Understanding dual citizenship in the U.K.

Tips By Lauren McMenemy Jan 15, 2020

This article was created in partnership with Western Union.

The world has grown smaller in recent years, and living abroad is no longer the giant leap it once was. Technology lets us keep in touch with friends and family back home, and mobility is on the rise as a result.

Living in a new country — whether as a Brit abroad or a non-native in the U.K. — is so easy that many are opting for dual citizenship. Global living allows us to make the most of work and life opportunities. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch with family, and even send money home in a matter of minutes using the Western Union® app.

Here’s what to know about applying for dual citizenship within the U.K.

Who is eligible for dual citizenship?

Holding multiple citizenships means you are a legal citizen of two or more countries at the same time, which has both advantages and disadvantages.

Unfortunately, not all countries allow multiple citizenships, so you’ll need to check with your country’s embassy in the U.K., or local British embassy, high commission or consulate, before starting the process. For additional support, you should consult an immigration lawyer.

Some countries don’t allow dual citizenship under any circumstances, including China, India, Japan, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. If you’re a British citizen living in a country that doesn’t allow this, and you want to become a citizen of that country, you will need to renounce your British citizenship.

The World Population Review lists countries that do allow dual citizenship, including:

  • Albania
  • Australia
  • South Korea
  • The United States
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Iceland
  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • Nigeria
  • Syria
  • Turkey

Citizenship in the EU

The U.K.’s inclusion in the EU currently confers certain rights to U.K. citizens, including the ability to live in an EU country without needing to be a citizen thanks to freedom of movement, but this will change if and when Brexit is achieved. EU countries including Italy, Ireland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain allow multiple citizenships, too. In fact, there’s been an influx of U.K. citizens applying for Irish passports since the Brexit referendum in 2016, reports BBC News.

Rights of dual citizens

Dual citizens have the right to engage in public life — including voting and standing for parliament — as well as the right to live, leave and reenter, and to work or study in either country without needing a permit.

U.K. citizens also gain access to the National Health Service, which is free for citizens, along with the right to welfare benefits and to apply for a British passport.

There are some disadvantages to multiple citizenships, though, so you should know what you’re committing to when getting that second passport. You’ll have dual obligations — including the risk of double taxation and an impact on any security clearances — and may lose certain rights, too. For example, the U.K. government can’t provide diplomatic help when you are in your home country (non-U.K.) under international law, explains In Brief.

Applying for U.K. citizenship

There’s no specific application process for multiple citizenships in the U.K.; you just need to go through the usual process of applying for British citizenship. You’ll need to be 18 years old or older, have no serious criminal record and must continue to live in the U.K. for a requisite period of time. During the process, there are some English language requirements, and the need to pass a “Life in the U.K.” test.

According to GOV.UK, citizenship may be open to those:

  • Whose partner is a British citizen
  • Who has at least one parent born in the U.K. — British citizenship is automatically passed down one generation to children born outside the U.K.
  • Who are from the EU, EEA or Switzerland and have been living in the U.K. for five years — these citizens can either apply for “settled status” or “permanent residence” status, and then work toward citizenship
  • Who are from elsewhere and have been living in the U.K. for five years — these citizens can apply for indefinite leave to remain, and can apply for citizenship 12 months later

Applying for citizenship in other countries

If you’re a U.K. citizen living abroad in a country that allows a second citizenship and want to start an application, seek guidance from the British government representatives in that country to ensure you’re eligible and won’t lose any of your U.K. citizen rights. While it’s great to make the most of globalisation’s many opportunities, it’s important to make sure it works for you, not against you.