A passport from any EU country opens the doors to visa-free travel, employment and education opportunities across Europe. Certain EU countries allow you to claim citizenship if you have a grandparent who was born there. Find out if you’re eligible.

Sable International In the news: The South African

This article was originally published on The South African

Why become a European citizen 

EU citizenship allows you to enjoy all the benefits of having the right to live, move freely and work across all 27 EU member countries. Other advantages include:  

Access to a great healthcare system 

Basic healthcare is guaranteed to all EU citizens. While each European country has its own healthcare system, citizens also have access to universal health care throughout the EU. 


Europe has some of the best educational institutions in the world. Citizenship allows you to study for free or at reduced cost at any school or university. A higher education qualification obtained at an EU institution is recognised throughout the continent.  

Receive rights and protections as an EU citizen 

EU citizens receive consular protection, which allows you to receive help when travelling or living abroad. Consular protection provides assistance in cases of arrest or detention, natural disaster or political unrest.  

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the strictest privacy laws in the world. It protects its citizens rights to privacy when it comes to data usage. 

EU citizenship for generations  

Pass your citizenship onto your children, grandchildren and generations to come, opening a world of opportunities to them. 

A plan B 

In today’s unstable political and economic environment, a second passport gives you and your family greater options to secure your future. 

How to claim European citizenship from your grandparent 

European citizenship by descent or ancestry is probably one of the easiest ways of obtaining EU citizenship. To qualify, you must have either a parent, grandparent or in some cases a great-grandparent who was born or is a citizen of an EU country. The following countries allow citizenship to be passed down from a grandparent: 

1. Czech Republic  

To be eligible for Czech citizenship one of your grandparents must be or have been a Czech citizen. 

2. Croatia 

You do not qualify for Croatian citizenship if your grandparent left Croatia after 8 October 1991 and moved to another country in Yugoslavia, or your grandparent left Croatia after 8 October 1991.

3. Germany 

German ancestry does not skip a generation. To claim German citizenship from your grandparent, your parent must also be German.

4. Greece  

Greek citizenship is not automatically passed down from your grandparent. If your grandparent is Greek, you’ll have rights as a Greek national but are not officially a Greek citizen. To become a Greek citizen, your grandparent must have been born in Greece and all details between your Greek ascendant and you must be registered in the Greek registry. 

5. Hungary 

You must be able to speak basic Hungarian to be able to claim Hungarian citizenship through a grandparent. What’s more, the law allows you to claim citizenship through your ancestors further up your family line provided you can trace your ancestry.

6. Italy 

Italian citizenship is granted through the paternal line and can be passed down through generations. It is possible to claim citizenship from your maternal line, but you must have been born after 1 January 1948.

7. Lithuania 

Your grandparent must have been a citizen of Lithuania when the country was the Republic of Lithuania (between 1918 and 1940). If your grandparent left Lithuania, it must have been under the following conditions: 

  • Before Lithuanian independence was restored (March 11, 1990) 

  • To a country that was not part of the former Soviet Union –  this may make you eligible for single or dual Lithuanian citizenship depending on their circumstances

8. Poland 

You can claim Polish citizenship if you meet the following requirements:  

  • An ancestor born in Poland (or a Polish territory) 

  • They must have lived in Poland after 1920 or left Poland before 1920 but their address can still be found in a Polish, Prussian, Russian or Austro-Hungarian register 

  • They were a Polish citizen on the day of your birth

9. Portugal 

You can claim Portuguese citizenship if one of your grandparents is Portuguese and you can demonstrate a proficiency in the Portuguese Language. 

British citizenship 

Even though the UK is no longer part of the EU, it’s a still a country in Europe. British citizenship allows you to work and live in the UK without any restrictions, use the UK’s National Health Service for free and leave and re-enter the UK without being subject to any immigration controls. 

There are two routes to British citizenship via ancestry. These are through double descent (your grandfather, or in some cases even your great-grandfather), and through an Ancestry visa. 

British citizenship through double descent 

To claim citizenship via your grandfather, you must meet the following requirements: 

You were born after 1 January 1983  

  • Your UK-born grandfather was in Crown service at the time of your parent’s birth 

  • Your parent: 

  1. Had a UK-born mother 

  1. Did not have a UK-born father 

  1. Was registered as a British citizen between 2 February 1979 and 31 December 1982 

  • You or a parent were born in a former British colony, subject to further criteria being met 

You were born before 1 January 1983 

This is a complex area of British nationality and every case must be assessed on an individual basis. 

Common scenarios for possible claims include:  

  • You (or a parent) were born in a former British territory. This excludes the main Commonwealth countries of 1949 (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) but includes India, South Africa and (Southern) Rhodesia at various times 

  • You or a parent was registered as a British citizen, a citizen of the UK and colonies or a federal citizen of Rhodesia and Nyasaland 

  • A parent was in Crown service at the time of your birth 

  • Your parents married before 1949 and your paternal grandfather was born in the UK. 

  • Your maternal grandfather was born in the UK and you were born in a "foreign country" (including SA, the USA and most European countries) 

Born before 1 January 1949 

These are also complex cases and each claim must be assessed on an individual basis. 

Claims arise in one of three scenarios: 

  • You and your parent are not born in a Commonwealth country and you were born before 1915 

  • You or a parent were born in a former British territory 

  • Woman married to a British man before 1949 

Double descent through your maternal grandfather 

In March 2018, the Supreme Court in the UK opened a new route to British citizenship, making it possible to claim via your mother’s father. The ruling remedies long-standing gender discrimination in the UK’s nationality legislation; here’s how you may be eligible: 

  • Your maternal grandfather (your mother’s father) was born in the UK or Northern Ireland 

  • You were born between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982 

  • You were born during (and in) what was characterised as a “Foreign Country”. This includes South Africa during the period 31 May 1962 and 31 December 1982, the United States of America and most European countries 

You claim may be complicated if the following apply: 

  • Your paternal grandfather was also born in the UK 

  • You (or your mother) were born out of wedlock 

  • Your circumstances fall outside of the context of the court judgements 

Claim British citizenship through ancestry 

You can qualify for a UK Ancestry visa if you’re a Commonwealth citizen and have a grandparent who was born in the UK. While this route doesn’t automatically give you citizenship, it does offer some great advantages that other UK visas don’t. Should you be eligible for an Ancestry visa, you will need to live and work in the UK for five continuous years, obtain permanent residency and then you’ll be able to claim your citizenship. 

What’s great about this route is that you can work in any field you want and change jobs without having to get approval from the Home Office. You can also bring your family with you. 

To qualify for an Ancestry visa, you must: 

  • Be a Commonwealth citizen 

  • Be 17 years or older 

  • Have a grandparent who was been born in the UK 

  • Be able to work 

  • Intend to be employed in the UK 

  • Be able to support and house yourself and any dependants without relying on public funding 

A note on dual citizenship 

Before attaining second citizenship, you should check your country of birth’s stance on dual citizenship. While most countries allow citizens to hold a second nationality, others may not, or they may require certain rules to be followed. You should always consult an expert when applying for a new citizenship. 

South Africa and dual citizenship 

If you hold South African nationality, you must first obtain permission from the Department of Home Affairs before making an application for a second citizenship. If you don’t follow this process, you will lose your South African citizenship. 

How to apply for EU citizenship via your grandparent 

If you think you may be eligible for EU citizenship, the first thing you should do is speak to someone who specialises in EU nationality. This way you can make sure that you have all the proof that backs up your claim. A citizenship expert will make sure that you fill in and submit the correct documents, ensuring your application is processed smoothly.  

Our citizenship experts can help you determine if you have a claim to EU citizenship. Give us a call on +27 (0) 21 657 2139 (SA) or +44 (0) 20 7759 7581 (UK) or send an email to citizenship@sableinternational.com.


We are a professional services company that specialises in cross-border financial and immigration advice and solutions.

Our teams in the UK, South Africa and Australia can ensure that when you decide to move overseas, invest offshore or expand your business internationally, you'll do so with the backing of experienced local experts.