Whether you’ve been in Italy for years, plan to relocate there soon, or are just beginning to consider a move, learning how to get Italian citizenship will make it much easier for you to stay in the country on a long-term basis.
The most common ways for Americans to gain Italian citizenship are through naturalization or marriage. However, one lesser-known option is Italian citizenship by descent. In fact, if you have Italian heritage, you may very well qualify for it without even knowing.
In principle, anyone of Italian descent — no matter how far back — could be eligible for citizenship by descent. Of course, as with all legal matters, there are some stipulations attached. Below, we’ll provide an overview of Italian citizenship by descent and break down some of the more important details and restrictions.
Italian citizenship by descent is based on the principle of jure sanguinis (which comes from the Latin jus sanguinis, “right of blood”). This means Italian nationals can pass citizenship onto their direct blood relations, regardless of birthplace.
There is no generational limit to jure sanguinis. Italian citizens may pass down citizenship over decades, or even centuries. Keep in mind, though, that your ancestor must have:
- Been born in Italy (or a place subsequently annexed by Italy) after March 17th, 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially established
- A direct, unbroken line of descent to you. If your ancestor lost or forfeited their citizenship before having children, you are not eligible to apply
Even if your ancestor didn’t actively forfeit their Italian citizenship or have it revoked, they may have lost it by default or lost their ability to pass it down, including if:
- Your ancestor voluntarily acquired another citizenship before August 16th, 1992
- Note that this does not apply to those who acquired citizenship by virtue of their birthplace (jus soli)
- Your ancestor naturalized in the US or another country before July 1st, 1912
- Your ancestor’s parents became naturalized citizens of another nation before they turned 21
You may also encounter complications if you trace back your Italian ancestry to a woman, although there has been some significant progress in that area in recent years.
Even if your ancestor falls into one of the categories above, you still may have a case for citizenship by descent. Depending on the circumstances, attorneys may be able to challenge an ancestor’s loss of citizenship or right to pass down citizenship in court. (5)
As you can see, eligibility for Italian citizenship by descent can be complex. Often, it’s best to consult an Italian immigration attorney regarding your specific circumstances.
The lawsuit that made obtaining Italian citizenship more accessible and equitable
Historic citizenship laws often reflect antiquated social norms and hierarchies. Case in point: For many years, children born to Italian women could not claim citizenship through their maternal line, however, children born to Italian men could.
In 1948, Italy changed that law, allowing children to claim Italian citizenship through an Italian father or mother. The rule only applied to those born after January 1, 1948, though, which still significantly limited descendants’ ability to claim matrilineal Italian citizenship. In 2009, however, an Italian supreme court case forbade gender discrimination in citizenship claims.
The not-so-great news is that Italian consulates still refuse to process so-called “1948 cases.” Fortunately, those who trace their Italian heritage back to a female ancestor can still apply for Italian citizenship by descent — they just need to apply through the court system.
How to apply for dual citizenship by descent
So, how exactly do you apply for Italian citizenship by descent? Generally, you must follow these steps:3
- Confirm your eligibility (typically in consultation with an Italian immigration attorney who specializes in citizenship through descent cases)
- Gather all required documents, including:
- A passport or other official ID
- A completed application form
- A copy of your Declaration of Intention/Petition for Naturalization
- Your birth certificate
- The birth certificate of your Italian ancestor
- Birth, naturalization, marriage (and if applicable, divorce), and death certificates for all relatives linking you to your ancestor
- If you can’t find naturalization records, you may present Census records and a certificate of the nonexistence of records4
- A certificate from the Italian Consular Authority confirming your direct and unbroken Italian citizenship
- A certificate of residence
- Submit your application to the appropriate Italian authority
- Pay a fee of €300 (~$318 USD)
- Receive approval
Any documents not originally in Italian will require an official translation, and some may require apostilles.
In some cases, such as if you trace your ancestry back to a female relative born before 1948, you must hire a law firm to represent you. Other times, it won’t be strictly necessary — but given the complexity of immigration law, consulting a lawyer is usually a good idea.
Other ways to get dual citizenship in Italy
As noted at the beginning of this article, two other primary ways to acquire dual nationality in Italy are through marriage and naturalization.
Marriage to an Italian citizen
After being married to an Italian for two years while living in Italy or three years abroad, the spouse of an Italian citizen may be eligible for Italian citizenship by marriage. If you and your spouse have minor children, those required years are halved.
Non-EU foreigners who move to Italy must legally live there for ten years before they are eligible for Italian citizenship. That requirement is shorter for some individuals, such as refugees or those who have worked for the Italian government abroad for at least five years.
Keep in mind that both of these pathways may carry additional requirements, such as proficiency in Italian.
Benefits of dual citizenship in Italy
Once you get Italian citizenship, you receive all the legal rights, protections, and obligations of any other Italian citizen. You are also permitted to keep your US citizenship, meaning you can be a dual national of both Italy and the United States. Some benefits of Italian dual citizenship include:
Holding citizenship in Italy allows you to permanently live, work, and study anywhere in the EU, the EEA, or Switzerland, with very few exceptions.
As an Italian citizen, you may benefit from public programs like Italian healthcare, Italian pension plans, and the ability to enroll your children in Italian public schools and universities. These benefits often extend to anywhere in the EU, EEA, or Switzerland that you move to.
An Italian passport
Being an Italian citizen gives you the right to apply for an Italian passport — the third most powerful in the world, by some measures. An Italian passport allows you to travel to 190 different countries without applying for a visa beforehand.
Purchase Italian property
Purchasing property as an Italian citizen is easier and more tax advantageous than purchasing it as a non-citizen, non-resident.
Some other advantages of Italian dual citizenship include the ability to:
- Vote in Italian elections
- Pass Italian citizenship onto your children
- Receive Italian consular protection when abroad
Disadvantages of Italian citizenship
Of course, there are pros and cons to any decision, including applying for Italian citizenship by descent. These may include:
Italian dual citizenship cost
Applying for Italian citizenship by descent can be a costly process. Beyond the €300 application fee, you may also have to pay to:
- Retain the services of an Italian immigration lawyer
- Hire a genealogical researcher
- Obtain official documents
- Translate documents into Italian
- Add a Hague Apostille to your documents
- Apply for an Italian passport
If you take a DIY approach, Italian citizenship by descent may cost $1,500 to $3,000 USD in total. All-inclusive services, however, may reach up to $25,000 USD or more.
The time & effort
From initial research to application approval, receiving Italian citizenship by descent typically takes one to two years — or even more for particularly complex cases.3
Italian tax obligations
The Italian government considers anyone registered with the Records of the Italian Resident Population, domiciled in Italy, or maintaining a residence in Italy for more than 183 days of the year to be a tax resident. This is important to note because Italian tax rates tend to be higher than US ones.
Tax considerations of Italian dual citizenship as a US citizen
All Italian tax residents must file tax returns, unless:
- They work for just one employer that withholds all income taxes via payroll
- They earn less than €8,000 (~$8,470 USD) in employment income, or €7,500 (~$7,940 USD) in retirement income
National income tax rates in Italy for the 2023 tax year are as follows:
|Taxable Income (EUR)||Taxable Income (USD)||Tax Rate|
|€0 – €15,000||~$0 – $15,882||23%|
|€15,001 – €28,000||~$15,883 – $29,646||25%|
|€28,001 – €50,000||~$29,647 – $52,940||35%|
You may also face regional income taxes (ranging from 1.23% to 3.33%) and municipal income taxes (0% to 0.9%). Other taxes you may encounter include:
- Capital gains taxes: Generally 26%
- VAT: Standard rate of 22%, with discounts of 10%, 4%, and 0% for certain goods and services
- Wealth tax on properties outside Italy: .76%
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so consult an Italian tax professional when in doubt.
The US’s system of citizenship-based taxation means that all American citizens and permanent residents who meet the minimum income reporting threshold must file a federal tax return, regardless of where in the world they live. If you’re also an Italian tax resident, you’re technically subject to taxation by both governments, but don’t worry — this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay double taxes on the same income.
While a tax treaty exists between Italy and the US to prevent double taxation in principle, a tricky clause called the Savings Clause limits its ability to help you. Fortunately, Americans abroad receive certain tax breaks that those stateside don’t. However, those tax breaks come with some additional filing obligations.
Here’s a quick breakdown of tax topics US expats may want to research further:
Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE)
Those who pass the Physical Presence Test or Bona Fide Residence Test qualify for the FEIE, allowing them to exclude up to $120,000 USD from taxation for the 2023 tax year (aka the taxes you’ll file in 2024). Furthermore, you may be able to write off certain housing expenses through the Foreign Housing Exclusion/Deduction.
Foreign Tax Credit (FTC)
The FTC essentially allows you to subtract what you’ve paid in income taxes to a foreign government from what you owe the US government in income taxes, provided that you meet some basic criteria.
Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) & the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)
If you’re an American with $10,000 USD or more in a foreign bank account at any point in the year, you must report it on FinCEN Report 114 (more commonly known as an FBAR). Meanwhile, those living abroad with $200,000+ USD in foreign financial assets by the end of the year — or over $300,000 USD in foreign assets at any point in the year — must report them on Form 8938 per FATCA.
- Citizenship by descent (iure sanguinis)
- Re-acquisition of Italian citizenship
- ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP BY DESCENT: UNLOCKING YOUR ITALIAN ANCESTORS HERITAGE AND OBTAIN THE ITALIAN PASSPORT
- Italy – Citizenship by Descent
- How easy (or not) is it to get Italian Citizenship by descent?
- How the 1948 rule really works
- Citizenship by marriage
- Benefits and Disadvantages of Italian Dual Citizenship
- REVEALED: How much it really costs to get Italian citizenship via ancestry
- Italy – Individual – Residence
- Italy – Individual – Taxes on personal income
- Italy – Individual – Income determination
- Italy – Individual – Other taxes
- Italian citizenship by marriage or civil partnership
- Becoming an Italian Citizen