How getting Italian citizenship by descent can open the doors to the European Union

How getting Italian citizenship by descent can open the doors to the European Union

Thu 01 Dec 2022 3:25 PM

In recent years, many Americans of Italian descent have pursued what is known as the Italian dream. Italy’s superb cuisine, its natural and historic heritage, as well as the art and culture all nurture the soul, from the foothills of the Alps down to the seaside in the south. Traveling to Italy has never been easier if you have dual nationality, which is why it has become an ideal destination for many U.S. citizens with Italian ancestry, with many Americans seeking permanent or even part-time retirement in Italy. But what are the benefits of holding an Italian passport? How does this open the doors to the European Union? Let’s explore the process of acquiring Italian citizenship by descent and the many benefits that it provides.

Italian citizenship by descent European Union

As a general rule, you can apply for Italian citizenship by descent if you have an ancestor who was born in Italy and was never naturalized in the U.S., or if they were naturalized after their child’s birth in the U.S. Your Italian ancestor must have been alive when Italy was unified as a nation on March 17, 1861 or must have been born after that date, and the individuals in your Italian lineage cannot have voluntarily renounced their Italian citizenship. If your male ancestor became naturalized prior to the birth of his child and the child was born abroad, you might not be able to apply for citizenship via your local Consulate, but it might be possible to claim citizenship through the court system by applying through a female ancestor. This is because prior to January 1, 1948, which is when Italy’s constitution came into effect, men and women did not have equal rights in terms of citizenship, and women were not able to pass citizenship on to their children. This is now considered to be unlawful and discriminatory, so it is possible to apply for citizenship retroactively by filing a lawsuit in a court in Italy.

Italian citizenship by descent Florence

In order to apply for Italian citizenship, you need to collect all your family’s vital records, including any documents regarding the naturalization of your Italian ancestors. The records need to be authenticated with Apostilles and translated into Italian, then they can be submitted at an Italian Consulate, a municipality or a court in Italy. There is no generational restriction for Italian citizenship applications, meaning there is no limit to how many generations you can go back to find an Italian ancestor. Furthermore, you can pass Italian citizenship on to your children without any limitations, provided that you register their birth certificates at the Italian Consulate nearest your place of residence before they turn 18. Similarly, your children will be able to pass citizenship on to their children, provided that they register their births.  

In addition to passing on citizenship without limitation, Italian citizenship comes with a number of benefits: it opens the door to quality universal healthcare, affordable tuition fees and to Europe’s competitive real estate markets. In fact, being an Italian citizen also means that you are a EU citizen. Due to an agreement that allows free movement of people in the EU, Italian citizens can live, work, study or retire in any EU member state.

Italian citizenship by descent Venice

If you decide to travel to Italy and you plan on staying in the country long-term, you will need to register with the registry office (Ufficio Anagrafe) in the Italian municipality where you intend to live. Registering comes with numerous advantages, such as being able to register with the national health service and obtaining Italian ID (Carta d’identità). If you register with the national health service, you will be assigned to a general practitioner and you will receive a health card (Tessera sanitaria), which will allow you to access medical care anywhere in Italy. Italy’s healthcare system is largely free of charge, and small costs are usually limited to tests and medical assistance provided by specialists. If you plan on moving to an EU member state, it is advisable to apply for a European Health Insurance Card, which covers medical expenses in EU countries.

It is worth clarifying that if you have an Italian passport and you move to a EU member state for longer than three months, you will need to register your residence with the relevant authority. In order to do so you will need a valid form of ID. However, if you plan to visit a EU member state for less than three months, you will not need to register as a resident.

Italian citizenship by descent Italy

Travelling within Europe as a EU citizen is fast and easy. Cities are well connected and offer hundreds of attractions, and you will enjoy a unique cultural and historical experience wherever you choose to go. If you plan on studying in Europe, there are many universities that rank highly on an international scale and offer a wide variety of degree programs in English. If you choose to study in Italy, you will also have the opportunity to study abroad, as many universities participate in the Erasmus Program, an EU scheme that allows students to study in other European countries as part of their degree.

Europe also has a growing labor market that attracts investors and employees worldwide, as it offers access to higher salaries, higher standards of living and a better work/life balance. Some EU countries may be better suited to you than others, so it is advisable to carry out extensive research to determine which country will be the best match. Undoubtedly, for those who love Italy, Italian citizenship will definitely be an investment with lifelong benefits.   

If you are considering applying for Italian citizenship and you need information or help with determining whether you are eligible to apply, please do not hesitate to contact ICA at If you need further details, please visit

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