In recent years, new laws have made it possible for more people with German ancestry to claim citizenship. We take a closer look at how to determine if you qualify for German citizenship through descent or restoration.

Have you ever wondered if you could be eligible for German citizenship through your ancestors? German nationality laws have evolved over time, making it essential to understand the requirements and eligibility criteria.

We explore the benefits of German citizenship, the process of determining your eligibility for citizenship by descent, and the steps to reclaiming your German nationality if you qualify.

Benefits of German citizenship

  • A German passport gives visa-free access (or with a visa upon arrival) to 190 countries around the world.
  • You can live, work, study and open a business in Germany with ease.
  • German citizenship also grants you access to the other 26 EU member countries. As an EU citizen, you will also have the ability to live, work and study in other EU countries.
  • Even if you don’t relocate to Germany when you receive your citizenship, you will have the option of retiring to the country or any other EU country. 
  • You will be able to get dual citizenship* if your country allows it. 

*Previously, South Africans had to apply to the South African government in order to retain their citizenship. This, however, changed on 13 June 2023 when the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, ruled this to be against the Constitution and is now no longer applicable. As with all changes there is a phasing in period, and we still recommend applying for the retention of citizenship.

Read more: Change to dual nationality law for South Africans

Determining eligibility for German citizenship

The first step in determining if you are eligible for German citizenship by descent is to look into your family tree by asking the following questions:

  1. Which of your ancestors was a German citizen?
  2. At the time of your ancestor's birth, what nationality laws were in place?

For instance, if your grandparents were German citizens, and your mother was born to them in wedlock, she would automatically be entitled to German citizenship, which she could have passed on to you. Even if you were born and raised outside of the country, you may still have a claim to German citizenship.

Navigating the complexity of German nationality law

Eligibility for German citizenship depends on which one of your parents is a German citizen and when you were born.

When can you inherit German citizenship if born outside of Germany?

German citizenship is not established through birth on German territory but rather by descent from a German parent.

Which of your parents is German? 

If you were born before 1975, you could only inherit German citizenship through a German father and not a German mother. However, changes introduced in 2021 may mean you now have a claim.

Were your parents married at the time of your birth? 

Prior to 1993, you could not inherit German citizenship from your father if your parents were not married at the time of your birth.

If you were born after 1993, your parents weren’t married at the time of your birth and only your father was a German citizen, you can now inherit his German citizenship if you establish legal paternity before your 23rd birthday. Biological paternity itself is not sufficient.

How many generations does German citizenship pass by descent?

The German law of citizenship is by descent and does not skip generations. This means you cannot claim citizenship from your German grandparents. It may be possible for you to claim citizenship if your parent obtained German citizenship from your grandparent and you became German because of your parent.

Read more: 9 countries where you can get European citizenship via your grandparent

Restoring German citizenship – an update to German nationality laws

In August 2021, Germany introduced new nationality laws that allowed people who were denied their German citizenship due to persecution or gender discrimination, to be able to reclaim it.

Restoration on grounds of gender discrimination

You can claim citizenship through restoration or apply for citizenship through declaration if you:

  • Were born before 1975 in wedlock to a German mother and foreign father
  • Were born to a German mother who married a foreigner before your birth and had to give up her German nationality
  • Lost German citizenship after legitimation* by your foreign father, even if you were initially entitled to it by birth

Citizenship will then be passed down to the children of those mentioned in the above list.

*Legitimation means that a child born out of wedlock becomes legitimised when their parents subsequently got married and they subsequently obtained German citizenship from their father.

Restoration on grounds of political, racial or religious discrimination

You can claim citizenship through restoration or apply for citizenship through declaration if you:

  • Were a Jewish German citizen who fled Nazi persecution and lived abroad between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945
  • Had your German citizenship revoked and were listed on the Reich Law Gazette.

The German citizenship application process for restoration

To reclaim your German citizenship, you must submit a request to the German Federal Office of Administration (Bundesverwaltungsamt). If you are abroad, you can also apply at the nearest German diplomatic office, which will forward your declaration.

It’s important to note that if you or your ancestor are eligible for German citizenship by declaration, there is a ten-year deadline from the date the law was introduced. The latest you can declare your German citizenship is 19 August 2031.

Proving eligibility for restoration of German citizenship

To apply for German citizenship by restoration, you must provide essential documents, including:

  • Birth certificate (full unabridged version) and, if applicable, marriage certificate for each applicant
  • Birth and marriage certificate of your parent/grandparent who was deprived of German citizenship
  • If applicable, your parent’s/grandparent’s certificate of naturalisation in another country
  • Old German passports (if still available) or other evidence of former German citizenship
  • If applicable, documents relating to compensation for persecution (including pensions)
  • All documents proving the link between you and the parent/grandparent on whom the application is based

Properly compiled supporting documents can expedite the process. Sable International’s nationality researchers can guide you through this process.

Contribution by Christine Jansen Van Vuuren.

German nationality laws can be intricate, making it difficult to determine eligibility with certainty. If you feel you might have a claim, seek guidance from immigration professionals before initiating the process of reclaiming your German citizenship to ensure the greatest chance of success.

Sable International has the expertise to help you navigate the complexities and will ensure that you meet all the necessary conditions. Email us at or give us a call on +27 (0) 21 657 2139.

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