8 Countries Offering EU Citizenship by Descent

Europe is a very popular destination for American physicians wanting to practice abroad. The process of applying for a local medical license in a European nation often involves a lot of paperwork, development of language skills, and knowledge of the local healthcare system. These challenges make it harder to obtain a local job, making it harder to qualify for a visa to stay in the EU on a long-term basis. For those who don’t have immediate familial connections to help with immigration and don’t have a job offer to obtain a work visa, what other avenues are there?

One avenue is immigration through the Golden Visa Program which requires monetary investment. The other option is proving that you are a descendent of an EU nation’s citizen.

Benefits of EU Citizenship

The 8 countries listed below acknowledge Dual Citizenship or don’t have direct laws preventing it. This means that US citizens don’t have to renounce their American Citizenship. A citizen of an EU nation can live, work, and study in another EU nation, Switzerland, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark for an indefinite period of time with very minimal paperwork. Typically, if staying longer than three months, you will need to register with the local government. The process of obtaining citizenship typically takes 1-2 years, sometimes longer depending on the bureaucracy. Some individuals may find an immigration lawyer helpful.

Here is a list of eight countries that offer citizenship by descent.

Ireland

If you have Irish ancestors – specifically going back three generations, such as a great-grandparent – you may be eligible for Irish citizenship. You can complete the questionnaire here to see if you are eligible and can register with the Foreign Birth Registry to begin the process of attaining citizenship.

Post-Brexit, Ireland remains part of the EU, hence Irish citizens retain the benefits of EU citizenship; Irish citizens also have the right to live and work in the UK. Irish-American Dual Citizens can benefit from living and working in the US, Ireland, the UK, and the EU – opening the door to many possibilities. The luck of the Irish!

Italy

Italian Citizenship by Descent allows Italian nationality to be passed down through paternal lineage. Your ancestor must have been an Italian citizen born in Italy after 1861 and must never have revoked their Italian Citizenship prior to the birth of the next descendent. Citizenship passed down through maternal lineage is possible for those children born after 1948. For those whose maternal lineage dates prior to 1948, it is possible to obtain citizenship through a judicial process.

Poland

Polish Citizenship by descent applies to lineage from Polish citizens who were born in or resided in Poland or its prior territories after 1920.  If you ancestors left Poland prior to 1920, you may be eligible for citizenship if their residential address was registered with the Polish, Austro-Hungarian, Prussian or Russian registries. Your ancestor must never have lost Polish citizenship such as becoming a citizen of a foreign country prior to 1951. The ancestor must have been a Polish citizen or been eligible for citizenship at the time of birth of the next descendent.

Hungary

If you are a descendent of a Hungarian citizen you may be eligible for Hungarian Citizenship. Since the borders of Hungary have changed significantly over the years, the specific requirements for your ancestors will depend on exactly where and when they lived. Citizenship may require knowledge of basic Hungarian.

Portugal

Portugal offers citizenship to the descendents of Portuguese Sephardic Jews who were persecuted from Portugal and Spain in the late 15th centuries. There is no Portuguese language requirement for this.

Portugal also offers a D7 visa enabling non-EU citizens with sufficient funds (annual income of €7.980 for the first adult, €3.600 for second or more adults, €2.160 per child) to live in Portugal.

Spain

Citizens of Ibero-American nations, Philippines, Equitorial Guinea, Andorra, Portugal, and people of Sephardic Origin can apply for Spanish citizenship after only 2 years of residence in Spain – compared to typically 10 years of residency in Spain. US citizens who moved and lived in Puerto Rico for at least 12 months and obtained a Certificate of Puerto Rican Citizenship are eligible for this expedited citizenship pathway. Similar to Portugal, Spain previously offered citizenship to the descendents of Spanish Sephardic Jews who were persecuted in the 15th century; however this program ended recently.

Germany

Descendants of victims of Nazi-era persecution are eligible for a more expedited citizenship pathway with fewer requirements. You must have a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

Austria

Descendents of victims of Nazi-era persecution are eligible for citizenship. Here is a questionnaire to determine if you meet the requirements.

Bottom Line

Americans with European Ancestry could benefit from the advantages of EU citizenship. As you contemplate the possibility, do keep in mind the tax implications of potentially living and working outside the US. The US is one of the few countries that taxes their citizens regardless of where they live. That said, if you dream of Europe – take a look back, it may just be the key to your future.

Dr. Ashwini Bapat is a palliative care physician who attended medical school at Tufts University and completed residency and fellowship training at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She resides in Portugal and provides clinical care through telemedicine.

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