Thousands of non-EU nationals are becoming EU citizens all over the world. How do they manage to do this? In this comprehensive guide, we look at how to become an EU citizen if you weren’t born in an EU country or have a family member who is a citizen of an EU member state already.
What is a European citizen?
Individuals holding the nationality of an EU country are automatically granted EU citizenship. National laws may dictate specific rights and benefits, which can differ between countries. On the other hand, rights stemming from EU law are standardized across all EU member states.
You must apply for citizenship in an EU country to obtain EU citizenship. While the process to obtain European citizenship varies between states, in general, the minimum requirement is for you to live in the country for a certain amount of time, provide proof of legal residence, and lodge your application to obtain EU citizenship.
Anyone possessing the nationality of an EU member state is instantly an EU citizen. EU citizenship complements national citizenship without replacing it.
Why become an EU citizen?
There are many EU citizenship rights and benefits. European citizenship in EU countries grants you unlimited working rights in any EU member state, as well as increased international mobility and freedom of opportunities.
Here are the top ten benefits of becoming an EU citizen:
- Full working and residential rights in 27 EU countries
- Fantastic tertiary education and scholarship choices
- Grow your business with full EU protection
- Right to consular protection by EU member states
- National health care benefits
- Privacy laws to protect you
- A European passport gives you a plan B during times of crisis
- Own property without a permit
- Visa-free travel to more than 170 countries
- An EU passport can be passed down to future generations
Am I eligible for a European passport?
Anyone is eligible for a European passport, provided that they pursue one of the following three options:
- Get EU citizenship by descent based on your ancestor’s citizenship
- Get EU citizenship through naturalization after a period of permanent residence
- Obtain EU citizenship through marriage to an EU national
- Apply for a European passport through a citizenship by investment program
European citizenship by descent/ancestry
The easiest way to get EU citizenship is if your parents (and in some cases), grandparents, or even great-grandparents were EU citizens from countries like Hungary, Ireland, Italy, and Poland. Citizenship by descent is common and costs just a few hundred dollars to obtain a European passport. The rules for obtaining EU citizenship by descent or ancestry will depend on the European country you’re applying for citizenship.
Become an EU citizen through naturalization
Most EU countries will give EU citizenship to foreign citizens who live in the country as legal residents. The requirement is for the person to first maintain permanent residence in the country for a set number of years.
How to become an EU citizen through citizenship-by-investment
EU citizenship by investment programs and EU residency programs are the fastest ways to get European citizenship if you don’t qualify for citizenship through ancestry. In exchange for a qualifying investment in the nation, you and your family can get EU passports in as little as 12 months, depending on what country program you pick.
The Best EU Citizenship to Have
Austrian citizenship is considered by many to be the best EU citizenship for Indian, American, and many other foreign nationals worldwide. It is one of the most attractive EU states and countries in the world in terms of the sheer number of opportunities it offers. An Austrian passport takes you far from economic stability, low crime rates, and clean air to excellent infrastructure and job opportunities.
But, despite the many advantages of having Austrian citizenship, the country does not allow dual citizenship, meaning you would have to relinquish your current passport and citizenship of your home country.
Another excellent EU citizenship to have is Portugal. Its 300 days of sunshine per year, long stretch of Atlantic coastline, fabulous food, affordable living costs, and low real estate prices mean having citizenship in Portugal is certainly an asset.
Although not a direct route to citizenship, you can obtain citizenship in Portugal by investing in real estate. The minimum requirement is a qualifying investment of at least €500,000 in real estate, and a Portuguese passport can be yours in just five years. Please note that the purchasing real estate is due to be phased out as an eligible investment option.
There are also more affordable options. For example, the Cultural Production Golden Visa can be obtained by investing of €200,000 if the cultural production is taking place in a designated low-density area.
How to Become an EU Citizen via a Citizenship by Investment Program
Do you wish to live in Europe and obtain a European passport? Then, you’ll have difficulty finding an easier path than citizenship by investment. We’ll highlight European countries such as Malta, Portugal, and Spain because they provide a relatively straightforward process to obtain an EU passport through citizenship by investment or residency by investment programs.
Many citizenship by investment programs allow you to secure citizenship in a relatively short period. This is one of the main advantages of taking the citizenship by investment route. Another advantage is that your immediate family members are eligible for EU passports (generally for additional fees).
Keep in mind that anyone with the nationality of an EU country is automatically a citizen of the EU. Be sure that European citizenship is permitted alongside your national citizenship, as some countries do not allow dual citizenship.
Become an EU citizen in Malta
Malta’s citizenship by naturalization program — also referred to as the Malta Citizenship by Naturalization for Exceptional Services — provides a quick and efficient journey to a European passport. Maltese citizenship can be obtained in 12 months with a minimum investment value of €600,000, and in 36 months with a minimum investment value of €750,000. In total, three payments need to be made before citizenship is granted:
- A direct, non-refundable investment: An exceptional direct investment of a minimum value of €600,000 or €750,000 for the main applicant, depending on the residence period selected: 12 or 36 months (an extra €53,000 fee is required for each dependent).
- Real estate investment: A lease for residential real estate for a minimum value of €16,000 per year for a period of five years or the purchase of real estate for a minimum value of €700,000, which must be kept for at least five years.
- Philanthropic donation: A donation of €10,000 to a registered sport, cultural, scientific, philanthropic, the welfare of animals, or artistic non-governmental organization or society as approved by the Community Malta Agency (CMA).
You will also need to account for other costs, such as due diligence and the administration fee.
With a Malta passport, you have the right to live in Malta or any other EU country and enjoy travel visa-free to more than 170 countries worldwide. One of the best things about owning a Maltese passport is that you can pass it down to future generations.
To be eligible for the Maltese citizenship by naturalization program, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- Be over 18 years old
- Have a good character
- Have a genuine connection to the country (Proof of periods of physical residence)
- Make the qualifying investment in funds, donations, or real estate
As one of Europe’s most popular economic citizenship programs, applicants can have their Maltese citizenship application approved after just 12 months.
First, a residency card is issued, granting free mobility in the Schengen Area for 36 months. Then, it takes one year or three years from the date of the initial residency – depending on the qualifying investment made – to get a Maltese passport.
Check out our ultimate guide to obtaining Maltese citizenship below for more information.
Alternatively, you can also speak to our Malta Citizenship by Investment Consultant. Get in touch now.
Get European Citizenship in Cyprus
The Cyprus Permanent Residence Program offers qualifying investors a path to an after seven years EU passport. Applicants must invest at least €300,000 into the country, and in turn, they receive Cypriot residency, which grants you the right to live, study, and work in Cyprus or anywhere else in the EU after five years of residency.
The best part about living in Cyprus is that the cost of living is cheap, the country is safe and secure, and you have a beautiful Mediterranean coastline at your doorstep with world-class beaches.
To gain Cypriot citizenship, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- Invest a minimum of €300,000 into the economy, which can be done through various types of investment
- Submit your application, as well as your biometrics and personal data
- Procure your residency permit status for seven years
After which, you’ll be eligible to apply for Cypriot citizenship.
A Cypriot passport is extremely valuable to possess, as it allows visa-free travel to 170 countries. Through the Cyprus Permanent Residence Program, you and your immediate family can obtain citizenship and live on a beautiful Mediterranean island that’s a short flight away from the rest of Europe.
While non-EU citizens may be eligible for Cypriot citizenship after seven years, naturalization in Cyprus is a selective process and hard to achieve.
For more information, speak to our EU citizenship by investment specialist for Cyprus. Get in touch now.
Alternatively, check out our ultimate guide to obtaining Cypriot citizenship below.
Buy property and get an EU passport
Buying a property is a good option for families looking to get European dual citizenship and an EU passport. Malta provides this option under its citizenship by naturalization program.
Property investments, in general, are a smart way to protect and diversify your assets abroad, with excellent potential for return. Malta’s real estate market has experienced significant growth in the last few years, offering investors an excellent opportunity to make money from their investments.
The best part about owning your own property in Malta is that you set up a second home in an exotic European nation while gaining EU citizenship for yourself and your family.
Become an EU citizen with a Portugal Golden Visa
Portugal’s Golden Visa program is among the most successful EU residency programs. Portugal provides one of the simplest ways in the European Union to obtain citizenship by investment with a minimum period of residency.
The residency program enables investors to obtain Portuguese citizenship five years after applying to the scheme, provided they maintain their investment and pass a simple language test, which proves their integration with the local community. They will also be required to complete a criminal background check. The program’s advantage is that you do not have to relocate to Portugal. However, you are required to visit the country for seven days each year.
For an investment in the country’s economy, like a €500,000 property purchase, you and your family can gain legal residency within months. While the program doesn’t immediately grant you citizenship, obtaining a Portuguese passport after holding your investment for at least five years and fulfilling the criteria under Portuguese nationality law is possible.
Find out more about the requirements for a Portuguese passport in our ultimate guide to Portugal’s Golden Visa.
Buy property to get a Spanish EU passport
Spain also has a Golden Visa program that can lead to citizenship, provided you live in the country for at least ten years. Like with the Portugal Golden Visa, getting a Spanish passport through the Spain Golden Visa program is possible if you buy a property in the country worth €500,000 and meet the program’s additional requirements, such as having a clean criminal record.
Investors can get permanent residency in five years on the condition that they’ve lived in Spain for more than four years and two months during the five years. Spain will offer citizenship after ten years of living in the country.
Other ways of becoming an EU citizen: Through marriage
You can also receive EU citizenship through marriage. Being in a civil partnership with an EU citizen and proving your partnership to the respective EU member state with a marriage certificate will allow you to gain EU citizenship. Do note that the requirements for receiving EU citizenship by marriage depend heavily on the state.
In Italy, for example, for those married to an Italian citizen, the waiting period for citizenship is two years. The applicant must live in Italy with an Italian spouse during this time. The waiting time for citizenship is longer if you live abroad with your Italian spouse.
Can US Citizens Get EU Citizenship
While some nations require people to abandon their former citizenship when seeking a new one in a foreign country, Americans are fortunate in this regard. The law of the United States does not oblige its citizen to relinquish their citizenship. Americans can naturalize in any nation and maintain their US citizenship status.
Many Americans want a second passport in Europe and wonder, “Which EU nations are easiest to obtain citizenship in?” The good news is that obtaining an EU passport is generally quite a simple process.
If you are a US citizen, you can apply for EU citizenship with little to no hassle. US citizens are drawn to EU nations for a variety of reasons, including:
- Taxation systems that function well
- Possibilities for investment through property and access to the EU single market
- Free movement to the rest of Europe and additional visa-free travel
- Tolerance of cryptocurrencies
- Free higher education
Which EU country has the easiest citizenship application process?
As long as you meet the conditions stipulated by each program, obtaining citizenship in most European nations is relatively simple. While some governments provide citizenship more easily than others, American citizens are not excluded from having an easier road to acquire a European passport in the following countries: Portugal, Spain, Malta, and Greece.
Speak to our European Citizenship Specialists
We are a boutique consultancy firm with years of experience delivering bespoke residence and citizenship by investment solutions for international families. With offices worldwide and an experienced, hands-on team, we help clients from around the world acquire residence permits through investing in a country, or secure passports while diversifying their portfolio with robust investments.
If you’d like to inquire about our citizenship-by-investment services, we encourage you to contact one of our specialists.
Frequently Asked Questions about How to Become an EU Citizen
What is the meaning of an EU citizen?
Any individual who possesses the nationality of an EU member state is automatically considered an EU citizen. EU citizenship is an additional status that coexists with the sole citizenship of a sovereign state and does not supersede or replace it. As an EU citizen, you have the right to live, work, or study anywhere in the European Union, provided you report your presence after three months in the country.
What are the benefits of being an EU citizen?
Six key benefits of being an EU citizen and holding an EU passport are:
- Enhanced mobility throughout the European Union
- Universal healthcare across multiple EU countries
- Access to advanced educational benefits and employment opportunities
- Investment opportunities and tariff-free international business through the single market
- Ease of doing business anywhere within the EU
- Live in some of world’s safest countries, and enhanced privacy laws
What are the requirements to become an EU citizen?
The requirements to become an EU citizen will vary from state to state, but there are typically four routes to EU citizenship:
- Live or work in the EU for a minimum number of years (as set out by the country).
- Marry and live with an EU citizen spouse.
- Apply for a citizenship by investment program.
- Claim lineage if children born abroad to foreign parents or who have grandparents are/were citizens in an EU country.
What is the easiest EU citizenship to get?
The Malta citizenship by naturalization program, allowing non-EU citizens to gain Maltese citizenship in as little as 12 months through a significant investment, makes Malta the easiest EU citizenship to get.
Portugal is the easiest EU citizenship to get through the traditional naturalization route, with citizenship granted after five years of living there with a residence permit. Spain provides the fastest way to get citizenship in Europe if you are a citizen of a former Spanish colony.
What is the fastest way to get EU citizenship?
The fastest way to get EU citizenship would be to apply for citizenship through a European citizenship by investment program. If you take the one-year option in Malta citizenship by naturalization program, the country offers excellent investment opportunities for international families seeking EU citizenship.
How do I get a European passport as an American?
Getting a European passport as an American depends on your personal situation. Generally, you can get a European passport if you invest in a country through a citizenship by investment program. You can also get a European passport indirectly if you apply for a residency by investment, although this involves becoming a naturalized citizen after maintaining a minimum residency period.
How can I get a European passport?
These are the following methods to secure a European passport:
- Citizenship by descent
- Citizenship by naturalization
- Marriage to a citizen
- Economic citizenship
Citizenship by descent is the easiest and most affordable way to become a European citizen for an eligible child born overseas.
How to buy citizenship in Europe?
The only way to buy citizenship in Europe is to invest in a citizenship by investment scheme. You must invest a certain sum of money in a country offering the program and hold that respective investment for a specified period to get citizenship.
How to obtain a European passport?
To obtain a European passport, you must first qualify for citizenship. You can do this in several ways, including:
- Marriage a European citizen
- Legally residing in a European country for a certain number of years through an EU Blue Card or alternative route to obtain a residence permit
- Having a family member who is a citizen of an EU member state
- Applying through an economic citizenship program
Which EU country gives citizenship easily?
Each European country grants citizenship through naturalization after having spent a substantial amount of years in its territory as a permanent resident. Although the conditions vary across all countries, the easiest way to obtain European citizenship might be by applying to the Portuguese Golden Visa program.
This is because Portugal has one of the most sought-after residency by investment programs in the world. You might want to learn all about how to obtain the Portuguese passport, as the country’s requirements for obtaining citizenship are some of the simplest.
What is the easiest way to get EU citizenship?
Whether you’re a citizen of Canada or British citizen looking to maintain a connection to the EU after Brexit, the easiest way to apply for EU citizenship is by ancestry or descent. For example, you can apply for citizenship if your parents are Polish citizens, or your grandparents, or even great-grandparents, have/had Hungarian or Italian citizenship.
How long does it take to become an EU citizen?
The typical route based on EU law to get European citizenship takes five or more years, but this depends on the country. You must first complete five years of residency before you can apply for citizenship by naturalization in the EU. The minimum residency period is reduced to two years for citizens of former Spanish colonies.
How can you get EU citizenship?
All EU countries require specific steps and criteria to grant EU citizenship, although the process will vary from country to country.
In general, you will need to legally stay in the EU for a certain number of years. After five years, You can apply for permanent residency in most countries in the EU and then complete the additional period of residence to be eligible for citizenship.
Can I live in Europe with an Australian passport?
You do not need a visa to enter the EU if you have an Australian passport. If you plan to stay for more than 90 days (within 180 days), you must acquire a long-term residence permit.