How to apply for Italian citizenship by descent

Discovering that you can claim Italian citizenship by descent through your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and in some cases even great-great-grandparents can be very exciting. But what is the process of acquiring Italian citizenship like? Is it easy to get Italian citizenship?

Italian citizenship, passports on Italian flag

Compared to other countries, Italian citizenship by descent is one of the simplest to acquire for a variety of reasons. These include the absence of generational barriers, the effectiveness of the Italian record-keeping system beginning in the late 1800s, and the fact that you do not need to speak Italian in order to apply.

Let’s take a closer look at these factors that can offer individuals of Italian heritage a simple path to reclaim their ancestral ties and embrace the benefits of Italian citizenship.

Determining Eligibility for Italian citizenship

Before embarking on the application process, it is essential to determine one’s eligibility for Italian citizenship by descent.

First, your Italian ancestor who was born in Italy must have been alive at the time Italy was unified as a nation on March 17, 1861, or they must have been born after that date.

Additionally, your Italian ancestor must have never naturalised or must have naturalised after the birth of their child. Fortunately, the absence of generational limits allows individuals to trace their lineage back several generations and explore their eligibility.

Uncovering family history via ancestry websites

Ancestry websites have revolutionised genealogical research, allowing individuals to delve into their family history and trace their roots with greater ease.

Ancestry websites provide access to vast databases of historical records, including birth, marriage, and death certificates, immigration records, and census data, all of which are invaluable in order to determine one’s eligibility.

Italian municipalities: A wealth of records

Italian municipalities play a crucial role in facilitating the application process for Italian citizenship by preserving comprehensive and well-maintained records.This means that if you possess your ancestor’s name and approximate date of birth, the municipality in Italy is likely to have their record on file.

The cooperation of these municipalities greatly expedites the process, ensuring that applicants have access to the necessary evidence to support their citizenship claims.

Black and white photo of Italian family, with baby on moped.
If you have your ancestor’s name and approximate date of birth, the municipality in Italy is likely to have their record on file. Photo ©  Lady-Photo via Getty Images

The process of application for Italian citizenship by descent

Once eligibility has been determined through comprehensive research, applicants can proceed with the application process for Italian citizenship by descent.

While specific requirements may vary based on individual circumstances and the Italian consulate in the applicant’s jurisdiction, the process generally involves completing application forms, submitting the required documentation (this includes the vital records of the applicant as well as each family member in the Italian ancestral line) and paying the applicable fees.

Applicants must carefully follow the instructions provided by the consulate and ensure that all the documents are accurately translated and authenticated by Apostilles, if required.

Favourable Italian Laws: Embracing the principle of jus sanguinis

Italian laws are designed to support and recognise the right to Italian citizenship by descent. This recognition is based on the principle of jus sanguinis, which translates to ‘right of blood’.

It signifies the ability of an individual to claim citizenship of a country by virtue of being born to a parent who is a citizen of that country, regardless of their place of birth.

The Italian law (91/1992) explicitly outlines the conditions for granting Italian citizenship by descent. According to this law, Italian citizenship is conferred if an individual’s father or mother is or was an Italian citizen at the time of the child’s birth.

This means that even if a child is born outside of Italy, they are still considered an Italian citizen and can pass on their citizenship to subsequent generations, provided that none of the individuals in the Italian lineage renounced their Italian citizenship.

Eligibility requirements

If there is a woman in your Italian lineage whose child was born before January 1, 1948, you cannot apply for citizenship via an Italian consulate or municipality, but you might be able to apply via the court system instead.

This is due to the fact that prior to January 1, 1948 Italian citizenship law only allowed men to transfer their citizenship on to their children. This is now considered to be discriminatory against women and so you can claim citizenship retroactively via a lawsuit. 

You can learn more about the eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship on the ICA’s eligibility requirements page.

Italian and EU flag on government building
You can apply for citizenship in an Italian consulate, but the process can be faster directly in a municipality. Photo © Krasnevsky via Getty Images

Where to apply

In order to apply you will need all your family’s vital records, your Italian ancestor’s naturalisation records or proof that your ancestor was never naturalised.

The records will need to be authenticated with Apostilles and translated into Italian prior to being submitted at an Italian consulate or municipality in Italy. If you reside in the U.S. you will need to file your application at the Italian consulate that covers the jurisdiction where you reside.

An appointment can be made by registering with the consulate’s online booking system called Prenotami. Due to the health emergency in 2020 many consulates started to process applications by mail. However, it is advisable to check the specific consulate’s policy prior to submitting an application. By law, consulates have two years to provide applicants with an outcome. 

On the other hand, applying for citizenship directly in Italy is generally much faster than applying via a consulate as municipalities have shorter processing times.

If you wish to apply for citizenship in Italy you will need to provide all the relevant documents with Apostilles and certified translations into Italian.

A requirement to apply in Italy is that you establish residency in the municipality where you intend to submit your application. This will allow you to obtain a residency permit for the purpose of applying for citizenship by descent.

Final thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, applying for Italian citizenship by descent can be a relatively straightforward and accessible process, thanks to the help of ancestry websites, Italian municipalities, and favourable Italian citizenship-by-descent laws.

It is nonetheless important for applicants to approach the process with diligence, thoroughness, and a clear understanding of the challenges that can arise on a case by case basis.

Still, by leveraging the resources available and adhering to the guidelines provided by the Italian consulate, individuals can navigate the application process confidently, ultimately realising their dream of obtaining Italian citizenship and embracing the cultural heritage and opportunities it brings.

To learn more about applying for Italian citizenship by descent, please feel free to contact Italian Citizenship Assistance at 

Featured photo © Bradai Abderrahmen via Getty Images