Home > Passports + Visa

4 Types of Citizenship by Descent or Ancestry in the EU

Last Updated: 

If you have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, or someone in your traceable ancestry line that has (had) a citizenship in the European Union (EU), you might qualify for an EU citizenship by descent that will allow you to move to any EU country, permanently.

But how far back can this go? Would you qualify if it's your great-grandmother who had an EU citizenship? What about a great-great-grandfather?

4 Types of Citizenship by Descent or Ancestry in the EU

When compared to the rest of the world, many countries in the European Union offer relatively generous pathways to citizenship through ancestry. The laws vary from one country to another, but the biggest question people usually have is: How far back can you claim a citizenship by ancestry?

Here are 4 Types of Citizenship by Descent based on how far back it can be claimed:

1. The One-Generation Limit

In most countries around the world, children will typically inherit their parents' citizenship(s) even if they were born abroad.

This is pretty straightforward, and a child will usually be eligible for their parents' citizenship(s) when they are born, although there are exceptions and specific laws that vary across countries.

More details on this below, but for now, let's breeze through the other 3 types of Citizenship by Descent.

    2. The Two-Generation Limit

    Some countries like Spain 🇪🇸, Czech Republic 🇨🇿, and Slovenia 🇸🇮 extend the claim to citizenship to two generations, meaning you can claim citizenship if you have at least one parent or grandparent who is (was) a citizen of those countries.

    3. The Three-Generation Limit

    Some countries like Ireland 🇮🇪 extend the claim to three generations. This means you can claim the citizenship as far back as from your great-grandparents. Also take a look at some nuances and specific conditions to fulfill: Irish Citizenship Through Birth or Descent.

    4. No Limit

    For some countries like Hungary 🇭🇺 or Italy 🇮🇹, there is technically no limit in terms of how far back you can claim citizenship by descent, as long as you have the paper trail or proof that shows your chain of ancestry.

    So, if you are able to prove through birth or marriage records that you are a descendant of a Hungarian citizen, even if it's as far back as in the Kingdom of Hungary, you can claim the citizenship.

    For Italy, the claim is technically limited until the year 1861, simply because the nation of Italy did not exist before then.

    Specific Terms and Conditions

    If you seem to be eligible for one of the four types of Citizenship by Descent described above, then you might want to look more closely into whether you are truly eligible

    This is the point when you should head to the official website of the country you intend to claim a citizenship through ancestry from, and look closely at the specific conditions that apply.

    For instance, some countries may impose the following conditions:

    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable through biological parents only
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable through legal parents (either biological or adoptive)
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable patrilineally by default (you can claim it if your father or grandfather is a citizen)
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable matrilineally by default (you can claim it if your mother or grandmother is a citizen)
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable only if both parents are legally married when you were born. If not, then it may be claimable patrilineally or matrilineally
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable only if you have lived in the country for a period of time
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable only before reaching a certain age
    • Citizenship by ancestry is claimable only if a person is born before, during, or after a certain date as stated in the law

    How to Get a Citizenship through Ancestry in the EU

    Once you have figured out that you are truly eligible to claim a Citizenship by Descent, the next step is to gather documents to prove your identity and the identity of the ancestor in question.

    Depending on how far back you are claiming the citizenship from, you may need to gather birth and marriage certificates, immigration records, passports, or any other proof that shows you are a descendant of a citizen from the country you want to claim your citizenship from.

    The government website of the country you intend to claim a citizenship through ancestry from will typically outline the process about where and how to submit your application, so follow it closely.

    A little word of warning here:

    Make sure your current citizenship will NOT be cancelled when getting a second citizenship...

    unless that's what you want.

    • Some countries do not allow dual citizenship by any means, so if you acquire another citizenship by descent or by any other methods, you may lose that current citizenship you have.

    • Some countries allow citizens to have multiple citizenships in an unrestricted manner, meaning you can have two, or technically, as many citizenships as you want. Portugal 🇵🇹 is an example of this.

    • Some countries allow dual citizenship only if it is obtained through descent. For example, Liechtenstein 🇱🇮, Bulgaria 🇧🇬, Croatia 🇭🇷, Estonia 🇪🇪 allows dual citizenships if they are obtained through descent, but foreigners who want to naturalize (e.g. via economic programs) must renounce their old citizenship.

    Be sure to look into the dual citizenship rules of your current citizenship AND the citizenship you are looking to obtain.

    • Your current citizenship may allow you to hold another citizenship, but the citizenship you are trying to obtain may require you to renounce all other citizenships you have.

    • The opposite applies, where the citizenship you are trying to obtain allows you to have multiple citizenships, but your current citizenship does not allow that and it is considered lost if you take on another citizenship.

    • In both of these cases, you may have to pick one over the other. 

    The best situation is of course if your current citizenship and the citizenship you are trying to obtain allow you to hold both citizenships (or more).

    Over and Out

    Citizenship by Descent or Ancestry is one of the easiest ways to obtain another citizenship in another country. It is relatively straightforward, and it's much more simpler to obtain compared to Citizenship by Naturalization, where one would be subject to a lot more requirements (which would potentially take longer as well). 

    Claiming a citizenship in the EU also opens up your residency options to many countries, since if you manage to claim a citizenship in one EU country, the rest of the EU is automatically open to you.