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 the right to claim Italian citizenship and get an Italian passport — granting you all the rights of a European citizen.

This post covers the process for claiming Italian citizenship by ancestry which is called jure sanguinis. If you pursue this process, your goal will be to acquire enough documentation to prove you are Italian during a jure sanguinis appointment at an Italian consulate.

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 Italy, this law is called jure sanguinis.

About the process

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

Who else might be eligible?

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 will 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.

How much of it is worth doing yourself?

The jure sanguinis process has many steps with varying difficulty depending on your family history. One of the first things to decide is: Do you want to do some or all of it yourself, or hire someone to help with some or all of it? The tradeoff is mostly one of time and money, but also of an opportunity to learn family history.

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. I gathered and organized all US documents and apostilles myself. I got professional help to retrieve the Italian records my case required and create official Italian translations for all records written in English. I'm 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. I am also glad I did not choose to retrieve Italian records or write 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.

Now, on to the process itself. 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. If you do it yourself, you can expect to mail lots of letters to request vital documents.

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.

Photo of vital documents
A copy of my great-grandparents’ original marriage certificate written in calligraphy.

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 the appropriate state — plus one for each other ancestor life event that requires documentation for jure sanguinis. In practice, getting apostilles involves physically mailing the relevant vital documents to the appropriate apostille office and awaiting their return with the apostille affixed.

Once you have all the apostilles for all your documents, it’s time to have the documents translated. This is not a good time to rely on Google Translate. From what I understand, the Italian jure sanguinis reviewers are 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, you may decide, as I did, that a professional translator is worth the cost.

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!