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Global Citizen

How to Get UK Citizenship: The Ultimate Guide

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Last Update: June 18, 2021.

Dateline: Mexico City, Mexico

If you’re looking for a high-value passport without some of the baggage that comes with US citizenship, look no further than the United Kingdom (UK).

UK citizenship is an attractive prospect for many people and is one of the world’s most powerful passports. 

And, up until now, the UK has had a residential tax system, which allows citizens to leave the country and its tax system without giving up their passports. 

Plus, even in the wake of Brexit, the UK economy remains strong.

But if you’ve been considering getting British citizenship, you will want to understand all the new post-Brexit rules — especially if you’re a citizen of the European Union. 

The previous process wasn’t exactly easy to begin with. While the path to getting UK citizenship is relatively straightforward, it requires quite a bit of time, money, and willingness to deal with bureaucracy. 

In this article, you’ll learn: 

  1. The benefits of UK citizenship
  2. The general requirements for UK citizenship
  3. How to get UK citizenship
  4. How to get UK residency

Though, this article does assume that you’re familiar with Brexit. If not, you can read a quick summary below.

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First things First: A Note on Brexit

First things First A Note on Brexit
If you’re looking to get UK citizenship, be sure you understand all the new rules post-Brexit.

Before I dive into how you can obtain a UK citizenship, it is important to understand the historical trajectory of why citizenship rules have recently changed in the UK. That reason is otherwise known as “Brexit,” which is the long-awaited outcome of UK citizens voting to leave the European Union in 2016.

Brexit has been a highly controversial issue in the UK since it first appeared on the ballot, and this controversy intensified as UK and EU officials debated specifics of the Brexit agreement. The pro-Brexit camp wanted a hard break with the EU, whereas parties opposed to Brexit wished to remain as close to the EU as possible.

For the past two years, UK and EU officials have intensely negotiated the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU, with the UK officially breaking from the EU on January 31, 2020. However, several deals remained in place until December 31, 2020 so that the two parties had enough time to negotiate new deals.

But this transition period ended on January 1, 2021 and the UK and EU have many new rules for how they will engage with each other.

Unfortunately, this also includes the freedom to live and work between the UK and EU.

Although Brexit will bring changes to UK immigration laws, it won’t reduce the value of UK citizenship. Unless, of course, you wanted British citizenship for the sake of getting EU citizenship, I wouldn’t automatically write it off due to Brexit.

Even many of the gloom and doom predictions about the post-Brexit British economy have not come to fruition. 

In fact, the UK’s economy is predicted to become even stronger. And the UK passport will likely remain one of the strongest in the world. 

The Benefits of UK Citizenship

Now that you’re caught up on the politics of Brexit, let’s explore the benefits that remain for UK citizenship.

While a UK passport may no longer be an automatic ticket into the EU, there are still plenty of great reasons to become a citizen of the UK. 

Plus, UK citizenship does allow for visa-free travel to the US, in case that’s on your bucket list.

Living in the UK

Even though the UK has undergone several changes since its decision to leave the EU, some of the same draws still exist in the post-Brexit space. For example, quality of life, education, and an outstanding healthcare system – which is usually free for those that are settled in the UK – can be attractive to many people. 

Additionally, the UK is host to some of the best cities in the world, such as London, and several The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultutal Organization (UNESCO) world heritage sites.

It’s fair to say that you will not get bored there.

Business Freedom

With political instability and declining economic freedom in the United States, investors and entrepreneurs have turned to countries like the UK. Especially those who are looking for English-speaking markets that have more freedom and stability.

But if that isn’t enough of an incentive, the 2021 Index of Economic Freedom ranks the UK economy as the 7th-freest economy in the world and the 3rd-freest economy in Europe. 

Over the past decade, the UK economy has proven to be resilient in the wake of the global financial crisis. And there is even greater economic freedom predicted post-Brexit.

General Requirements for British Citizenship

General Requirements for British Citizenship
While there are several ways to get get UK citizenship, there are general requirements that always apply.

Like most English-speaking countries, the UK makes it fairly difficult to become a citizen through naturalization.

And since 2021, the UK has moved to a points-based immigration system. This means that the UK will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally in regard to immigration.

Unfortunately, this also means that free movement with the EU ended in 2020 and there are new arrangements for EU citizens.

Although you can get British citizenship through other methods, such as by descent, this article will primarily focus on naturalization since it’s the most common way to get UK citizenship.

Though be forewarned, becoming eligible for UK citizenship by naturalization takes time and money. In fact, the UK has the highest citizenship fees in the world at £1330, or more than $1,600, per adult application. For comparison, the US has the second-highest fees at $725.

In addition to this fee, you must also meet five basic requirements to qualify for naturalization:

  1. Be over the age of 18;
  2. Establish “good character”;
  3. Currently reside in the UK;
  4. Meet specified English language requirements; and
  5. Pass the “Life in the UK” test.

The first requirement is fairly self-explanatory, but let’s look at the others more in-depth.

Establishing Good Character

To become a British citizen, the UK immigration office must determine that you’re a person of “good character.p”

At first, this requirement seems rather simple. Obviously, the UK doesn’t want to be giving out passports to known terrorists or transnational criminals, but if you want to get UK citizenship, you should be aware of certain issues that could cause your “good character” to be called into question.

Breaches of immigration laws are the most common way in which potential UK citizens may render themselves ineligible for British citizenship. For the most part, officials primarily focus on issues of “unlawful residence,” which include infractions such as visa overstays. Other breaches, such as working unlawfully, are also taken into consideration.

Immigration officials do have some discretion in determining whether these breaches constitute poor character. For the most part, if the breach was short and unintentional or due to circumstances out of your control, UK immigration authorities will probably not consider it on your citizenship application.

However, if immigration officials find that you deliberately and seriously violated UK immigration laws or are a frequent offender, then you may not meet the threshold for good character. Therefore, anyone planning to apply for UK citizenship should be mindful of their immigration status prior to obtaining an indefinite leave to remain.

Additionally, committing serious crimes or having unpaid taxes or debt in the UK may also render you ineligible for UK citizenship under the good character requirement. While a parking ticket or two likely won’t affect your chances, repeatedly failing to pay them might add up.

Currently Residing in the UK

To be eligible to apply for UK citizenship, you must also currently reside in the UK.

Obviously, you must live in the UK to be able to apply for citizenship, but this requirement goes beyond just traveling to the UK and renting an apartment. 

In most circumstances, you must have established permanent residency by living in the UK for five years (or three if you’re married to a British citizen). Then, you will need to have lived in the UK for a year after that to apply for citizenship with a permanent residence status.

However, starting in January 2021, you can no longer apply for a permanent residence document. This means that you will only be able to apply for citizenship with permanent residence status if you already have this document and you don’t have “settled status” under the EU Settlement Scheme.

But not to worry, we’ll discuss other ways to obtain citizenship in the ‘How to Get UK Citizenship’ section, including “Indefinite Leave to Remain” status.

The UK also requires that all applicants spend the majority of their time in the UK. To be eligible for British citizenship, you must have spent no more than 450 days outside of the UK in the past 5 years, and you must have not spent more than 90 days outside of the country in the past year.

Meeting English Language Requirements

To obtain UK citizenship, you must also demonstrate that you have sufficient knowledge of the English language. In general, sufficient knowledge means that you can read, write, and speak the English language.

If you’re already a citizen of an English-speaking country, such as the US and Australia, then this requirement is essentially waived. As long as you can prove your nationality, then you will not need to meet any testing requirements. 

You can also waive this requirement if you have obtained a degree from an English-speaking educational institution or if you take English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses at accredited institutions. If you’re under 18 or over 65 years old or you have a mental or physical condition that prevents you from passing the test, you may also qualify for a waiver.

However, if none of these exemptions apply to you, then you will need to take an approved test to demonstrate your English language skills. To pass, you must prove that you meet intermediate-level English requirements for the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages.

Passing the “Life in the UK” Test

Finally, you must also pass the “Life in the UK” test to qualify for UK citizenship.

The “Life in the UK” test is used to ensure that all persons who apply for UK citizenship understand issues such as the UK government, laws, customs, and values. Questions may include historical facts, geographical knowledge, and knowledge of fundamental British values. The test is 24 questions long, and you will have 45 minutes to complete it.

Studying for this test can be rather daunting since it encompasses a wide range of information. Luckily, however, there are plenty of practice tests available online, and you can retake the test as many times as needed.

Plus, you won’t need to take the test if you’ve already passed it, you’re under 18 or over 65 years of age, or you have a long-term mental or physical condition.

How to Get UK Citizenship

How to Get UK Citizenship
Interested in getting a UK citizenship? There are several ways in which you can apply!

There are several ways in which you can apply for British citizenship, or naturalization. 

As of 2021, the most common methods are through:

  • Permanent Residence Status
  • Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)
  • EU Settlement Scheme
  • Birth
  • Marriage

UK Citizenship by Permanent Residence Status

A permanent residence status used to be the way to go when applying for UK citizenship, especially for EU, EEA, or Swiss citizens. However, as of January 1, 2021, that has all changed.

In fact, you can no longer apply for a new permanent residence document.

Now, you can only use a permanent residence document to apply for citizenship if you were already granted this status before the Brexit change in 2021. But one caveat is that you cannot also already have settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

If you do, you will need to apply for citizenship with that status. Otherwise, your application will be rejected.

But if you do apply using permanent residence, just be sure to check that you’ve retained that status as some people who leave the UK for more than 2 years at a time can lose it.

Needless to say, the permanent residence program is slowly fading away. Read on to see better options for UK citizenship in 2021 and beyond.

UK Citizenship by Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

ILR is the indefinite leave to remain in the UK and is otherwise known as settlement. This basically means that you can stay in the UK indefinitely. Some people may be granted indefinite leave to enter (ILE) the UK, which also allows them to stay in the UK without a time limit.

And you can usually apply for ILR after you have lived in the UK for five years. But to apply for UK citizenship with ILR, you must live in the UK for 12 months after it is granted to you and meet all the general citizenship requirements.

If you don’t already have ILR, don’t worry, you can work towards it. There are various visas that can lead you to settling in the UK. For example, you could eventually be eligible for ILR under (the):

  • Exceptional Talent Visa
  • Global Talent Visa
  • Innovator Visa
  • Investor Visa
  • Skilled Worker Visa
  • Some Work Permit Visas

You can find details about a selection of these in the ‘How to Get UK Residency’ section.

UK Citizenship by the EU Settlement Scheme

The EU Settlement Scheme is another path towards settlement in the UK and creates a provision for EU citizens. Basically, it is ILR for EU citizens.

If you are from the EU, Eastern European Area, or Switzerland, you can apply for this option after living in the UK for five years, having settled status for a year, and meeting the general UK citizenship requirements. Essentially, it is the same process as aquiring ILR.

However, if you previously had permanent residence status in the UK before you received settled status, you must apply using your settled status instead. But you’re allowed to count the time you were in the UK as a permanent resident towards the 12 months settlement requirement.

And you should do it quickly. For EU, EEA, or Swiss citizens that want to keep living in the UK and have not already been granted citizenship, they need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by June 30, 2021. Otherwise, they will not be able to stay in the UK while they apply for citizenship.

Additionally, you will want to carefully contemplate any time you spend away from the UK. Once you have obtained a settled status, it could be revoked if you are away from the UK for more than five years (or four years if you’re a Swiss citizen).

UK Citizenship by Birth

Usually, being born in the UK does not automatically provide you with citizenship. Your parents will have to meet certain requirements as well.

However, you can be eligible for this option if you were born on or after January 1, 1983 and one of your parents either became a British citizen or gained permission to stay in the UK permanently.  

If you were born on or after this date and one of your parents was already a UK citizen or settled in the UK at the time of your birth, you should have automatically qualified as a British citizen.

Alternatively, you could also qualify for citizenship by birth if you lived in the UK until you were at least 10 years old.

Those born before 1983 in the UK are automatically qualified as a British citizen. Unless you are subject to a couple nuances, such as your father being a diplomat working for a non-UK country.

UK Citizenship by Marriage

This option does not apply to everyone. However, if you are over 18 years old, married to a British citizen, and have lived in the UK for at least 3 years, you should easily qualify.

Once you have met these qualifications and the general citizenship requirements, you can apply for citizenship by marriage if you have also obtained ILR, settled status, or indefinite leave to enter (ILE).

Additionally, the time you need to spend in the UK will differ slightly from the general requirements. This includes spending less than 270 days outside of the UK during the three years and 90 days in the last 12 months.

If you already have permanent residence and meet all the other requirements, you can apply as well. You just won’t be able to apply for a new permanent residence document after January 1, 2021.

It is also important to note that you will not be able to apply for citizenship by marriage with a permanent residence document if you also have settled status. In this case, you will need to apply by using your settled status instead.

Other Paths to UK Citizenship

Other ways in which someone may be eligible for UK citizenship include:

  • Having a British parent
  • Having another type of British nationality
  • Being stateless
  • Previously renouncing your citizenship
  • Being a citizen of the Commonwealth 
  • Residency paths

How to Get UK Residency

How to Get UK Residency
If you want to work your way towards UK citizenship, there are several residency options for that.

If you have not already started living in the UK or you don’t meet some of the residency methods that I covered above, don’t worry. There are other residency paths to consider for eventual UK citizenship, especially those that fall under the Tier 1 visa.

Let’s explore some of them now.

UK Residency by Investment

This is the closest option the UK has to a Citizenship by Investment program. But it is sure to be interesting for seven- and eight-figure entrepreneurs. Plus, you will usually have a decision within three weeks of applying.

To get UK citizenship through an investment, you will need to have at least £2 million readily available when you apply. This money will then be invested in government bonds, UK share capital, or loan capital for at least five years. 

Upon approval of your application, you will initially be issued a three-year visa, with the option to renew for two additional years. After those five years, you will then be able to apply for ILR. And after six years you can apply for citizenship. 

But if you want to fast-track your UK citizenship even more, there are also options to invest £5 – 10 million to apply for settlement in two to three years.

UK Residency for Innovators

Unfortunately, you can no longer apply for the Entrepreneur Visa. But there is a new option that should appeal to any entrepreneur — the Innovator Visa.

This option is for those who want to create an innovative business in the UK. This means that you are ready to set-up and run a business locally that brings something new to the market, and has a concept that has been approved by an endorsing body.

To apply, you will also need to be able to show at least £50,000 in investment funds and be able to show where the funding came from. And you are not allowed to share your investment funds with other innovator applications. You can, however, have a team but you will have to contribute £50,000 per team member.

 In addition, you will need to meet other requirements such as:

  • Pass the English language requirement
  • Be over 18 years old
  • Support yourself through personal savings
  • Have at least £1,270 in your bank account consecutively over a month before you apply

To apply for ILR from an Innovator Visa, you will need to have lived in the UK for three years on an Innovator Visa and meet the requirements for growing your business. However, the earliest that this application will be open is in March of 2022.

Additionally, you will need to pass the Life in the UK Test and spend less than 180 days outside of the UK per year.

And the earliest you can only apply for ILR is 28 days before you’re eligible. Once you apply, you cannot travel outside of the UK until you receive a decision, which usually comes within 6 months. If you do leave, your application will be withdrawn.

For Exceptional Talent

There are a couple of ways in which someone can apply for an exceptional talent visa. For instance, they can be a highly skilled worker or they can be a leader in a specific field.

Both work visas provide options for you to apply for ILR at a later date.

Skilled Worker Visa

This visa allows you to live and work in the UK. However, it will have to be for an eligible job with an approved employer. And the job offer must be confirmed before you apply.

Additionally, you will need to provide a certificate of sponsorship from your employer and be paid a minimum salary. You will also need to prove your understanding of the English language.

You can apply for the Skilled Worker Visa up to three months before your work start date and you should have a decision within 3 – 8 weeks.

Under this visa, you can stay for up to five years in the UK, with the possibility for extension. And after five years, you can apply for ILR.

Global Talent Visa

If you’re a leader or potential leader in academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology, you may qualify for the Global Talent Visa.

You must be over 18 years old and have a successful endorsement application. In some cases, you may also qualify by being the recipient of various awards.

Decisions for this visa usually come in 3 – 8 weeks, and if approved, you can stay for up to five years. There is also the option to renew your visa multiple times. Though, after 3 – 5 years, you may be eligible for ILR depending on your field of work.

Summary: How to Get British Citizenship

Now that you’ve refreshed your memory on Brexit and understood various facets of the new immigration rules, I hope you are still enthusiastic to apply for UK citizenship.

While the UK has undergone many transitions in the past several years, its passport and economy are still some of the highest ranked in the world. And don’t forget that the UK’s economy is predicted to become even stronger post-Brexit.

If that isn’t enough to convince you, there are also several paths for obtaining citizenship in the UK — whether you are an EU or non-EU citizen. And if you don’t qualify for citizenship already, there are many options for you to obtain it later through residency routes.

Plus, you can’t forget the amazing cities, historical sites, and many football teams that contribute to the attraction to the UK.

So, if you’re ready to apply for UK citizenship or want to start a business in the UK, the Nomad Capitalist team is ready to help you strategize. Reach out to us today and we’ll be sure to help you consider your best options.


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