How to Get European Citizenship
If you’ve ever come back from vacationing in Europe, chances are you’ve experienced the pains of Euro-withdrawal. Your friends and family may have been subject to you rambling about the quality of France’s fresh produce or the dazzling tiles in Portugal while you longingly stare out the window, swearing you were born on the wrong continent. Well, my friend, I’ll let you in on a secret. There are a few ways to get European citizenship—yes, even as an American.
The journey to citizenship in Europe may seem daunting at first, but fear not! Many European countries grant citizenship for ancestry, marriage, or sufficient time residing in their countries. The best part? If you gain citizenship to one country in the European Union (EU), you gain access to live, work, and travel in 27 different countries.
Catch your attention yet? In the rest of this article we’ll be diving deeper into the intricacies of obtaining EU citizenship. From a detailed list of the benefits it brings to the different pathways and their respective requirements, you’ll leave with a strong sense of your options and a game plan going forward. Let’s dig into how to get an EU passport.
What is EU citizenship?
When most people say they want European citizenship, they are often referring to gaining citizenship from a country in Europe. EU citizenship specifically refers to the legal status granted to individuals who are recognized as citizens of a member state* within the EU. This is an additional layer of citizenship that complements national citizenship and provides certain rights and privileges within the EU.
Brief history lesson, EU citizenship was established with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and is available to citizens of all EU member states. In other words, any person who holds the nationality from an EU country is automatically also an EU citizen. EU citizens have freedom of movement as well as freedom of settlement and employment across the EU.
* The 27 EU member states: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Benefits of EU citizenship
There are a few neat benefits that come with EU citizenship as well. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s just 10 of them:
- Freedom of movement – EU citizens can live, work, study, and retire in any of the 27 EU countries of their choosing (technically 31 countries, counting Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who are not part of the EU) without the typical need for a visa or special paperwork that would be required of doing so in a different country.
- Affordable university education– In many EU member states, EU citizens are entitled to pay the same tuition fees as national citizens for higher education–bachelor, masters, and PhD’s–which often means significantly lower or even tuition-free education.
- Access to healthcare – In addition to universal healthcare in your country of citizenship, you also have access to healthcare services in any EU country through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or the newer European Health Insurance Document (EHID), ensuring peace of mind when traveling or residing in another member state.
- Right to vote and stand in elections – EU citizens have the right to vote and stand as candidates in European Parliament and municipal elections, empowering you to actively participate in the democratic processes of your host country and the wider European Union.
- Extended consular protection – EU citizens can receive assistance from any EU embassy or consulate worldwide, regardless of their home country.
- Social Security benefits – EU citizens can benefit from social security systems in their host country, including healthcare coverage, pensions, unemployment benefits, and other social services, contributing to a sense of stability and welfare.
- Global travel opportunities – The European passport is a powerful one, coming with the privilege of visa-free travel to over 150+ countries worldwide.
- EU Privacy laws – The EU has robust data protection and privacy laws. With the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), EU citizens enjoy enhanced control over their personal data. You have the right to know how your data is being used, the ability to access and correct it, and the power to request its deletion if necessary.
- Inheritable citizenship – EU citizenship can often be passed on to your spouse and descendants, offering them the opportunity to become EU citizens as well.
- Safe escape route in times of crisis – During times of crisis, natural disasters, or political instability, EU citizens have the option to relocate to another EU member state, providing a safe and secure escape route. It’s also a great “Plan B” for US citizens who want out.
It’s important to note that EU citizenship is distinct from national citizenship and does not replace or override it. Instead, it adds an additional layer of rights and opportunities that are specific to EU member states.
Can anyone get European citizenship?
Yes, if you meet the qualifications. There are a few different ways to go about this. Citizenship from a European country is generally acquired through descent, residency (AKA staying legally enough time in a place), or marriage. Here’s them explained:
- Citizenship by descent – In certain EU member states, individuals with a parent, grandparent or even great-grandparent who is or was a citizen of that country may be eligible to claim citizenship by descent. The process, although it varies by country, typically involves gathering and providing relevant documentation, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and proof of ancestry. If you suspect you have Irish or Italian heritage, two of the most popular countries with this allowance, learn more on how to get Irish citizenship and Italian citizenship by descent.
- Citizenship by marriage – While the specific requirements vary among EU member states, most offer a pathway to citizenship for foreign spouses married to citizens. Being married to an EU citizen does not automatically make the spouse a citizen, but rather, grants them the right to apply for residence permits, cuts down normal wait times, and also opens up eligibility for full citizenship.
- Citizenship by residency – This route involves fulfilling certain residency requirements, living enough years in the country (typically 5-10 years), proving language proficiency, and demonstrating integration into the society of the host country. If you’re open to playing the long game, this is an excellent option for those who don’t plan on getting married nor fulfill descent requirements.
Checkout my comprehensive visa guide book, I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe!, where I detail over 50 viable visa options in the 18 easiest countries to move to in Europe for US citizens. Lots of options for you to get started on those years towards citizenship.
How to get EU citizenship
Although the pathway and timeline of each applicant will differ, there is a general sequence of events that most applicants will go through. If you decide to start on your EU citizenship process, you can expect it to look something like the following:
- Check citizenship requirements – When you’re first in the process of deciding what EU country to move to, factor citizen requirements (difficulty, timeline, possibility) into your final decision. For example, if you have your heart set on France but you don’t see yourself learning the language or can’t imagine yourself there for 5 years, you might want to look elsewhere. We recommend making a masterlist of all the EU countries where you could fulfill citizenship requirements for first and then funneling down from there.
- Establish residency in a European country – Establishing residency involves obtaining the appropriate visa or residency permit in a country, providing necessary documentation such as proof of income, health insurance, and a valid address, working towards any language or integration requirements when it comes time to apply for citizenship, and complying with the specified duration of residency. Each country within the EU has its own rules and processes, so it’s crucial to consult official sources for accurate and up-to-date information.
- Meet citizenship requirements – This somewhat ties into the last point, but when it comes time to apply for citizenship, you’re going to want to make sure that you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s before you submit your application. An immigration lawyer can help you with your application. Sometimes they’re able to expedite the process for you a bit, but a good lawyer will always, at the very least, check all of your documents and give you peace of mind that your application is all in order.
- Apply for citizenship – Think of the day you submit your citizenship application as your proposal to that country. But instead of getting an instant Yes! or No! be prepared to practice patience as you wait for a response. Depending on the complexity of your case, the volume of applications being processed, and the efficiency of the immigration authorities, you could be waiting for an answer anywhere from several months to several years.
Requirements for EU citizenship
Just like any other legal process, there are a list of requirements for how to get European citizenship—keep in mind that these will vary among member states. That being said, there are several that you’re likely to run into without fail. Here are 7 common requirements for EU citizenship:
- Residency – Meeting the minimum residency period is often necessary, ranging from a few years to up to 10 years, depending on the country.
- Background Check – Applicants may undergo a background check to ensure they have a clean criminal record in their home country and abroad, as well as meet the country’s character requirements.
- Language Proficiency – Demonstrating proficiency in the national language or an official language of the country may be required to integrate into the society.
- Knowledge of Civics – Some countries assess applicants’ knowledge of the country’s history, culture, and basic civic principles.
- Financial Stability – Providing evidence of financial stability or sufficient income to support oneself and any dependents may be necessary.
- Good Health – Certain countries may require a medical examination to ensure applicants’ health meets the country’s standards.
- Integration and Assimilation – Proving integration into the local community, adherence to local customs, and commitment to the country’s values and way of life may be required.
How long does it take to get European citizenship?
Depending on the pathway you chose to get European citizenship (marriage, residency, or descent), citizenship can take anywhere from 1 year to 10 or more, with many cases somewhere in between. But as we’ve said before, every case is unique, and many factors play into how long you’ll be waiting. That being said, here are the waiting times you can expect:
- Citizenship by descent timeline – Gaining citizenship by descent, again, depends on many factors and can take anywhere from a few mere months to several years.
- Citizenship by marriage timeline – This process is known to be the quickest, normally taking around 1 year.
- Citizenship by residency timeline – Going this route usually takes 10 years of living in a country legally before you can apply. But there are exceptions like in Portugal, France, Germany, and Spain. More on these countries in the next section.
Which country in Europe is easiest to get citizenship?
Certain countries have more lenient requirements and streamlined processes. While the notion of “easiest” can vary based on individual circumstances, factors such as shorter residency periods, simplified naturalization procedures.
Ancestry-based options make countries like Portugal, France, and Spain popular choices for those seeking a straightforward path to European citizenship.
- Portugal – After 5 years of legally living in Portugal you may be eligible to apply for citizenship
- France – After 5 years of legally living in France you may be eligible to apply for citizenship
- Spain – Spain normally requires 10 years of legal living, but also has a fast-track for Latin Americans that cuts down required residency time to 2 years. Learn more about the Spanish citizenship fast-track.
How to get an EU passport
Once you apply for citizenship and are approved, you can then apply for your passport! Just as in the United States, your passport application is a separate process, but one that you can start as soon as you’re an official citizen. That process, in brief, looks something like this:
- Gather required documents
- Submit passport application
- Pay any fees
- Attend the appointment or interview
- Await processing
- Collect your passport from the embassy or consulate
How to become a EU citizen
Even though the process of how to get EU citizenship as an American can be intimidating, the reward is worth it. Your next steps are simple. Determine which pathway is your best bet, by residency, by marriage, or by descent and start ticking off the requirements!
If you have your country and pathway decided upon, but can’t yet move there, signing up for a language course is an amazing and valiant first step towards your future.
And remember, there are tons of resources out there and online communities here to support you. You don’t have to feel lost, frustrated, or stuck. For some extra guidance:
- Checkout my digital book I’m Outta Here: An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe
- Request to join She Hit Refresh’s friendly community on Facebook to talk with other women age 30+ who are already living their dream lives abroad in Europe and beyond!
- If you’re a woman age 30+ sign up for the next Move Abroad After 30 Masterclass to see if a move abroad is possible for you!