Acquiring a Second Passport Based on Ancestry

Last modified: November 17, 2020

Table of Contents

As we move more and more towards a globally-based economy, people everywhere are finding it in their best interests to relocate for professional reasons. This often includes moving to and working in, a foreign country.

Of course, a big hurdle in a venture of this sort is attaining all of the necessary documentation such as work visas, permits, and licenses. As a foreigner, these permits can be difficult, if not impossible to get. Or from a different perspective, perhaps you just have an urge to travel. Maybe you’d like to spend some time in Brazil, visit the pyramids in Egypt, or enjoy an extended stay in Europe. As an American citizen, you surely can do these things, and visit all of these places, but again, more time and effort is involved.

Filling out paperwork, submitting it, and waiting for it to be processed – and hopefully approved, is all a part of the game. And in the case of visiting the Middle East, presenting yourself as a citizen of the United States is not always to your advantage. One way to overcome these obstacles is to use a passport from a foreign country. For example, if you have a passport from any member state of the European Union, you have the right to live and work in any of the other 27 countries of the EU (Croatia became the 28th member state on July 1, 2013).

You can also travel freely between all of those countries, and stay as long as you wish. And traveling with an Irish passport, for example, removes the need for a travel visa to Brazil, and will probably arouse less attention in a place like Egypt – though your accent, or lack thereof, may give you away.

Active and Passive Approaches to Citizenry

So how can you go about getting a second passport? Holding a passport from a country signifies that you are a citizen of that country. In nationality law, there are two main paths to citizenry – active and passive.

The active track can involve lengthy procedures and requirements that demand effort on the part of the applicant. This can include, for instance, maintaining a legal residency for several years, learning the language and culture, marrying a citizen of the host country, or investing in property.

The passive approach, on the other hand, is more of a birthright. Although in the case of a primary nationality this comes with little to no work required, when you wish to be considered for dual citizenship, some effort is needed, and it could become quite an undertaking.

Citizenship via Jus Soli vs. Jus Sanguinis

When considering birthrights to citizenship, there are two options – jus soli (right of the soil) and jus sanguinis (right of blood).

  • Jus soli citizenship is awarded based on your place of birth. For example, any child born in the United States is automatically considered an American citizen, regardless of his or her parent’s nationality.
  • Jus sanguinis, on the other hand, is citizenry based on family relations. That is, a child’s nationality is determined by the nationality of his or her parents.
  • A little more than 15% of the world’s countries grant jus soli citizenship. Most of the rest of the countries base citizenship on a jus sanguinis approach. Several countries choose a mixture of jus sanguinis and jus soli, including the US, Canada, Israel, Germany, Ireland, and Greece.
  • For children born in a jus soli country, like say – Canada, Argentina, or Mexico – with parents from a jus sanguinis country like Thailand or Switzerland, they are automatically awarded dual (even triple) nationality right out of the womb.

Citizenship by ancestry is not always this easy, however. There is almost always paperwork that needs to be filed, even for the child described above, to assure that the multiple nationalities are maintained. Even when all the proper registers are filled, dual citizenship is not assured.

Though the United States has allowed its citizens to hold multiple nationalities since the 1970s, many countries do not. In fact, most countries base citizenship on long term residence, and several, like Italy, consider taking the American Oath of Citizenship, or any similar gesture as a voluntary surrender of (in this case) Italian nationality.

EU Passports and Other Frauds

It should be noted that as this trend towards dual citizenship grows in the public sphere, so does the number of “professionals” willing to help out those folks looking for this advantage.

Though it may be true that there are qualified people out there that can help out with this pursuit, there are several scams of which to be wary. First of all, there is no such thing as an EU passport or EU citizenship. You can rest assured that anyone offering you either of these is a fraud.

The European Union leaves nationality matters to each of its member states. Anyone with citizenship in any of the 28 EU countries (or non-member partners Iceland, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Norway) have the freedom to move about, work and live anywhere in the EU.

Much like the United States, the EU operates as one large body, but each individual state retains its own borders and laws.

Also, be wary of anyone with what seems like grandiose opportunities. A handful of countries such as Ireland and Italy (and more recently Germany), will allow citizenship through an extended ancestral line, but it’s only a handful.

Often it depends on the actions of your parents (and their parents) when, and even before, you were born. Most countries with jus sanguinis rules for nationality do not extend citizenship rights beyond that from parent to child, and many of those countries do not allow dual citizenship or relinquish citizenship without proper registration for all generations.

In the United States, for example, citizenship by ancestry only reverts back to your parents, as with most countries. When there are references to a connection through grandparents, it is usually because the parents have died, and the grandparents then serve as surrogates or legal guardians.

In your quest for information about this subject, you may find it stated frequently that claiming citizenship through your ancestry is the easiest path to take, and that is true – to an extent.

If you were born in a foreign country, or are the first generation descendant of a foreign national, reestablishing your citizenship in that country will not be a big problem. However, it may involve you moving back to that country permanently, and revoking any other citizenry. If that is your intent, then even having an extended ancestry line that ties you back to a country is beneficial. Though the doors aren’t automatically opened wide for you just because your great-grandfather was born in a foreign country, the naturalization process can be greatly simplified.

Quite often, countries will shorten the required period of residence and remove other conditions such as language fluency for applicants with a traceable heritage.

Ancestral Citizenship in the Emerald Isle

Ireland’s citizenship by ancestry program is probably one of the best known around the world. For a country so small, with a population of just four million, the presence of the Irish overseas is incredible.

In the United States alone, over 35 million people claim to be of Irish descent. Worldwide, that number is estimated to be around 70 million. Ireland is as proud of these scattered sons and daughters as the descendants are to be Irish. The result of this is one of the best ancestral citizenry plans available.

The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) can help you gain Irish citizenship, even if you were born and live outside of Ireland. If either one of your parents was an Irish citizen (born in Ireland) at the time of your birth, you are automatically an Irish citizen, regardless of where you were born, and whether your parents were married at the time of your birth or not.

If you were not born in Ireland, and at least one of your parents is an Irish citizen who was also born outside of Ireland, you are entitled to Irish citizenry if any of your grandparents were born in Ireland.

You must register your birth in the Foreign Births Register maintained by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. This can be done at your local Irish embassy or consulate. A list of these is available on the Department of Foreign Affairs website. Citizenship is effective as of the date of registration.

For subsequent generations born outside Ireland, Irish citizenship is also available. However, all previous birth lines must be pre-established in the Foreign Birth Register.

In other words, the parents of the child seeking Irish nationality, who established their Irish citizenship by recording their own birth in the Foreign Birth Register, must have done so before the child seeking citizenship was born.

Ancestral Citizenship in Italy

Probably the next most popular (arguably the most popular), and equally expansive ancestry citizenship program belongs to Italy. As stated above, Italy considers taking the American Oath of Citizenship a voluntary relinquishment of one’s Italian citizenship. However, if that immigrant had children in the United States before being naturalized, then those children remain Italian citizens by the rule of Italian law.

So, if say, your great-grandfather came to America and became a citizen, but your grandfather was born in the states before then; your great-grandfather relinquished his Italian citizenship, but your grandfather was born with dual Italian and American citizenship that was then passed on to your father, and subsequently, to you.

Also by law, Italian citizenship does not cancel any other citizenship, but in the eyes of the Italian government, it comes first (i.e. your primary nationality for legal purposes is Italian)

If you fall into one of the following categories, you probably qualify for Italian citizenship:

  1. Your father was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth and you never renounced your rights to Italian citizenship.
  2. Your mother was an Italian citizen at the time of your birth, you were born after January 1, 1948, and you never renounced your rights to Italian citizenship.
  3. Your father was born in the USA, his father was an Italian Citizen at the time of his birth and neither you nor your dad renounced your rights to Italian Citizenship.
  4. Your mother was born in the USA, her father was an Italian Citizenship when she was born and you were born AFTER January 1, 1948, and neither of you renounced your rights to Italian citizenship,
  5. Your paternal or maternal grandfather was born in the USA, your maternal or paternal GREAT grandfather was an Italian citizen at the time of his/her birth, neither you nor your father/mother nor your grandfather/grandmother ever renounced rights to Italian Citizenship.

If you find yourself on this list and wish to apply for Italian citizenship, you must turn in all of the necessary documentation to the nearest Italian embassy or consulate. Here is an Italian consulate list.

You will notice that most of the websites on that list are in Italian. If you look next to the search option in the upper right-hand corner of the page, you’ll see an English button. Try clicking on that for the English version of the site. Be forewarned, it may not work.

You can find an English version of the Chicago consulate’s web page about citizenship here.

Ancestral Citizenship in Slovenia

Slovenia is another country that recognizes a long line of ascendence – up to four generations removed. Those who have emigrated from Slovenia (and their descendants) may be naturalized after just one year of residence in Slovenia.  Renunciation of any other citizenship is not required in this case.

A person of “Slovenian origin” that can show direct descent to up to four generations may acquire Slovenian citizenship without any residence requirements. This can be done by filing an application with the Slovenian consulate.

To qualify for this type of citizenship, the applicant must demonstrate continued involvement with the Slovenian community and culture abroad. This includes active participation in Slovenian organizations, language skill classes, and the like.

Ancestral Citizenship in Jamaica

  • According to the Jamaican Constitution, anyone born in or outside of Jamaica to Jamaican parents is automatically granted Jamaican citizenship.
  • They can also apply for citizenship through their grandparents.
  • Proof of lineage in the form of birth, death, and marriage certificates is required. A Citizen Application form must also be submitted. You can pick up a copy of the application at a local consulate, or download it from the Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency website (PICA).
  • More information is available on the government-sponsored Jamaican Information Site.

Ancestral Citizenship in Greece

Greece also offers citizenship to children and grandchildren born outside of Greece, if they can prove lineage through the Greek registry.

Being born to one or more parents who were born in Greece does not automatically make you a Greek citizen, but you are recognized as a Greek national, meaning you are bound by policies and rights conferred by the Greek government.

If you are a male aged 19 to 45 applying for citizenship, you are eligible for draft by the Greek military and may be asked to serve up to four years before your citizenship certificate is issued. If you are over 28, you may be able to fulfill this requirement with some paperwork.

In order to be considered a citizen of Greece, your parents or grandparents (who must have been born in Greece) must have registered you in the Greek registry and filed for citizenship on your behalf.

If you are only entered in the family’s oikogeneiaki merida, that means a record of your birth and relationship was established and will make attaining citizenship later in life easier, if you so desire.

The link above is for a .pdf in English which describes Greek nationality law. You can also visit the official government site (in Greek).

You can apply for citizenship of Malta if you are a direct, second, or subsequent generation descendent of an ascendent born in Malta, whose parents were also born in Malta.

This is true regardless of whether you were born in Malta or abroad. For subsequent generations, the parents must also have been registered for Maltan citizenship.

The parent’s citizenship certificate must be submitted along with birth and marriage certificates for everyone from the applicant back through to the ancestral link born in Malta. In some cases, death certificates may also be required.

Ancestral Citizenship in the UK

The UK does allow dual citizenship but has some restrictions.

For example, you must be a member of the Commonwealth, so citizens of the US need not apply. However, Commonwealth citizens with UK ancestry may be able to apply for permission to live and work there. Requirements are that the applicant is at least 17 years old, and is able to, and plans to work in the UK at a wage adequate to support themselves without public assistance.

They must also prove that at least one grandparent was born in the UK (including the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and what is now the Republic of Ireland (if they were born before 1922)), or on a British registered ship or aircraft.

It doesn’t matter whether the ancestor was born in or out of wedlock, but you cannot claim ancestry through step-relatives. Adoptive relatives are acceptable.

Ancestral Citizenship in Sweden

Since 2001, Sweden has accepted dual citizenship. Now, anyone seeking Swedish citizenship may retain their current nationality (as long as that country allows it), and Swedish citizens can retain their nationality even after claiming another.

They do not, however, have extensive rights to citizenship through blood relations. Any child born to a mother with Swedish nationality automatically is a Swedish citizen. Anyone born to a Swedish father in Sweden is a citizen.

If a Swedish man marries a foreign woman, any of their children born before they were married becomes a citizen, if they are under 18 and unmarried.

A child born abroad whose father has held Swedish citizenship since the child’s birth may attain citizenship by notification from the father before the child turns 18. Extension beyond first-generation relatives is generally not recognized.

Ancestral Citizenship in Germany

Germany has changed its immigration laws recently for a number of reasons. With the fall of the Soviet Union, and, of course, the Berlin Wall, Germany opened its borders to many of those looking for greater opportunities. As might be expected, there was a huge influx of immigrants, which soon became hard to maintain.

As a result, Germany has updated its Immigration laws in 2000, 2005, and 2007. The purpose of the 2005 act was to provide provisions on the entry of foreigners into Germany and their residence in the country.

Amendments added in 2007 allowed for the implementation of EU directives, to enhance internal security and prevent sham applications for citizenship. But most importantly, provisions were included to help integrate immigrants into the population.

As part of this integration, Germany tries to prevent multi-nationalism and usually requires new citizens to forfeit their previous citizenship(s). However, there are exceptions to this rule.

For example, special rules apply to the elderly and politically persecuted. Also, if it would prove to be too expensive or legally complicated to renounce current citizenship, it can be forgiven.

The same is true if losing existing citizenship would bring serious consequences, especially in regards to financial situations including property and assets. Regulations have also been relaxed for most citizens of EU nations.

You may live outside of Germany and file for citizenship, but must show mastery of the German language, and show proof of substantial ties to Germany, amongst other regulations.

In terms of citizenship by ancestry, if a person is born of a parent with German citizenship at the time of the child’s birth, they are automatically a German citizen. Place of birth is no longer a consideration.

However, a child born in a foreign country will no longer receive German citizenship automatically by birth, if his/her German parent was born after December 31, 1999, in a foreign country and has his/her primary residence there.

Exceptions are made if the German parent registers the child’s birth within one year of birth to the responsible German agency abroad. Further generations can be used to claim citizenship, but you must be able to trace your lineage back to a relative who hasn’t claimed citizenship by ancestry.

In addition, many people were expunged and stripped of their German citizenship as a result of the Third Reich. Some of these people can have their citizenship reinstated without returning to Germany, or renouncing their current citizenship. This also holds true for the descendants of these displaced persons.

Reinstating Citizenship to Members of a Diaspora

This final German example illustrates another way jus sanguinis comes into play – for those people who are themselves, or descendants of, a member of a diaspora.

That is, if you (or your ancestors) were forced to leave your homeland along with a large population of the country, you may be able to regain citizenship of your motherland. These events are usually the result of war, or the aftermath thereof.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Soviet states have been opening their doors to different groups of former citizens and their descendants who were expelled by Soviet rule and stripped of their nationality.

Many Austrian citizens were forced to leave the country for racial or political reasons prior to 1945. They may have either faced persecution under the NSDAP or authorities of the Third Reich or feared retaliation because they defended the Republic of Austria.

Often these displaced persons have since gained citizenry elsewhere and therefore lost their Austrian citizenship. These people and their descendants may reclaim their Austrian nationality by declaration, without giving up their current citizenship. Documentation including birth and marriage certificates, proof of former Austrian citizenship and foreign citizenship, and more are required to complete the process.

Polish citizenry is passed on to children, as long as at least one parent has established Polish citizenship. In addition, exceptions are made for many Poles and their descendants that were purged during Soviet rule. In 1967-68, many Jews traveling or emigrating to Israel were issued so-called travel documents, rather than passports. This allowed them the right to travel, but not to return, effectively having their Polish nationality renounced by the then Soviet state. This practice was deemed illegal by the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland in 2005, and those people are now considered to be Polish citizens as well. Repatriation of other Poles dispersed under communist rule is also underway but is limited to current citizens of former Soviet states who wish to move back to Poland.

Croatia, the latest member of the EU (admitted July 1, 2013), has had a tumultuous history over the centuries. Most recently, they became a member of Soviet ruled Yugoslavia after World War II. That situation was never very comfortable for the region, and a series of wars followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and destabilization of the region.

This ultimately led to the formation of the independent Croatian state in 1991, which has made continued progress as an independent state, both politically and fiscally, as evidenced by its acceptance into the EU. Croatia now allows those of Croatian origin and their descendants to regain nationality upon return to the country through a simplified process.

Or, for those of Croatian ethnicity living abroad, citizenship is available with a letter explaining why they are seeking citizenship, their familiarity and position on Croatian culture, and examples of how they have served Croatia abroad.

Information on their relatives’ living situation before leaving Croatia, and when, where, and how they settled abroad is also required. Specific information is needed, as some of the new citizenship laws of Croatia are part of International treaties.

The Estonian population was decimated and dispersed as a result of the Soviet takeover in 1940. During the turbulent years of 1940-1949, approximately 60,000 members of the 1.1 million population were either killed or deported to Siberia and other disparate regions of the Soviet Union. Almost the same number of citizens fled to the west.

At the same time, thousands of Soviets were moved into the country under forced migration laws. By 1988, less than two-thirds of the citizenry of Estonia were ethnic Estonians.

Since regaining its independence in 1991, the Estonian government has increased efforts to correct this problem, making gaining Estonian citizenship much easier. Re-establishing the Citizenship Law of 1938 in 1992, Estonia automatically made all people who held Estonian citizenship before June 16, 1940 – and their descendants – Estonian citizens.

Latvia is another country whose history and population were upturned by war and occupation. Formed as an independent state in 1918, it was first consumed by the Soviet Union in 1940, invaded by the Germans in 1941, reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944, and remained part of the USSR until 1991.

Now, people who were citizens of Latvia prior to 1940 (and their descendants) are eligible for Latvian citizenship, as long as they did not gain citizenship of another country after May 4, 1990.

Lithuania is another Baltic state that suffered the similar fate of claiming independence in the aftermath of World War I, only to have it stripped away by both the Germans and Soviets during World War II. They also regained their independence in 1991, and now recognize dual citizenship, provided the applicant meets at least one of the following conditions:

  1. He has acquired citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania and citizenship of another state at birth and he has not reached 21 years of age;
  2. He is a person who held citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania before 15 June 1940 or his descendant (child, grandchild, or great-grandchild), who were forcibly expelled from Lithuania by decisions of institutions or courts of occupation regimes in the period from 15 June 1940 to 11 March 1990 for reasons of resistance to occupation regimes, political or social reasons or reasons of origin and acquired citizenship of another state;
  3. He is a person who held citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania before 15 June 1940 or his descendant (child, grandchild, or great-grandchild), who left the current territory of the Republic of Lithuania before 11 March 1990 to reside permanently in another state, if their permanent residence on 11 March 1990 was outside Lithuania and acquired citizenship of another state;
  4. adopted by citizens (citizen) of another state before reaching 18 years of age and, as a result of the adoption, acquired citizenship of that state; (source:

Hungary has a colored and storied history dating back to its establishment in 895 as a federation of tribes. Over the centuries, the country has gone through several changes. After several wars with the Ottomans, over hundreds of years, they emerged as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which at one time held control over one of the largest land areas in Europe, second only to Russia.

The dual monarchy was decimated as a result of World War I, and Hungary’s union with Austria was dissolved in 1918. In World War II, Hungary first entered the war on the side of the Axis Powers, joining Germany in the war against the Soviet Union. However, by 1943, they had suffered enough losses and tried to negotiate a surrender to the Allies. Instead, this resulted in the all too familiar pattern of being invaded first by Germany, then the Soviet Union.

In the years following the war, the Soviet Union completely took over Hungary, making it a communist satellite state. In the process, nearly a million Hungarians were purged from the country – exiled, imprisoned or executed.

In 1956, after a particularly brutal administration under Mátyás Rákosi, the Hungarian people revolted, and the country temporarily withdrew from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet Union quickly retaliated leading to the death of 20,000 Hungarians and the exodus of nearly a quarter-million more.

The result of this chaotic history was a new nationality law introduced in 1993.

By the rule of this law, anyone who was a Hungarian citizen before 1920 (or their descendants), and speaks Hungarian, can become a Hungarian citizen, regardless of whether they live in the country or not.

In addition, anyone who may have lost their citizenship due to expatriation, or because of various laws enacted between 1947 and 1990, can apply to have their citizenship reinstated. Hungary allows for dual citizenship, so any other citizenry may be maintained.

Armenia is another ancient country that has faced centuries of warfare. In more recent times, the Ottomans carried out an Armenian genocide in World War I, leading to the original Armenian diaspora. Armenia was annexed by Bolshevik Russia and became part of the Soviet Union in 1922.

As the communist empire began to crumble, Armenia was the first of the Baltic states to declare its independence, and they did not do so peacefully. The ensuing war and the conflict with Azerbaijan soon after resulted in at least a million more displaced Armenians.

The Declaration of Independence of Armenia (1989) says Armenians living abroad are entitled to citizenship of the Republic of Armenia, and their Constitution (1995) states that those of Armenian descent living abroad are entitled to procure citizenship through a simplified procedure.

This includes proof of Armenian descent, birth and marriage certificates (as applicable), a letter to the President of the Republic requesting citizenship, and an application filled out in Armenian. Knowledge of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia is required, but proficiency in the language is not.

They also allow for the right of return to the Armenian diaspora. Dual citizenship has been acknowledged in Armenia since a constitutional amendment was passed in 2007.

Changing Rules and Further Exploration

With the current state of chaos in both economic and political realms worldwide, along with the growing paranoia involving terrorism, many countries have implemented or are seeking stricter immigration laws.

At the time of this writing, an immigration bill is fighting its way through the US Congress. Chances are, whenever you may be reading this, the debate is still going on in some form. It tends to be a very sticky subject.

Obviously, the safety issues are paramount, even if the concerns may be overblown. However, a bigger part of the equation is a financial concern. Of course, this applies more to the “undesirable masses” fleeing their own countries and overwhelming the resources of another.

While countries do not want to be callous to refugees, they also don’t want to support millions of people that aren’t contributing to the system. And, especially in times of economic stress, the last thing people want is more competition for the few jobs that are available, and opening up citizenship to foreigners threatens just that.

Clearly, there are exceptions to this. Factory and business owners are often encouraged to gain citizenship in many countries because of the job and financial opportunities they offer. Similarly, other people who prove their worth to a country (financially or otherwise) can gain or retain citizenship for that reason.

Most countries do have exceptions for people seeking citizenship with ancestral roots in that state, but often this is dependent on the applicant returning to that country to live, and relinquishing all other citizenries.

Plainly, this is far from a complete list of the world’s many nations, and most of these are based in the EU. We focused on this region because it tends to be the area of greatest interest and because citizenship in one EU member state allows free access to most of Europe.

This article is meant only to show that the possibilities are out there, and give you a starting off point in your search.

Knowing the Language and Getting Help

While you pursue your investigation, remember, you are working with foreign governments, most of whom have a native tongue that is not English.

Many of the websites and other information you’re looking for may not be in English. Also, be aware that most of the documents you will be filing are required to be in the native language of the country to which you are applying.

Frequently, fluency or at least proficiency in a country’s language is a prerequisite to citizenship, though this is sometimes waived for applicants filing under jus sanguinis – for example, if they are from a foreign country, are minors, or suffer from mental deficiency.

Furthermore, the information on any given embassy/consulate website can be outdated, incomplete, or just wrong. The best thing to do is to contact the nearest consulate directly and deal with an actual person with both knowledge and authority.

As stated above, there are people out there who are more than willing to help you with this inquiry – for a fee. Again, be very careful using these resources, and verify their validity before spending any money.

You shouldn’t require a lawyer to complete any of this, but a translator or other facilitator may help. Either way, expect to put in a good bit of work. The benefits will surely be worth it.

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!