EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen

The recent surge in applications for Italian citizenship is hardly surprising when you consider the advantages and benefits that Italian citizenship brings. It gives you the freedom to live, study and work in Italy and the EU indefinitely, plus access to free or low cost universal healthcare and education.

Published: Fri 11 Feb 2022 16:50 CEST
EXPLAINED: Three ways you could become an Italian citizen
Mature couple as tourist in city Verona

“I’m very glad I did this,” says Kristopher Imbrigotta, an American who now has Italian dual citizenship. “I don't need to worry about visas, work permits, or any hurdles in health or education systems. I also learned that the Italian passport is currently a more powerful document than my US passport. It feels great to be American and European!”

While the benefits are clear, applying can be a complicated process, which is why it often makes sense to bring in specialist lawyers such as those at Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA). The Local, in partnership with ICA, looks at three common routes by which you may be able to become an Italian citizen.

Could you have the right to Italian citizenship? Learn more and get your free preliminary eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by descent

"I always felt a connection to my Italian heritage, kept alive by my father's family,” says Kristopher. "Both my grandfather's and grandmother's families are from Italy and immigrated to the US in the early 1910s or so. I remember hearing Italian spoken at their house and enjoying many Italian traditions.”

If you also have Italian ancestors, like more than 16 million Americans, you may feel motivated to explore whether you could become a citizen. You may be eligible for Italian citizenship by descent if you have an ancestor who was both alive and an Italian citizen on or after the formation and unification of Italy on March 17th, 1861. 

You’ll have to show that each descendent in your family line then passed that citizenship through to you, and that no-one was naturalised before the birth of the next person in your family line before 1992. Until August 15th, 1992 Italian citizenship was exclusive so if you took another country’s citizenship, you automatically lost your Italian citizenship. If you apply for citizenship through a female ancestor, she must have given birth to the next person in the Italian family line on or after January 1st, 1948.

Under the 1912 Citizenship Law only men could pass on citizenship until the 1947 Italian Constitution gave women the right to do so for births on or after January 1st, 1948. This 1948 rule was applied retroactively in 2009. There are also other possible exceptions. Proving a claim to citizenship can be complex. Documents must be found, translated where necessary and made legal by relevant apostilles. Once you’ve applied, it takes a maximum of two years. 

You can also claim Italian citizenship if you were born to an Italian citizen or adopted by an Italian citizen by the age of 21 (until 1975) or by the age of 18 (after 1975.)

Kristopher, a professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, says Italian Citizenship Assistance helped him determine “that I was likely eligible to be recognised through both my grandfather's and grandmother's family as no one had renounced their Italian citizenship after moving to the US”. 

He adds: “After gathering all required documents and two consular interviews in San Francisco, my Italian citizenship was recognized retroactively from birth.”

Photo: Italian Citizenship Assistance

Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union

Residents in Italy can apply for Italian citizenship by marriage and civil union two years after getting married, or after one year if the couple have children under 18. If you live outside Italy, you can apply for citizenship after three years, or after 18 months if the couple have children. In July 2016 same-sex couples were recognised including same-sex marriages which were celebrated abroad. 

The first thing you’ll need is your B1 Italian language certificate. You then create an account on the Ministry of Interior portal, complete an online application and upload your exam certificate, birth certificate, marriage certificate and criminal background check, with translations into Italian, and legalised for international use by means of an Apostille where necessary. You then file your application at the local Prefettura if you live in Italy or at the Italian Consulate that covers the jurisdiction where you reside via the AIRE (Anagrafe degli Italiani Residenti all’Estero), which is the Registry of Italian Citizens Residing Abroad.

You’ll be invited for an interview with your local Prefettura or the Italian Consulate in your country of residency with the relevant documents. These will then be sent to the Ministry of the Interior.

It costs €250 to apply for citizenship by marriage. Processing time is 24 months to 36 months, although applications are cancelled in case of divorce or death of spouse. Women married to Italian men before 1983 can apply for citizenship also if they are divorced or their spouse is deceased, provided they can show proof that the marriage was valid on April 26th, 1983. 

Italian citizenship by residency

To apply for Italian citizenship by residency Non-EU citizens have to prove continuous legal residency for 10 years. For EU citizens this is four years, whereas those with parents or grandparents who are/were Italian by birth must have been resident for three years. Three-year residency also applies to non-Italian citizens who were born in Italy.

Acceptance involves proof of at least €8.263,31 yearly income for the past 3 years. This is €11.362,05 if you’re married with a financially-dependent spouse, with an extra €516.46 for every dependent child. In case of insufficient personal income, you can indicate a household member’s income. You’ll also need a B1 Italian language certificate.

The process is similar to that of citizenship by marriage. You submit an online application, upload the necessary documents and pay a fee of €250. Once your application has been approved, you then need to provide the local prefecture (Prefettura) with original copies of the documents. The whole process generally takes 24 months, and if your application is successful, any children who are minors and living with you when you swear your oath six months later will automatically receive Italian citizenship. 

Photo: Supplied

Enjoy the advantages

ICA, which has offices in both Italy and the US, now receives enquiries about Italian citizenship from around 300 people per month. Since becoming an Italian citizen, Kristopher has reaped the benefits of having two passports, voted in an Italian election, and now says he may one day buy property in Italy or even retire there. Could you follow in his path?

Think you could become an Italian citizen? Get your free, no obligations eligibility assessment from Italian Citizenship Assistance




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