Europe is a very popular destination for American physicians wanting to practice abroad. Applying for a local medical license in a European nation often involves a lot of paperwork, the 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. Another option is the digital nomad visa which allows you to work remotely and live and travel within the EU. The third option is proving that you are a descendant of an EU nation’s citizen.
Here are 10 countries that offer EU citizenship by descent.
Benefits of EU Citizenship
9 of the 10 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.
If staying longer than three months, you’ll 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.
Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Latvia, and Lithuania offer the most favorable pathway to EU citizenship by descent. Other countries listed tend to have more stringent requirements.
Descendents of victims of Nazi-era persecution are eligible for citizenship. Here’s a questionnaire to determine if you meet the requirements. Through this pathway, you’re eligible to retain your US citizenship. This is unique because, typically, Austrian law does not allow dual or multiple citizenship.
Children born to a German Parent who had previously been excluded in a gender-discriminating way from acquiring German Citizenship are now eligible for citizenship by descent. This is also open to their descendants.
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.
If you are a descendant 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 where and when they lived. Citizenship may require knowledge of basic Hungarian.
You may be eligible for Irish citizenship if you have Irish ancestors – specifically going back three generations, such as a great-grandparent. You can complete the questionnaire here to see if you’re eligible and can register with the Foreign Birth Registry to begin 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! ☘️
Italian Citizenship by Descent allows Italian nationality to be passed down. Your ancestor must have been an Italian citizen born in Italy after 1861 and must never have revoked their Italian Citizenship before the birth of the next descendent. There’s a carve-out for Italian citizens born before 1861 who died after 1861. Citizenship passed down through maternal lineage is possible for those children born after 1948. For those whose maternal lineage dates before 1948, obtaining citizenship through a judicial process is possible.
Latvia offers a couple of different pathways to citizenship:
- Latvian exiles & their descendants
- Latvians & Livs
- Descendents of Latvian citizens
If your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents possessed Lithuanian citizenship before June 15th, 1940 and had been deported or left occupied Lithuania till March 11th, 1990, you’re eligible for restoration of your citizenship.
You’re eligible for Polish Citizenship by descent if your parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent were Polish citizens. Given Poland’s periods of occupation in the 20th century, there are nuances to the right to citizenship by descent.
Portugal offers citizenship to the descendants of Portuguese Sephardic Jews persecuted in Portugal and Spain in the late 15th century. There is no Portuguese language requirement for this.
Portugal also offers a D7 visa enabling non-EU citizens with sufficient funds (as of 2023 was €760 per month) to live in Portugal. This visa can serve as a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship.
Spain typically requires 10 years of residency in Spain before being eligible for Spanish Citizenship.
However, there are exceptions to this rule.
- If your parents or grandparents were Spanish, you could be eligible for Spain citizenship after only 1 year of residence.
- Citizens of Ibero-American nations, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Andorra, Portugal, and Puerto Rico, and people of Sephardic Origin can apply for Spanish citizenship after only 2 years of residence in Spain.
Like Portugal, Spain previously offered citizenship (without the need for residence) to the descendants of Spanish Sephardic Jews persecuted in the 15th century; however, this program ended recently.
Notably, Spain does not have a dual citizenship treaty with the US. So you may have to give up your US citizenship when you obtain Spanish citizenship.
Americans with European Ancestry could benefit from the advantages of EU citizenship. Given the complexities of the eligibility criteria, consider working with professional citizenship services to help you navigate the bureaucratic process.
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 tax their citizens regardless of where they live.
If you dream of Europe, look back; it may be the key to your future.
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Originally Published June 10, 2021. Updated July 25, 2023
Dr. Ashwini Bapat is a palliative care physician, co-Founder, and CEO of EpioneMD, which provides personalized coaching to caregivers and people living with illness and empowers them to navigate aging & illness with confidence. She resides in Portugal.