Lifestyle

Dual Citizenship By Descent: You Might Qualify to Live Abroad Without Realizing It

(Last Updated On: December 24, 2020)

Have you ever dreamed about living in another country? I know I have. But it wasn’t until this year while researching family history with ancestry.com that I realized dual citizenship was an actual possibility for my husband.

As we started looking at his family history we found out he has great grandparents from both Hungary and Italy. Those two countries along with many others to our surprise offer a form of dual citizenship by decent.

How You Could Get Dual Citizenship

A good starting point is talking to your family members and learning more about your heritage. The reason my husband and I started looking into ancestry in the first place was to try to locate his grandmother on his father’s side. Its a long story, but she went missing in the 1960’s and we were trying to be detectives in finding her.

While we did not find her (yet), we did uncover that her mother, my husband’s great grandmother was born in Budapest, Hungary and was Jewish. We did not know this at all.

As we did more searching we also found great grandparents and great great grandparents from Italy.

Start Searching Online

After talking with family members the next step is to start looking online. Websites such as Ancestry.com, Family Search and the immigration records from Ellis Island are a wealth of information.

Ancestry does have a monthly fee but it may be well worth the price to find specific documents. I have also found census documents and naturalization paperwork on the website family search which is completely free. The Ellis Island records allow you to search passenger manifest lists for free as well.

If You Reach Roadblocks

At some point in your research you may hit some dead ends. At that point you may need to enlist in some help. There are a lot of genealogists that you can hire to assist you.

In our case we started by emailing Jewish synagogues in Budapest to help us in locating records. I used Google translate to help me translate my email from english to Hungarian.

To my surprise I actually got some replies. I heard back from a few of them in english, which was very cool. But, unfortunately they were unable to locate birth vital records.

In Hungary it is more difficult to locate birth records for an ancestor prior to 1895. The reason is that prior to that date there was not a centralized country wide record keeping system. Because of that you need to research religious institutions in hopes that they documented births, baptisms, marriages, etc.

If you have a Hungarian ancestor, it doesn’t matter how far back that ancestor was born for you to make a dual citizenship by decent claim. But to qualify you will need to speak Hungarian and pass an in person language test at a Hungarian consulate.

For more information on specifics of Hungarian dual citizenship refer to the Washington, D.C. Hungarian Embassy.

Where To Find Help

If you cannot find needed information for your ancestor a good next step is to request a copy of their naturalization documents from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The cost is $65 to request an initial “index search”. An index search is a way of seeing if your ancestor actually naturalized to the United States. If so, the ancestor will be indexed in the immigration records.

Once you find out if a naturalization record exists and it is indexed you will then want to use that information to request the actual naturalization document. That will also cost $65.

The naturalization document will provide a lot of information such as birth date, year of arrival, the city and country where an ancestor was born. This is very key.

I have actually submitted this request for the Hungarian great grandmother about a month ago and am waiting to hear back. I will also do this for the Italian great-grandmother too.

Why Get Dual Citizenship?

The benefits of having dual citizenship are endless. For example, if you obtain dual citizenship from a country in the European Union it allows you to live and work in any country in the E.U. This is a huge benefit because it allows flexibility.

The Most Popular Countries That Offer Dual Citizenship By Decent

The are a lot of countries that offer a form of dual citizenship if at least one parent was born in that country. But the countries listed below are the most popular and most flexible in allowing a claim to dual citizenship by decent.

Italy

Italian citizenship by decent is one of the most flexible countries for dual citizenship. Italy allows for citizenship through the latin term “jur sanguinis” which means “right of blood”.

It doesn’t matter so much where your were born, but if you have ancestral Italian blood in you. If you have ancestors that come from Italy it is very possible that you may in fact be entitled to Italian dual citizenship by decent.

One of the most important things to look for to see if you qualify is the date of when your ancestor naturalized to another country. This matters because the next in line would need to be born BEFORE the ancestor naturalized. If that is not the case than that means the chain was broken and citizenship cannot be passed down.

For example:

Let’s say your great grandfather was born in Italy in 1881. He came to the United States in 1910 and became naturalized to the United States in 1915. If he had a child in 1916, after he naturalized, that child would not have been able to pass the Italian citizenship.

The reason is that he gave up his Italian citizenship prior to having a child.

However if your great grandfather had that child in 1912 BEFORE he naturalized that child would be able to pass the citizenship down and the chain would not be broken.

If You Are Making A Claim Through An Italian Female

This is where things get complicated. If you have an Italian female in your ancestral line that you are making a claim through it will be a bit more difficult.

Women in Italy did not have the same rights as men until a law was passed in 1948. Women were not allowed to pass down citizenship prior to that date. If this applies to you, don’t worry it is still possible to obtain citizenship by decent but it will require a different avenue.

For specific rules refer to the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

You would not be able to make the claim through administrative paperwork, but instead you will need an Italian lawyer to fight your case before a judge in Rome.

I know that sounds intimidating, but it is a formal process that happens a lot. In searching for a lawyer in Italy look for law firms that specialize in this area and that have done this before.

People Who Have Gotten Italian Dual Citizenship

Ireland

There are a lot of people who could make a claim to have dual citizenship through their Irish ancestors. As with Italy people are able to make a claim for Irish citizenship if they were born outside of Ireland as long as their parent or grandparent was born in Ireland.

In 1956 Ireland passed the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act which provides people born outside of the country to make a dual citizenship claim via ancestry.

If you have a great grandparent that was born in Ireland it is also possible to make a claim through them but the caveat is that your grandparent or parents would have had to make a dual citizenship claim prior to the date of your birth.

Most of the time that one rule eliminates a lot of people to make a dual citizenship claim via Ireland.

If you do meet the basic requirements.

You must first apply to have your birth registered and recognized in the Irish Foreign Births Registrar. You can get that application form directly from your local Irish embassy in your country. For a list go here.

After that you will need to track down supporting documentation of your lineage such as birth certificates and marriage certificates as well as pay a fee. For all the required forms refer to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs website.

The timeline can take as little as three months or a few years before you have your dual Irish citizenship in place.

Hungary

The country of Hungary allows you trace your line of ancestry back as far as you need to make a claim of dual citizenship.

The documents required to make this claim include birth and marriage certificates that trace from the person you are making a claim to all the way down to you.

The Hungarian Embassy provides instructions on how to submit your application and what forms need to be translated and notarized.

You will be required to pass an in person interview at a Hungarian consulate to test your Hungarian language skills. Hungarian is a very difficult language to learn but if you practice with classes or a tutor you will be able to pass the interview.

Final Thoughts On Dual Citizenship

I never would have thought that dual citizenship was a possibility for my husband. We have been together for over 15 years and really never dug into his heritage until now.

This just goes to show there are surprises with family history even if you thought you knew everything.

This is a long process. It could be months before we hear back on naturalization documentation from the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship office.

But that’s okay, I’m not in a rush. They key is definitely finding out the year in which his Italian great great grandmother naturalized. Even though I have an idea of when it happened, I am not 100% sure. But I am excited to find out!

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