How to get Italian citizenship by ancestry

Do you have an Italian ancestor who is your parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent? If so, you may have a right to Italian citizenship.

This post covers the process called jure sanguinis.

Photo of US and Italian passports
My passports and great-grandmother’s Italian birth certificate

What is jure sanguinis?

There are two main ways nation states determine citizenship.

  1. Jus soli, or “law of the soil,” recognizes anyone born within a state’s territory as a citizen
  2. Jus sanguinis, or “law of the blood,” recognizes the daughter or son of any citizen as a citizen

Italy has one of the most generationally inclusive jus sanguinis laws. It recognizes many people with a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent as rightful Italian citizens — if they can prove it. In Italian, this law is called jure sanguinis.

About the process

Before getting into the details, it is worth covering a few important notes.

Of course, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I add that disclaimer here because, although the process outlined below worked for me, your mileage certainly may vary depending on legal technicalities related to dates of birth, naturalization, or other specific events in your family history. I also may have made errors here or the process may have changed since I wrote this. Also, I understand different Italian consulates sometimes enforce different requirements. I hope you find the process straightforward and smooth. Doing lots of your own research will help.

On a more encouraging note, if you are pursuing Italian citizenship, it is worth understanding who in your family may also be able to get Italian citizenship with little additional effort. Siblings, children, and parents need many of the same documents. In many cases, it is trivial to order one or more additional copies of a document from a municipality when you are already ordering one. In my case, I was able to get all documents required for my sister and father to get Italian citizenship and passports with little additional effort.

If you choose to manage some or all of the process yourself, you will save some money but you will make many phone calls and mail many letters back and forth with recordkeepers. You will need to correspond with and/or order documents from any municipality where your ancestors experienced any life event such as birth, marriage, death, and naturalization. Therefore, you will interface with more different municipalities if your ancestors moved a few times or if there are many generations between you and your last recognized Italian ancestor. I chose to manage some of the process myself and get professional help to retrieve the Italian records my case required and create official Italian translations for all records written in English. I am glad I did some of it myself because, although it was a lot of work, it was rewarding to learn about all the places my family has lived in the US since immigrating. And it was important to me to save money. I am also glad I did not choose to get Italian records or translations myself because small Italian municipalities can be particularly tricky to work with and, from what I understand, the translations required for the jure sanguinis process must be impeccable. The conventional wisdom for jure sanguinis translations is Google Translate won't cut it.

Now, on to the process itself. The goal is to acquire documentation to prove you are Italian during a jure sanguinis appointment at an Italian consulate. Andiamo.

Step 1: Identify your lineage

The law requires an “unbroken blood line” between you and your Italian ancestor.

Consider the family line that connects you to your Italian ancestor. For example, my family line to my Italian ancestor looks like this:

Next, consider a situation that could “break” the “blood line” to your Italian ancestor:

If not, you are almost certainly eligible for Italian citizenship. The specific process and difficulty of your jure sanguinis case will depend on the answers to the next questions about your family history.

Complicating factors to consider

With your family line in mind, consider the following situations that could make the process more complicated for you.

  1. If anyone in your Italian family lineage is both identified as female on their birth certificate and was born before January 1, 1948, your case is not as straightforward as it would otherwise be. From what I understand, it is still possible to pursue jure sanguinis in this case but requires applying through a civil court in Rome instead of following the normal steps below. (This is an incredibly patriarchal law.)
  2. If anyone in your family lineage was born while their parents were not married, you will need both parents’ names on the child’s birth certificate and you will likely also need proof that the parents lived together (but enforcement of the latter rule varies, from what I understand).

If your family lineage includes one of the situations above, you might consider talking to people who specialize in Italian citizenship cases. I recommend Lauren at Your Italian Passport and would be happy to introduce you to her by email.

Step 2: Find your consulate

You must apply for Italian citizenship at the Italian consulate designated for the region for the address on your driver’s license or other government-issued ID. If you live in the US, the list of consulates is here.

Once you find your consulate, make an appointment to apply for citizenship jure sanguinis. The typical waiting period for an appointment is about 18 months. I called in early 2016 and got an appointment for late 2017.

Step 3: Find your documents

Phew. This is the longest step.

You can gather all of the documents yourself or find professional help, or a combination of both.

Photo of letters ready to mail
So. Many. Letters.

I gathered all the US vital records, apostilles, USCIS documents, National Archives documents and municipality proof of non-existence of naturalization records myself. As I mentioned, I worked with Lauren from Your Italian Passport for Italian documents and for translation of the US vital records. Finally, I compiled the binder of all completed documents myself.

For every person in your Italian family lineage back to your Italian ancestor, including spouses, you will need:

  1. Birth certificate
  2. Marriage certificate
  3. Death certificate (if applicable)
  4. Divorce certificate (if applicable)

Also, for your Italian ancestor, you will need:

  1. Proof of her or his Italian citizenship (birth certificate will be enough if you don’t have her or his passport)
  2. Naturalization record dated after the birth of her or his child or proof of non-existence of naturalization record from three sources: an immigration authority (in the US, the USCIS), a federal archive (in the US, the National Archives), and the county (or counties) in which she or he resided

All documents must be the official or certified version. In most cases you can get this version by requesting, for example, the “certified birth certificate” from the original issuing authority and paying an additional fee. The issuing authority is the municipality (e.g., city or county) where the ancestor was born.

Step 4: Get document translations and apostilles

Documents not issued in Italy must be translated and affixed with an apostille, which is a fancy verification.

In the US, each state has its own apostille process and you must get an apostille from the state in which a document was issued. For example, my grandfather was born in Louisiana, married in New York, and died in Virginia. For each of those documents, I needed to get an apostille from each of those states — plus one for each other life event that requires documentation from the family member that experienced the life event.

Once you have all the apostilles for all your documents, it’s time to have the documents translated. As I noted above, this is not a good time to rely on Google Translate. From what I understand, the Italian jure sanguinis reviewers are very particular about the translation being exact and have been known to reject applications for inaccurate translations. With such a long waiting period for another appointment, I would highly suggest hiring a professional translator.

Step 5: Show up to your appointment

On the day of my appointment, I needed to bring:

It is possible these requirements have changed.

Good luck

I hope you enjoy this opportunity to learn your family history. I certainly did.

In bocca al lupo!