The European Union has strict citizenship rules, and to become an EU national, you have to meet several criteria. However, due to the mass emigration of European citizens during the 18th and 19th centuries, many EU countries have specific laws for citizenship through ancestry.
Ancestry laws vary from country to country, but the primary purpose of the regulations is to allow eligible persons to apply for citizenship in an EU country if they can prove they have an ancestor born in that specific country.
Which Countries Offer EU Citizenship Through Ancestry?
Here is a list of countries in the EU that permit citizenship through ancestry:
Citizenship By Descent Up to Three Generations in the EU
Citizenship by descent up to the third generation refers to the ability to receive EU nationality starting from your great-grandparents. The EU countries listed here permit citizenship by descent up to the third generation or earlier if you meet the eligibility criteria:
The law for citizenship by descent in Hungary is slightly different compared to other countries in the EU. The most significant advantage of Hungarian citizenship laws is that you qualify for citizenship as long as you can speak Hungarian and there is an ancestor in your family who was Hungarian.
So, technically there is no limit to how far back you can go in your family tree (starting from your parents and back) as long as you can prove you have a Hungarian ancestor in your direct line.
Similar to Hungary, Italy also allows citizenship by descent up to the third generation or more. However, you can only trace back your family line until 1861, when Italy was officially unified. In addition to this, Italy did not acknowledge maternal citizenship until 1948.
There are also special regulations if your parents are naturalized in another country. For example, let’s say your parents immigrated to the US from Italy and you were born in the US, but your parents became naturalized US citizens after your birth between July 1, 1912, and August 15, 1992, then you are still considered an eligible Italian citizen.
To qualify for citizenship through ancestry in Poland, you must have a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, or an earlier ascendant who was born in Poland and lived there after 1920.
You still qualify for citizenship if your ancestor left before 1920, but you can prove their address is registered in Polish, Prussian, Russian, or Austro-Hungarian registers, and they held their citizenship at the time of your birth.
If your ancestor gained another citizenship before 1951, you must remember that they lost their Polish nationality and cannot pass it to you.
Bulgaria recently made changes to its citizenship law, and now you can apply for citizenship by descent up to the third generation. So, you can become a Bulgarian citizen if your parents, grandparents, or great grand-parents were Bulgarian citizens.
The application process for Bulgarian citizenship by descent is also now more accessible and straightforward. You need to provide documents proving your ancestors were Bulgarian citizens and submit your application. It may take up to 24 months to receive an answer.
You can obtain Croatian citizenship by descent if you have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who had or has Croatian citizenship. However, if your ancestor left Croatia before 8 October 1991 and moved to another country in former Yugoslavia, you are not eligible for citizenship by descent.
If you were born abroad to Croatian parents, you have until you turn 21 to register in the civil registry (in the event your parents did not record your birth, and you want to apply for citizenship in Croatia.)
You can get citizenship by descent up to the third generation in Lithuania as well. To qualify, you must have at least a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who meets the eligibility criteria:
- They were a citizen of Lithuania before June 15, 1940.
- They were forced to leave the country before March 11, 1990, due to persecution.
- They left the country before 1990 but did not move to other territories in the Soviet Union.
According to Latvia’s Citizenship Laws, you can are eligible for citizenship by descent if:
- You have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was a Latvia citizen before June 17, 1940.
- You have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent that was a Latvia citizen but was forced to leave after June 17, 1940, and before March 4, 1990, due to Nazi occupation and USSR.
Latvia allows citizenship by origin until the third generation or even earlier if you have enough evidence that your family members were Latvian nationals.
There are three main ways under which you can get citizenship by descent in Luxembourg:
- You can “reclaim” citizenship. Citizenship “reclaim” is available if you have a direct maternal or paternal ancestor who was a Luxembourg citizen on January 1, 1990.
- You have an ancestor who was a Luxembourg national. You can apply for citizenship if you have a direct male ancestor (starting from your father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on) who was born in Luxembourg before 1940. You’re also eligible for this option if you were born on January 1st, 1969, and your mother had a direct male line back to an ancestor who lived in Luxembourg.
- You can apply for citizenship by option. Citizenship by option is available to you if you have a parent or grandparent who is a citizen in Luxembourg but could not pass on their nationality to you. For example, nationality rules of another country prohibited you from having another citizenship.
So, technically Luxembourg allows citizenship by descent up to the third generation or earlier in certain circumstances.
Important: The deadline for completing the first step of the “reclaim” pathway (providing a certificate proving your ancestor lived in Luxembourg) was in 2018. If you completed the first step, you have until December 2022 to sign your declaration of citizenship. If you missed the deadline for the first option, you should check into the other citizenship pathways.
Until recently, Slovakia allowed citizenship by descent until the second generation. But, in 2021, there was a new amendment of the nationality law allowing descendants of former Slovak and Czechoslovak citizens to apply for citizenship up to the third generation. This means that you can apply for citizenship in Slovakia if you have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was a citizen of Slovakia.
Among the EU countries that allow citizenship by descent until the third generation is Ireland as well. If you meet the following criteria, you are eligible to apply for citizenship in Ireland:
- You were born in Ireland to at least one Irish parent.
- You were born in Ireland to non- Irish parents who lived in Ireland for at least four years.
- You were born outside Ireland to Irish parents.
- You were born outside Ireland, but you have at least one grandparent with Irish citizenship.
- You were born outside Ireland, and so were your parents and grandparents, but your great-grandparents were born in Ireland. Your parents must have been registered on the Foreign Births Register.
To make a valid application for citizenship by descent in Ireland, first, you must register your birth at the Foreign Births Register. Then you can proceed with the rest of the application process.
Greece is another EU country that allows citizenship by descent up to the third generation. You can qualify for citizenship by descent in Greece if:
- You were born before July 16, 1982, and:
- Your parents were married.
- Your father was Greek, but your mother was a non-Greek citizen.
- You were born after July 16, 1982, and:
- Your father was Greek, but your mother was a non-Greek citizen (regardless of whether they were married or not)
- You were born before or after August 5, 1984, and:
- Your mother was a Greek citizen, and your father was a foreign national (regardless of whether they were married or not).
- You have or had a Greek grandparent with Greek nationality.
- You have or had a Greek great-grandparent with Greek citizenship.
Citizenship By Descent Up to Two Generations in the EU
Here are the EU countries where you can apply for citizenship by descent up to the second generation:
- Czech Republic
If you have a parent or grandparent who is a Maltese citizen, you can also apply for citizenship. Moreover, since 2007 Malta has made its citizenship laws more liberal in this regard. For example, if you are born outside of Malta and can prove that you have a parent and a grandparent (from the same direct line) born in Malta, all you need to do is register as a citizen.
However, if your parent died after August 1, 2010, without applying for citizenship, then you are not eligible for citizenship by descent in Malta. But, if your parent died before August 1, 2007, or three years after this date without applying for citizenship on their own, they would still be considered an eligible citizen, therefore allowing you to apply for citizenship.
Czechia allows citizenship by descent up until the second generation, which means you may be eligible for citizenship in Czechia if your parents or grandparents were previously Czech nationals.
You have to keep in mind that if your parents weren’t married, and only your father was a Czech citizen, then your parents are required to submit proof of paternity at the Registry Office. This could be either a joint declaration by both parents, a DNA test, or a court declaration.
You can obtain Portuguese citizenship by descent in any of the following cases:
- You were born in Portugal to a Portuguese father and mother.
- You were born abroad to Portuguese parents if your parents were abroad for official state business.
- You were born abroad to Portuguese parents but had your birth registered at the Portuguese civil registry, and you declare you want to be a Portuguese citizen.
- You were born in Portugal to foreign parents if at least one of your parents was born in Portugal, lives there, regardless of their current citizenship status.
- You were born in Portugal to foreign parents if they declare they want to be Portuguese citizens. But, one of your parents lived in Portugal for at least one year at the time of the declaration, regardless of whether they were living legally or illegally in Portugal.
- You were born abroad, but you have at least one grandparent with Portuguese citizenship.
Usually, to qualify for citizenship by origin in Portugal, the generations before you must have also been registered at the Civil Registry; if a generation is skipped, you cannot qualify for citizenship. However, if you are born abroad, there is no time limit as to when your parents have to register your birth, and if you reach 18, you can declare citizenship on your own.
You can apply for citizenship in Romania by descent if you have a parent or grandparent who was a Romanian citizen. But, you may apply for citizenship up to the third generation if you have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent born before 1940 in any location in the Kingdom of Romani between 1918-1940, including the territory of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.
For Slovenian citizenship by descent, you must have at least a parent or a grandparent that was or is a Slovenian citizen. If you were born abroad, you can apply to register as a citizen in Slovenia before you turn 36, provided you have one parent with Slovenian nationality.
Spain’s nationality law has been modified throughout the years, and there are generational limitations based on the year you were born. But, it comes down to this; you can apply for Spanish citizenship by descent up to the second generation if:
- You have one or both parents who are Spanish citizens.
- You have at least a grandparent who was a Spanish national, and their citizenship was forcefully revoked.
- You are a citizen of Latin America, but you have a grandparent who was born in Spain.
Citizenship By Descent Up to Only One Generation in the EU
These EU countries allow you to gain citizenship only by your parents:
Austria issues citizenship by descent only up to the first generation. So, children receive citizenship from their parents automatically if:
- They were born to an Austrian mother.
- They were born in wedlock to an Austrian father and a non-Austrian mother.
- They were born out of wedlock to an Austrian father ( the father must acknowledge the child within eight weeks of the birth).
In cases where one of the parents has foreign citizenship based on jus sanguinis, like Austria, the child has a right to dual citizenship- they do not have to choose between the nationalities according to Austrian law.
You can get citizenship by descent in Belgium only through your parents. However, because Belgium made amendments to their citizenship laws in 1984, two rules apply depending on your date of birth.
If you were born before 1 January 1967, you can get citizenship if the following apply:
- Your parents were married at the time of your birth, and your father was a Belgian citizen, or
- Your parents were not married, but your father was a Belgian citizen, and he acknowledged you as his child.
If you were born after 1 January 1985, you can get Belgian citizenship if the following apply:
- You were born in Belgium to a Belgian parent.
- You were born abroad to a Belgian parent who was born in the Belgian Congo, Rwanda, or Burundi, between 1960-1962.
- You were born abroad to a Belgian parent, and they applied for attribution of declaration within five years of your birth.
- You were born abroad to a Belgian parent who did not apply for attribution within five years of your birth, but you had no other nationality until the age of 18 (you were stateless).
You can apply for Cyprus citizenship by descent only up to the first generation. To meet the general requirements for citizenship by origin in Cyprus, you must be over 18 years of age and:
- You were born in Cyprus after 16 August 1960 to Cypriot parents.
- You were born abroad after 16 August 1960, and either your father or mother was a Cypriot citizen, and your birth was registered within two years.
- You were born after 11 June of 1999, and your mother was a Cypriot citizen.
You have to keep in mind specific provisions apply if your parents become eligible for British citizenship.
Denmark permits citizenship only through your parents. So, children born on July 1, 2014, are considered Danish citizens if one of the parents is a Danish national regardless of their birthplace. However, for anyone who was born before this date, there are specific regulations depending on which parent was the Danish citizen and whether they were born in Denmark or not.
Estonia citizenship by descent is applicable up to the first generation only. So, if one of your parents was an Estonian citizen at the time of your birth, you are automatically an Estonia citizen- irrespective of your birthplace. However, if your parents revoked your citizenship before you were 18, you have to re-apply for your citizenship. Citizenship applications and questions are managed by the Police and Border Guard Board.
Citizenship by descent in Finland is passed on only from your parents, no earlier generation. You can qualify for Finland citizenship by descent from your parents if:
- Your mother was a Finnish citizen.
- Your parents were married, and your father was a Finnish citizen.
- You were born in Finland to unmarried parents, but your father is a Finnish citizen, and there is proof of paternity.
If your father died before you were born, you are still eligible for citizenship in these cases:
- Your father was a Finnish citizen at the time of your birth; your parents were married.
- You were born in Finland to a Finnish father, and there is proof of paternity.
There are exceptional circumstances where you may be eligible for a residence permit in Finland up to the second generation. If you have or had a parent or grandparent who is or was a Finnish citizen, you can immigrate to Finland, and you will be considered a returnee, and you can apply for a returnee’s residence permit.
France allows citizenship by descent only if you have at least one parent who has or had French citizenship at the time of your birth. However, according to the French Civil Code, you cannot prove you have citizenship by descent if neither you nor your parents had any ties with France during the last 50 years you were living outside of the country. For example, you (or your parents) did not renew your passports, did not register to vote, did not register at a French consulate abroad, etc.
You can apply for citizenship by descent in Germany only through the first generation. But, nationality through family members in Germany can be extended up to the third generation for Nazi victims and their descendants. Additionally, with the new citizenship laws, Germany grants citizenship to a broader range of applicants who can prove their parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent lost their citizenship under the Nazi regime.
The Netherlands has a strict nationality law based only on jus sanguinis, and jus soli is rarely granted. So, even if you were born in the Netherlands, you are not a Dutch citizen if your parents are foreign citizens.
You can become a citizen only if you have a parent with Dutch nationality in terms of citizenship by descent. Before January 1, 1985, citizenship by descent was passed on only paternally, but since that date, you can receive citizenship from your mother as well. However, the Netherlands offers citizenship by option procedure, which is a faster and easier way to become a citizen, but there are several eligibility criteria you have to meet.
Sweden is amongst those countries that have stringent rules for citizenship through ancestry compared to other EU countries. You can apply for citizenship through ancestry only up to the first generation and if one of the following applies to you:
- Your mother is a Swedish citizen.
- You were born in Sweden, and your father is a Swedish citizen.
- You were born to married parents, and your father is a Swedish citizen.
- You were born in Sweden, and your father was a Swedish citizen at the time of your birth (if your father passed away after your birth).
- You were born to married parents, and your father was a Swedish citizen at your birth (if your father passed away after you were born).
Citizenship by Descent for EFTA Countries
EFTA is a separate system from the EU consisting of the following countries:
None of the EFTA countries allow citizenship by descent for further than one generation.
You inherit Icelandic citizenship from your parents if:
- Your mother or father is an Icelandic citizen.
- Your mother or father had previous citizenship but is currently a legal resident of Iceland.
If you were born between 1964 and 1982 to an Icelandic mother but a non-Icelandic father, you are not eligible for citizenship. However, Iceland recently reviewed the nationality law, and now you can apply for citizenship by declaration if:
- You were born between July 1, 1964, and June 30, 1982.
- Your parents were married.
- Your mother had Icelandic citizenship, but your father did not.
Liechtenstein by far has the strictest citizenship laws in Europe. To naturalize as a citizen in Liechtenstein, you must live there for at least 30 years. So, citizenship by descent is only given to children born to Liechtenstein citizens regardless of the place of birth.
Norway is another country that follows strict jus sanguinis citizenship laws, which means if you are born in Norway to foreign parents, you will most likely not receive Norway citizenship. But, depending on the year you were born, citizenship laws apply differently to you:
- If you were born on September 1, 2006, or later you are a citizen of Norway if:
- You have a Norwegian mother or father regardless of your place of birth.
- If you were born before September 1, 2006, you are a citizen of Norway if:
- Your mother was Norwegian
- Your parents were married at the time of your birth, and your father was Norwegian.
- Your father passed away before you were born, but he was married to your mother, and he was a Norwegian citizen.*
*If your parents weren’t married, you do not qualify for citizenship in this case, but if you are under 18, you can become a Norwegian citizen simply by submitting a notification of Norwegian citizenship.
Switzerland allows citizenship by descent only from your parents in the following cases:
- You are born to married parents who are Swiss citizens.
- You are born to a Swiss single mother.
- You are born to a Swiss father and non-Swiss mother who is not married, but paternity is established. *
Important: If you are born abroad to at least one Swiss citizen, you have to declare your citizenship or the desire to hold your Swiss citizenship to a Swiss authority by the time you reach 25; otherwise, your right to nationality in Switzerland is revoked.
*If you gain citizenship according to this scenario, your children will also be eligible for Swiss citizenship.
How to Get EU Citizenship Through Ancestry?
The process of citizenship through ancestry in the EU changes from country to country, but the usual steps include the following:
|Find proof of ancestry in the EU.||You have to track down birth certificates, address registers, passports, marriage certificates, or any other documents that prove that one of your ancestors was or is a citizen in an EU country.|
|Submit a request for your birth registry certificate.||Some EU countries require citizens born abroad to be registered in their birth registry to be eligible for citizenship later. So, check to see if you need a registry certificate and request to get the document. You can usually submit your request directly to the registry office.|
|Contact an embassy or consulate in your country.||Usually, citizenship through ancestry applications are made through an embassy or consulate- so make sure you locate that first. Then, ask the embassy to provide you with a complete list of required documents and how the application process goes.|
|Apply for citizenship.||Once you have collected all the required documents, see whether you have to apply for citizenship by following the same steps as naturalization or if you can receive citizenship through a simple request. After you submit your application or request to become a citizen in an EU country, you have to wait, usually up to a year, to receive an answer.|
What Documents Do I Need for EU Citizenship by Ancestry?
You will need the following documents to apply for EU citizenship by ancestry:
- Application forms.
- Your passport.
- Your birth certificate or an extract from the birth registry.
- Your marriage certificate (if applicable).
- Proof of your familial relationship with your ancestor.
- Police clearance certificate.
- Proof of your language proficiency skills.
- Proof of ancestry in the EU:
- Your ancestor’s birth certificate or birth registration extract.
- Your ancestor’s old passport.
- Documents proving your ancestor served in the military (if applicable).
- Refugee documents (if applicable).
- Any other supporting documents that serve as evidence you qualify for citizenship by descent in the EU.
Please note that depending on which EU country you qualify for citizenship, you’ll be required to provide additional documents.
You must submit your documents in one of the official languages of the specific EU country you are applying for citizenship. If you have documents in another language, make sure you provide a translated version along with the original documents.
Some documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc.) may require an Apostille stamp or legalization.
How Else Can I Get EU Citizenship?
Other than through ancestry, you can get citizenship in the EU through the following pathways:
- Naturalization. To naturalize in an EU country, you must have lived in that country under a permanent residence permit for several years. The residency period varies from 3, 5 to 10 years, depending on the country. Additionally, you have to pass a citizenship test and provide proof that you can speak the national language of that country. You also have to show proof that you can financially support yourself in your new country.
- Marriage. Citizenship by marriage is granted if you are a non-EU individual and you marry an EU citizen. But, you’re still required to fulfil a residency requirement (usually three years) and a language requirement.
- Global talent citizenship. Occasionally, some EU countries will grant citizenship to a few select individuals who have shown remarkable talent and have provided a service to the country, such as renowned artists.
Which EU Countries Allow Dual Citizenship When Acquired by Descent?
The listed EU countries below permit dual citizenship in most cases and when acquired by descent:
Lithuania is the only EU country in this list that permits dual nationality only to those who have a descendant that was a Lithuanian before 1940. On the other hand, Germany and Austria allow dual nationality to descendants of Nazi victims who were forced to revoke their citizenship during WWII.
Slovakia is one of the few EU countries that purposefully limits dual citizenship when acquired by descent. This is a result of a tense relationship between Slovakia and Hungary, where the latter has lax citizenship laws permitting any Slovak citizen who has an ancestor in their family line to apply for citizenship in Hungary.
Benefits of EU Citizenship
If you gain EU citizenship through ancestry, you can benefit from the following:
- Freedom of movement between member countries and other European countries.
- The freedom to work and live in any EU member state.
- The right to vote in the European Parliament.
- The right to vote in municipal elections in other EU states.
- The right to consular protection of any member state when traveling abroad.
- The right to education in any of the EU member states.
- The right to national health care benefits in all EU member states.
- Visa-free travel to most countries outside of the EU.
Do My Parents Have to Be EU Citizens to Qualify for Citizenship by Ancestry?
Some EU countries require your parents to have EU citizenship before you can qualify for nationality through ancestry. For example, in Greece, the generation before you, i.e., your parents, must obtain citizenship first, and then you can apply. The same applies to Portugal, and depending on which year your parents died, Malta as well.
However, Croatia (and other EU countries) does not mind if your parents aren’t Croatian citizens when you apply for nationality by descent. So, make sure you check with an embassy/consulate to see which rule applies to your specific country.