio if you’re an aspiring or an existing Nomad Capitalist. 

To sum it up, if you voluntarily apply for and accept some other nationality – for example, by way of citizenship by investment – you will lose German citizenship automatically. 

Is German Citizenship by Descent Worth It? 

Whenever a ‘free’ citizenship is on the table, we will generally advise our clients to take it. However, that’s not before we weigh up the impact that this additional citizenship would have on their lifestyle and wealth management choices. 

Luckily, Germany is a pretty great country to have ancestry in and from which to obtain citizenship by descent. Although the process can take a few years, it’s pretty inclusive and straightforward too.

A German passport will be worth your while if you’ve always dreamt of having a European citizenship but have never had the means of getting one by investment. 

For example, if you do business in Europe and would love to spend more than the 90 days you’re currently allowed to spend in the Schengen zone at a time, then a German passport would be extremely beneficial to you. 

That said, you will most likely need to renounce all of your other citizenships if you want to get a German passport and take advantage of all its benefits. In certain cases, German nationality law allows its citizens-to-be to have or acquire additional citizenships. For example, children born to a German and non-German parent or parents with dual nationality are required to acquire the nationalities of both parents at birth, according to the principle of descent.

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