Citizenship is more than nationality, though the terms are often used interchangeably. When you’re a citizen of a country, you’re legally part of a nation-state, which gives you both rights and responsibilities.
For instance, citizenship may entitle you to vote, receive certain protections from your government, work for a national government, and enjoy visa-free travel. Other benefits may include buying real estate you couldn’t otherwise purchase and taking advantage of public healthcare. For instance, countries like Australia and the United Kingdom have national health systems for their citizens.
Most people hold just one citizenship. However, it’s possible to have citizenship in multiple countries, and with a second citizenship (or third), you may count yourself as a member of more than one nation. There is no international limit on how many citizenships a single person can possess. Each country has its own rules, some of which are more restrictive than others.
Interested in multiple citizenships? We’ll explore how they work along with the citizenship laws of different countries and potential drawbacks.
How multiple citizenship works
Every country has its own laws to determine citizenship. Usually, when a child is born to two citizens of the same country, the child holds the same citizenship as their parents. This covers the vast majority of people and is the primary way of establishing one’s citizenship. There are other ways it can be determined, however.
Birthright citizenship is practiced in dozens of countries. Countries with birthright citizenship bestow citizenship upon any child born within their borders. Birthright citizenship is a common way for children to be born with dual citizenship, or even triple citizenship, if their parents are from different countries.
The United States, as well as most other countries in North and South America in addition to Caribbean states like Antigua and Barbuda, have birthright citizenship. Many close allies of the USA, though, do not have this policy. For example, Germany, France, Japan, and India all have more restrictive laws about whether and how children born within their borders can become citizens.
Some countries, like Thailand and Malaysia, have “weaker” birthright citizenship laws with more conditions. For example, the parents must have lived in the country for a certain amount of time before their newborn can become a citizen. Check local laws before you start the process of claiming birthright citizenship.
Citizenship by marriage
Another common way to pick up citizenship outside your home country is through marriage to a citizen of another country. Countries like Spain, Portugal, Malta, Switzerland, and the Netherlands all grant citizenship if you marry someone who is already a citizen.
Note, though, that this is hardly the case in all countries. The U.S. government enforces several requirements for spouses of citizens before they can obtain U.S. citizenship. Ireland and Italy have similar requirements, with Italy requiring that would-be spousal citizens pass a test in Certification of Italian as a Foreign Language (CILS).
Naturalization refers to the practice of applying to a government bureau or court system to become a citizen of a country. In the United States, for instance, you can become an American citizen through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Japan, on the other hand, naturalizes citizens through its Ministry of Justice.
Note that often, countries would rather not grant citizenship through naturalization if the person will then have multiple citizenships. You may find that the country in which you are trying to naturalize will want you to renounce any other citizenships you have. In practice, this prevents most people from obtaining multiple citizenships through naturalization.
Citizenship-by-investment programs allow a person to receive citizenship in exchange for making a financial contribution to the country or buying approved real estate there. For example, the nation of St. Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean grants citizenship with a $150,000 donation to their Sustainable Growth Fund, with a $175,000 contribution to the Alternative Investment Option, or with a real estate purchase that meets certain criteria.
How many citizenships can you have?
Different countries have different views on whether multiple citizenships should be tolerated. The United States allows the practice, though not universally. For example, military service in the armed forces of another country can cause a U.S. citizen to lose their American citizenship.
Check the specific laws of the two countries you’re curious about to see whether dual citizenship is possible. (Note that dual nationality, which arises from having parents from different countries, is slightly different from citizenship and may also be recognized differently by different countries.)
There are over 20 countries that allow dual citizenship with the United States, from Albania to Zambia.
Lastly, you don’t need to become a citizen to reside in another country. Many of the benefits of citizenship can be obtained with legal permanent residence or a residence permit or green card. As for travel, international travelers with single citizenship typically have a lot of freedom of movement, particularly if they have a U.S. passport. A second passport is often unnecessary.
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