Five Myths About Gaining Italian Citizenship, Debunked

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Wed, 10/12/2022 - 08:33
Older Italian men playing a game of chess

Do you have Italian relatives, but have never been sure whether this entitles you to Italian citizenship? Have you married an Italian, but not gotten around to the arduous paperwork of securing your passport? Or have you lived in Italy long enough that you might now have a chance of converting residence into something more permanent? 

There’s a lot that’s been said about the long and sometimes complicated process of making the Italian citizenship dream a reality — and a lot of myths are floating around out there. It’s not surprising, then, that a number of people from the US and all over the world turn to companies like Italian Citizenship Assistance (ICA) to try to get clarity. With offices in Los Angeles and New York City, as well as here in Italy, the ICA works to help people seeking information and assistance with Italian citizenship. If you decide to go ahead, their comprehensive services handle all the “red tape” and the numerous steps involved in acquiring Italian citizenship.

Italy Magazine asked ICA share some of the most common questions and misconceptions about what it takes to get Italian citizenship, busting the myths and helping you work out the best route for you.

Myth: I have some Italian relatives — this means I’m automatically entitled to get Italian citizenship.

Large Italian family on a beach at sunset

Reality: Many individuals of Italian descent may qualify for Italian citizenship if they meet specific requirements.  Italian citizenship law is based on the principle of jure sanguinis, orcitizenship by blood”. In other words, anyone with Italian ancestors may well be eligible for Italian citizenship. There is no limit in the number of generations one can go back, so this can be anything from a parent to a long-lost great-great-great grandparent. 

You can apply for Italian citizenship by descent if you meet the following requirements: 

  • you have an ancestor who was born in Italy, and was alive during (or any time after) the unification of Italy in 1861,
  • your ancestor was never “naturalized,” meaning that they never lost their right to Italian citizenship. Alternatively, if they were naturalized, they became a US citizen after the birth of a child in the US and after June 14, 1912, and, finally,
  • none of your ancestors in your direct line of descent ever renounced their Italian citizenship.

On the other hand, if there is a woman in your Italian lineage who gave birth to her child prior to January 1, 1948, you may be able to apply for citizenship through an application via the court and file a so called “1948 Case”, as opposed to applying via a consulate or via a municipality in Italy.

Myth: You need to be fluent in Italian to gain Italian citizenship.

Women converse during an Italian language lesson

Reality: Again, it depends. If you’re applying for Italian citizenship by marriage or by residency, you need to have certified knowledge of the Italian language. This can be obtained by taking the Italian B1 level exam for citizenship, in order to prove that you can integrate into your community.

If you are applying for Italian citizenship by descent, however, you do not need to speak Italian. This is because from the Italian government’s perspective you are Italian by birth-right, and you are only formally applying for the recognition of your right to Italian citizenship.

Myth: You can only apply for Italian citizenship if you are physically in Italy right now. 

Reality:  You can apply for Italian citizenship at an Italian consulate in the US or abroad, or in Italy. If you apply for Italian citizenship at an Italian consulate abroad, and you are not a citizen of that country, and do not have permanent residency there, as a general rule you will be required to hold a visa which covers you for at least two years from the date you submit your application. That said, if you decide to apply for citizenship by descent in Italy, the process will be faster than applying via a consulate in the US. 

Bear in mind that you cannot generally apply for Italian citizenship in a foreign country if you hold a tourist visa or another type of temporary or short-term visa. It is worth pointing out a few loopholes here, however. If you hold a renewable study or work visa, or if you provide the Italian consulate with sufficient proof that you will be residing in the country where you apply for a period that exceeds two years, they may allow you to file an application even if your visa is due to expire before then.

Myth: Holding Italian citizenship means obligations to pay taxes and do military service in Italy.

paying taxes

Reality: Actually, applicants are often pleasantly surprised to discover that holding Italian citizenship does not entail any obligation. You will not need to serve in the military since, in 2001, the Italian government passed a law making military service voluntary. As for taxes, these are paid by virtue of residing in Italy, not by virtue of merely being an Italian citizen, and there are many arrangements with countries like the US and other non-EU states. Nevertheless, if you plan on relocating to Italy, it's best to consult a specialist adviser who is particularly familiar with tax law for US citizens residing abroad (and in Italy more specifically).

Myth: Becoming an Italian citizen means all my family members are entitled to citizenship, too.

mother and child standing outdoors

Reality: One of the best benefits of having Italian citizenship is that you can pass this on automatically to your children if they’re under the age of 18. In other words, when you are granted Italian citizenship, your children’s birth certificates will be automatically registered in Italy together with the rest of your vital records. On the other hand, if you decide to have children in the future, simply registering their births will suffice in order for them to be officially recognized as Italian citizens. The same will apply to future generations, so long as the Italian parent registers the children’s birth before they turn 18. For you and your children, holding an Italian passport means that you will be able to stay in Italy for as long as you wish and enjoy the country’s history, culture and lifestyle.

 

Thinking of applying to become an Italian citizen? These are just a few of the myths and questions that surround the process of gaining Italian citizenship. To read a full Q&A answering the most frequently asked questions, visit the ICA website here. If you have additional queries or would like a free consultation to determine whether you apply for citizenship, contact Italian Citizenship Assistance at info@italiancitizenshipassistance.com or via telephone at +1 323-892-0861.