How to get Italian dual citizenship by ancestry
The process can be confusing but is relatively straightforward if you follow these steps
You may have heard there is a way to get Italian citizenship by family lineage. If you google it, you’ll see it’s possible and that it looks very complicated.
The process is called jure sanguinis and it is full of phone calls and letters mailed back and forth with various local, state, and federal governments. So many letters. Some with actual wax seals.
What is jure sanguinis?
There are basically two ways nation states determine citizenship.
- Jus soli, or “law of the soil,” recognizes anyone born within a state’s territory as a citizen
- Jus sanguinis, or “law of the blood,” recognizes the daughter or son of any citizen as a citizen
Italy has one of the most generationally inclusive jus sanguinis laws, recognizing anyone with a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent as a rightful Italian citizen — if you can prove it. In Italy, they call the law and application process jure sanguinis.
This article outlines five steps to get Italian citizenship jure sanguinis with as little confusion and frustration as possible.
Step 1: Identify your lineage
First, let’s ensure there is an “unbroken blood line” between you and your Italian ancestor.
The most important question is:
- Did your Italian ancestor naturalize or renounce her or his Italian citizenship before her or his child was born?
If not, you are almost certainly eligible for Italian citizenship. Congratulations! But wait, what does any of this mean?
- Naturalizing is when you go to a new country and say to a government or court somewhere, “I want to be a citizen and I don’t care about my other nationality.” If your ancestor did that before your ancestor’s child was born, your ancestor lost her or his citizenship and you can’t be recognized as an Italian. If they did that after their child was born, you can still be recognized as Italian.
- Renouncing citizenship, for a purpose other than naturalizing, is most often done when someone holds a high-ranking government or military position with special clearance. This is rarer than naturalizing but if someone in your family did top secret government work, they might have renounced their Italian citizenship.
Next, let’s sketch out your Italian family lineage. Mine looks like this:
- Great-grandfather > Grandfather > Father > Me
Do the same thing for your Italian lineage, starting with your Italian ancestor and connecting the relevant grandparent and/or parent in-between. Once that is done, let’s see how complicated your application will be.
- If anyone in your Italian family lineage is both female and was born before January 1, 1948, you will need to apply through a civil court in Rome instead of following the normal steps below. If that is the case, it might help to talk to lawyers who specialize in Italian citizenship cases. I recommend Lauren at Your Italian Passport and would be happy to intro you via email if you ask me.
- If anyone in your family lineage was born while their parents were not married, you will need both parents’ names on the child’s birth certificate and you will likely also need proof that the parents lived together (but enforcement of the latter rule varies).
Step 2: Find your consulate
Okay. Take a few deep breaths. You’re about to use an Italian government website. At some point you will find yourself in a disorganized, poorly translated purgatory of nonsensical, meandering, vehement instructions.
Among those instructions is a requirement to apply through the consulate designated for your region, according to the address on your driver’s license or other government-issued ID.
- If you live in the US, the list of consulates is here.
- If you live outside the US, search here for the consulate in your region.
Once you find your consulate, make an appointment to apply for citizenship jure sanguinis. The typical waiting period for an appointment is about 18 months. I called early 2016 and got an appointment in late 2017.
Step 3: Find your documents
Phew. This is the longest step.
You can gather all of the documents yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, or a combination of both.
I gathered all the US vital records, apostilles, USCIS documents, National Archives documents and county government proof of non-existence of naturalization records myself; worked with Lauren from Your Italian Passport for some Italian documents and for translation of the US vital records; and compiled the binder of all completed documents myself.
If you do any of it yourself, prepare to make a spreadsheet or go insane. Or try both like I did.
For every person in your Italian family lineage back to your Italian ancestor, including spouses, you will need:
- Birth certificate
- Marriage certificate
- Death certificate (if applicable)
- Divorce certificate (if applicable)
Also, for your Italian ancestor, you will need:
- Proof of her or his Italian citizenship (birth certificate will be enough if you don’t have her or his passport)
- Naturalization record (dated after the birth of her or his child), OR
- Proof of non-existence of naturalization record from three sources: an immigration authority (in the US, the USCIS), a federal archive (in the US, the National Archives), and the county (or counties) in which she or he resided
All documents must be the official or certified version. In most cases you can get this version by requesting the “certified birth certificate” (for example) from the original issuing authority, like the city or county where the ancestor was born, and paying an additional fee.
Step 4: Apostille and translate your documents
Documents not issued in Italy must be translated and affixed with an apostille, which is a fancy verification issued by US states and countries.
In the US, each state has its own apostille process and you must get an apostille from the state in which a document was issued. For example, my grandfather was born in Louisiana, married in New York, and died in Virginia. For each of those documents, I needed to get an apostille from each of those states — plus one for each other member of my family from the states where they experienced those life events.
Once you have all the apostilles for all your documents, it’s time to have the documents translated. This is not a good time to rely on Google Translate. The Italian jure sanguinis reviewers are very particular about the translation being exact and they will reject applications for inaccurate translations. With such a long waiting period for another appointment, I would highly suggest hiring a professional translator.
Step 5: Show up to your appointment
On the day of your appointment, you will need to bring:
- A cashiers check or money order for the cost of the application, which is currently 300 euros but which varies
- Proof of your residency in the area served by your consulate (in the form of your ID and a bill or bank statement with your name on it)
- All of your documents
I hope you enjoy diving into your family history. The process is long but it is well worth it. If you have children or are married, you will get to pass Italian citizenship to them — and your family will have EU citizenship indefinitely. You’ll open up new work opportunities and an option to live on another continent, true to your roots.
In bocca al lupo!