Do you have Italian ancestors? If so, you may qualify for Italian dual citizenship from your heritage alone. This type of dual citizenship is called “dual citizenship by descent,” reclaiming citizenship of another country through jus sanguinis (right of blood) while maintaining citizenship in your country of birth.
For Italian descendants around the world, the idea of reclaiming the citizenship of Italian ancestors has become very popular over the last 10 years–so much so that long waits for citizenship appointments have become standard with many Italian consulates around the world. However, the benefits of reclaiming Italian citizenship might very well be worth the wait!
8 Ways You Can Use Italian Dual Citizenship
- Reconnect with the heritage and culture of your ancestors.
- Travel more easily in certain regions and countries (Schengen Area).
- Access government-run medical insurance (if you plan to reside in Italy or during your travels in the country).
- Find jobs more easily in the European Union.
- Live in Italy and purchase property without as many requirements.
- Enjoy lower college tuition costs in Italy.
- Vote for leaders in certain Italy elections.
- Access investments available only to European Union citizens.
How Do I Get Started?
To apply for Italian citizenship by descent, you need to prove your eligibility by presenting required records for your Italian ancestors. Present these documents (with apostillesi and translations) at a citizenship appointment with your Italian consulate (if you live outside of Italy) or your town hall (if you reside in Italy). Each consulate has some discretion as to what documents they require, so it’s wise to find out more from your Italian consulate before gathering your documentation.
In general, your consulate or town hall will require proof of naturalization (or lack of it) for your immigrating Italian ancestor and all vital records for each generation between you and your Italian ancestor. This documentation will include the immigrating ancestor’s Italian birth and marriage records (if married in Italy). The records you use for your citizenship application must be issued by the town hall (Municipio) in your ancestor’s town of birth or marriage, but digital record searches are very helpful in finding the details you will need when requesting acceptable records from Italy. Only certain record formats are acceptable, so check your consulate’s website for instructions.FamilySearch currently has the world’s largest digital collection of historical Italian records online.Mary Tedesco, a professional Italian researcher, second-generation Italian, and host for PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, says that FamilySearch’s Italian records initiative is very exciting for the world of Italian genealogy. “It's wonderful that beginning your Italian genealogical research for many can begin online,” she notes, “and that more information about our Italian ancestors is more accessible than ever before!” As you search for your Italian ancestors in FamilySearch collections, you can also track your relatives in the global FamilySearch tree to make your research easier.
Italian Nationality Laws That May Affect Your Dual Citizenship
While having Italian ancestors is the key requirement for dual citizenship by descent, some Italian nationality laws may affect your eligibility. These laws may have affected your immigrating ancestor’s Italian citizenship or may affect whether you can claim citizenship from your ancestry. As you find your Italian relatives’ records, consider the following questions before applying.
- Where Was Your Italian Ancestor Born?
- -The Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Trentino areas of northern Italy were previously ruled by Austria. If your ancestor left these areas before 1920, they may not have Italian citizenship, and you will need to check if they requested citizenship later during their lifetime. A new amendment involving descendants from these areas is in the works, so if your ancestor is from one of these regions, it would be wise to clarify current laws before beginning a dual citizenship application.
- When Did Your Italian Ancestor Immigrate to a New Country?
- -If your Italian ancestor emigrated before Italy became a country (on March 17, 1861), they may not have had Italian citizenship through birth.
- -If the ancestral line you descend from lost Italian citizenship (because they naturalized with another country between 1912 and 1992 or other reasons), you may not be able to claim citizenship as their descendent. An important point is to find out whether your immigrant ancestor naturalized before or after the birth of the child you descend from. If after, you may still qualify!
- -If your ancestor immigrated after 1992, dual citizenship may have been granted to them already, and you may only have to declare your citizenship to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Was Your Italian Ancestor Male or Female?
- -Some older Italian laws may have affected whether female Italian ancestors could pass citizenship to their descendants and whether your ancestor gained or lost citizenship when they married. (Some of these laws are now considered discriminatory, so you may be able to challenge your ancestor’s loss of citizenship in court if this situation affects your application.ii)
- Was Your Italian Ancestor Adopted or Were You Adopted into an Italian Family?
- -Multiple laws govern adopted children and their rights to Italian citizenship. If your adopted ancestor was not registered in Italy while still considered a minor, your Italian consulate may challenge your citizenship application.
- How Old Was Your Ancestor When They Immigrated?
- -Every country has different laws about the naturalization of children. You may want to research some of these laws if your ancestor was a minor when he or she immigrated.iii
- Italian Dual Citizenship Experts—If you need help applying for dual citizenship, several organizations (nonprofit or for-profit) can assist with your application. Search for a local group or consider some of these resources:
- “Italian Nationality Law”—Wikipedia has a more complete description of the various laws affecting Italian dual citizenship. However, the above summary reflects the majority of laws that would affect most Italian dual citizenship applications.
- “Citizenship”—Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- “Citizenship Laws of the World”—United States Office of Personnel Management Investigations Service. This resource is a good one-stop summary of citizenship laws for the majority of the countries in the world.
- Facebook has several Italian dual citizenship groups where you can ask questions and get support while you gather the necessary documentation. Enter Italian dual citizenship in the search box.
- Your Italian Heritage—Learn more about Italian records research and connecting with your Italian heritage on the FamilySearch Blog.
Want to learn more about your Italian roots? Visit “Your Italian Heritage” on the FamilySearch blog.
Melanie D. Holtz has been helping people research their Italian genealogy and apply for Italian American dual citizenship for over 20 years. She is the owner and principal researcher of Lo Schiavo Genealogica, a board-certified professional genealogist, and the author of "The Family Tree Italian Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Family Tree in Italy."