British citizenship could be more attainable than you think. Amendments to the UK’s laws and new rulings make it possible to claim nationality from your parents, grandparents and in some cases even your great-grandparents. These are the different ways you can become a British citizen.
In this article we cover all the ways you can attain British citizenship by:
- 1. Crown service
- 2. Marriage
- 3. Statelessness
- 4. Adoption
- 5. An unmarried father
- 6. Naturalisation
- 7. Descent
- 8. Birth
- 9. Double descent
1. British citizenship by Crown service
If your UK-born parent or UK-born grandfather was employed by the UK government at the time of your or your parent's birth you could be eligible for British citizenship.
Crown service includes service in the:
- British military
- Overseas Civil Service
- Colonial Service
- Diplomatic Corp
- The Salvation Army
- The Red Cross
- The Church Army
- Roles within the Civil Service or local colonial government
- The BSAP in Rhodesia
- The NAAFI
- The YMCA and YWCA
- The Seaman's Mission
- The Australia, New Zealand and Malaya Defence Organisation
There are numerous other organisations that fall under Crown Service. If your parent worked for an applicable organisation, you should have a British nationality assessment done to find out if you're eligible.
2. British citizenship by marriage
Generally, you can qualify for a UK spouse visa if you are married to a British citizen. However, under old colonial law, rights were given to women who were married to a British man before 1 January 1983, and to the children of women married before 1949. Here's how you can qualify for British citizenship by marriage.
Women married to British men between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982
A woman from a Commonwealth country who married a British citizen before 1 January 1983 can claim the right of abode.
A Commonwealth citizen is someone who:
- Was born in a country that remained a Commonwealth country on 1 January 1983 (this excludes South Africa)
- Has a father who was born in a Commonwealth country
Right of abode takes the form of a stamp in your passport and allows you to live and work in the UK without any visa restriction. You can eventually naturalise as a UK citizen at a later stage. Right of abode can be claimed from a previous marriage, even if a woman remarries, divorces or becomes widowed.
Women married before 1 January 1949
If your mother married a British man (who is British by birth or descent) before 1 January 1949, she became a British Subject. This makes you eligible to claim British citizenship.
Your mother remains a British Subject even if she divorced, remarried or became widowed.
3. British citizenship by statelessness
You are stateless when you don't hold any nationality. This happens when a child is born and cannot take on the nationality of their parents or their country of birth. However, if one of the parents was British at the time of the child's birth it is possible for the child to be registered as British.
The child must claim citizenship before the age of 18 or their rights to register fall away and are lost forever. The rules around British nationality and statelessness are complex and it's often best to consult an expert should you find yourself in this situation.
4. British citizenship by adoption
A child adopted in the UK after 1 January 1983 by a parent who was British at the time, can claim British citizenship.
In the case of a child adopted outside of the UK, the nationality of biological parents will determine whether the child has a claim to British nationality. If you were adopted by British parents, you will need to look into your family lineage to find out if you have a claim to British citizenship.
We were able to secure British citizenship for a child adopted outside of the UK by a UK-born parent. We were also successful in securing British citizenship for a child adopted outside of the UK where the relevant parent was also born out of the UK and the child's nearest UK-born ancestor in the adoptive line, was a UK-born grandfather.
5. British citizenship by an unmarried father
In 2006, the UK government passed legislation that allowed those born after 2006 to claim British citizenship regardless of their parents' marital status. Prior to this, claims through British fathers were only possible if the parents were married at the time of the child's birth.
In 2014, further legislation was passed that allowed those previously deemed to be illegitimate to have a claim. This means that those born prior to 2006 can acquire British citizenship.
6. British citizenship by naturalisation
To naturalise as a British citizen, you must have lived in the UK for five years and have held indefinite leave to remain or permanent residency for 12 months before applying. You can only naturalise as a British citizen if you:
- Are over 18 years old
- Are of good character
- Have the requisite language ability
- Have passed the Life in the UK test
- Intend to continue to live in the UK
- Have spent enough time in the UK over those five years
How to naturalise if you're an EU citizen
EU and Swiss nationals also have to meet the requirements above to naturalise. If you're not yet a permanent resident and wish to remain in the UK, you need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. It will allow you to live in the UK after the deadline of 30 June 2021. If you already have ILR, you do not need to apply to the scheme.
7. British citizenship by descent
If you weren't born in the UK, but you have a parent who was, then you may be eligible to claim based on descent.
You have a UK-born father
British nationality rights can be passed down to children whose father was born in the UK. The claim will depend on when the child was born, when the father was born and whether the parents were married at the time of the child's birth.
Two circumstances will affect your claim:
- Whether your father was born in the UK before 1 January 1983
- Whether your father was born in the UK after 1 January 1983
There are exceptions if your parents were married at the time of your birth.
Father born in the UK before 1 January 1983
If your father was born in the UK before 1 January 1983 and was British at the time of your birth, you are a British citizen at the time of your birth. You can apply for your British passport.
Father born in the UK after 1 January 1983
If your father was born in the UK after 1 January 1983 and was British at the time of your birth, you are already a British citizen.
If your father was not British at the time of your birth, then your rights to British nationality depend on your age (whether you are 18 years old or under), the status of your parents at the time of your birth and their status now.
Again you will need to have registered for British citizenship before turning 18. Thereafter, your rights to citizenship fall away and can be lost forever.
Your parents were not married at time of birth
In the past, you could not claim citizenship from your UK-born father if your parents were not married at the time of your birth. Legislation has now been passed to allow those who were previously disadvantaged by this to claim British nationality.
You were born after 1 July 2006
Whether or not your parents were married is irrelevant. You should have your rights to British citizenship assessed.
You were born before 1 July 2006
This route to citizenship is quite complex as it could potentially remove rights from any children already born to that person or remove citizenship of another country. You will need to do Status Trace before applying for British citizenship.
You have a UK-born mother
If you were born outside of the UK to a UK-born mother, you could fall into one of two categories:
- Your mother was born in the UK after 1 January 1983
- Your mother was born in the UK before 1 January 1983
Mother born in the UK after 1 January 1983
Mother was British at the time of your birth
Your mother is considered as being British other than by descent and can pass British citizenship to her children. You can apply for a British passport.
Mother was not British at the time of your birth
Your rights to British citizenship depend on whether you are under 18 or not, the status of your parents at your birth and their status now. Once you turn 18 your rights to British nationality fall away and can be lost forever.
Mother born in the UK before 1 January 1983
You are born after 1 January 1983
You are a British citizen at birth and do not need to apply for citizenship.
You are born before 1 January 1983
Mothers were previously not allowed to automatically pass on British citizenship to their children born before 1983; however, new legislation now permits you to qualify.
Parent born outside of the UK
If your parent is classified as British otherwise than by descent, they can pass British nationality to their children, allowing you to claim citizenship. However, this area of British nationality can be quite complex and an analysis of how your parents became British will first need to be done.
You should explore your rights to citizenship if any of the following apply to you:
- Your parents were married before 1949
- You (or a parent) were born in a former British territory
- You (or a parent) were registered or naturalised as a British citizen
- You have/had a parent or grandparent in Crown service
- You were born in a country that is different to the country of birth of either parent or any grandparent
- You have a grandparent who was born in the UK
- Your maternal grandfather was born in the UK and you were born in a "foreign country" (including South Africa, the USA and most European countries)
8. British citizenship by birth
Being born in the UK does not automatically make you a British citizen. It depends on the date of your birth and the status of your parents at the time of your birth.
A child will have automatic right to British citizenship if they were born in the UK and one parent had settled status at the time of the child's birth.
Born after 1 January 1983
If you were born in the UK after 1 January 1983, you'll qualify for British nationality based on the status of your parents. You can claim in one of two cases:
- A parent was settled in the UK at the time of your birth
- You spent the first 10 years of your life in the UK
Born before 1 January 1983
If you were born in the UK before 1 January 1983, you could already be British and should be able to apply for a British passport immediately. You are classified as British otherwise than by descent and can pass British nationality to your children, irrespective of where they are born.
9. Double descent
You can claim British citizenship by double descent if you have a grandparent (and in rare cases a great-grandparent) born in the UK. This is known as double descent.
You were born after 1 January 1983
Children under the age of 18 will need to claim citizenship before the age of 18 or they will lose all rights to British nationality.
If you are 18 years and older and were born outside of the UK with UK-born grandparent, you can claim by double descent if:
- Your grandfather was in Crown service when your parent was born
- Your parent:
- Had a UK-born mother
- Did not have a UK-born father
- Was registered as a British citizen between 2 February 1979 and 31 December 1982
- You or a parent were born in a former colony (subject to further criteria being met)
You were born before 1 January 1983
If you were born outside of the UK between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982, claiming citizenship can be complex and your circumstances will need to be assessed.
You may have a claim if:
- 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 (CUKC) 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 South Africa, the USA and most European countries)
You were born before 1 January 1949
You may have a claim if the following circumstances apply to you:
- You and your parent are not born in a Commonwealth country
- You or a parent were born in a former British territory
- You are a woman who married 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. This ruling allows you to claim citizenship through your mother who inherited citizenship from her father.
You may qualify if:
- 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"*
Your potential claim will be complicated if:
- Your paternal grandfather was also born in the UK
- You (or your mother) were born out of wedlock
- Your circumstances fall outside the context of the court judgements
Things to consider before applying for citizenship
Before you can apply for citizenship, there are some things you must do first.
Apply for dual citizenship
Dual citizenship or dual nationality allows you to be a national of two countries at the same time. While most countries allow dual nationality, some don't and for others the process is complex. Before you apply for British citizenship, check with your consulate or embassy in the UK about your home country's laws surrounding dual citizenship.
Don't lose your South African citizenship
South Africa allows dual citizenship, but it comes with a condition. South Africans must apply for and be granted permission to retain their South African nationality before attaining a second citizenship. If you don't do this, you will automatically lose your South African citizenship.
When you have dual nationality, you must use your South African passport to enter and exit South Africa. Outside of the country, you can use your foreign or South African nationality and passport freely.
Take the Life in the UK test
You only need to take the Life in the UK test once, so if you have taken and passed it as part of your indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or settlement application, you don't have to take it again. If you haven't taken the test before, you'll need to do so before applying for citizenship. You won't be able to apply until you've passed the test.
The Life in the UK test is based on information in the book Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents. You'll need to study this book to prepare for the test. The test is 45 minutes long and consists of 24 questions on British traditions and customs.
Prove your knowledge of English
Certain nationalities are exempt from having to prove their knowledge of English – check if yours is on the list. If you've proven your knowledge for ILR, you don't need to prove it again for your citizenship application.
You can prove your knowledge of English either by taking a test at an approved test centre or having a degree taught or researched in English. If your degree is from a UK university, you can use your degree certificate.
If your degree is not from a UK university, you'll need to have it assessed by NARIC to prove that it's equivalent to a UK degree.
Find out if you have a claim to British citizenship by taking our easy-to-use online British nationality assessment. Alternatively, you can get in touch with our citizenship team on +44 (0) 20 7759 7581 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.