How to become an Italian Citizen

I’ve been quiet on the blog front the past few months, but I’ve had loads of ideas and desires to write swirling in my brain.  Part of the reason I’ve been so silent is that I find it difficult to sit in front of the computer any longer than work requires, especially when working on my health.  But another [fabulous] reason I’ve been quiet, is I started a new job as an Assistant Genealogist at AncestryProGenealogists (an arm of!  I was specifically hired for my Spanish and Italian skills, and as a specialist in Italian genealogy.  It’s been a crazy ride learning just how much I don’t know.


View of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome – that was a lovely evening!

One of the first cases I worked on was for a client who was proving his right to dual citizenship.  Of course, almost immediately, my ears perked up and I began scavenging for information on the citizenship laws in Italy, and to see if I qualify.  I had no idea that Italy had an in for foreigners to become citizens without a residency requirement, but it’s the truth, folks!  And a sweet truth it is. I took it upon myself to be the guinea pig.  Daydreams of a second home (well, you know, after I have a first home…) and a life in Italy started dancing all around me, and, even more importantly, a key to open the door of opportunity in the European Union – if it’s even a thing in a few years (thanks, Brexit, for leading that one).   My kids – though just an imaginary spec in my womb – could easily study in Europe, work, and have free reign to many more countries than possible with just a U.S. citizenship.  Priceless.

I think this series will fit great into my blog.  My Sicilian heritage was the line I identified with most as a child, as we spent most of our family time visiting my mother’s maternal family – the Sicilians.  It was a large part of how I formed my identity and my imagination, and it feels like home.

Curious how to become an Italian citizen?  Or want to find out how you even qualify?  I’ve done a lot of the leg work for you in research, and will be using this post as a home base to activate links to steps as I experience them.  There’s lots of great information floating around, but I always find I look for someone else’s experiences.  It’s not too difficult, but takes a little cash and a lot of patience.  I hope this will help you clear the cloud of overwhelming information and find some clarity in your quest for Italy.  Read on!

Altare della Patria

The Altare della Patria, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, in Rome.

How to become an Italian Citizen
(in 10 easy-ish steps)

There are multiple ways to obtain Italian citizenship.  I’m going to focus on jus sanguinis, which is by right of blood, through your ancestry.  If you’re reading this, jus sanguinis is likely the way you’re hoping to qualify.  If you have a parent who is an Italian citizen, if you were adopted by an Italian citizen, if you married an Italian citizen, or if you’ve legally lived in Italy for ten years, you may qualify through another method.  Let me know in the comments if this is you, and I’ll see if I can help you out.

Keep an eye out for links to the numbered points as I update with my experiences!

Here is the process, simplified:

1. Find your link to an ancestor that immigrated from Italy.
Note: Italian citizenship could not be passed down from a woman until after 1948, but it could be inherited by a woman. This knocks off three of my own lines and narrows down my possibilities to one tiny line on my tree, my second great-grandfather, Giuseppe Cavarretta.
My line: Giuseppe Cavarretta – Anthony Cavarretta – Annette (Antonina) Cavarretta – Momma Angela – Me. (I know, I missed the ‘A’ name train.)

2. Verify your Italian ancestor was not a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.born ancestor was born.
Your Italian ancestor had to still be an Italian citizen. Becoming a U.S. citizen was considered renouncing Italian citizenship, and no one in your line could have ever renounced Italian citizenship in order for you to qualify.  In fact, on the Declaration of Intention submitted by immigrants wishing to become U.S. citizens, the verbiage actually says, “it is my bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, and particularly to __[insert ruler’s name here – for most Italians, this was Victor Emanuel III, King of Italy]__, of whom I am now a subject.”
You can check census records, as they mark if a person was naturalized, had his/her papers in, or was an alien.
If it’s unclear, and you think s/he may not have been a U.S. citizen, submit a request to the USCIS. Actually, you will need to do this, anyway.

3. Submit an inquiry to the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS).
If you are uncertain if or when your ancestor became a U.S. citizen, request an index search.  This takes 4-6 months to receive a response. If their response is negative (there is no naturalization on file), submit that negative response letter to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for further verification. Wait time for a response in an additional 4-6 months.
If the response is positive, you will need to request an official copy of your ancestor’s naturalization papers from the USCIS or NARA.  These steps are crucial, as you will need official, certified copies of all documents proving your lineage to your ancestor!

If your Italian-born ancestor became a U.S. citizen before your first U.S.-born direct ancestor was born, you do not qualify for Italian citizenship.  But if you do qualify, hooray!  You qualify!  Now get ready to support deforestation and the job security of many government employees, namely county clerks, civil registrars, and postal workers, as well as your bank account, because you’re going to need a lot of official documents.

4. You qualify! Now you need documents. Lots of documents.
You will need to order certified, long form copies of the birth, marriage, and death records for all in the line from yourself to your immigrant ancestor, and their spouses.  This includes records from Italy.
That’s 21 records for me. $15-$25 a pop. You don’t receive the originals back, so if you want an official copy for your own purposes, order it now, as it is deeply discounted when you order more than one copy.  This will take a little research if your family has moved around.  A simple Google search can help, and FamilySearch Wiki is a fantastic resource.  Let me know in the comments if you need help finding where to request your ancestor’s or family member’s documents.

5. You’ll need an apostille on each one of your records.
An apostille is a record authentication for countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961. Send all of your records to the State Registrar to get the apostille. This is usually $1-$5 per document.  Lucky for me, my people stayed in Michigan, and Michigan is gracious and charges $1 per document.

6. Now you need to get an official translation of all your English-language documents into Italian.
This is another $30-$50 per page.  Make sure you select an approved translator, or you’ll be out of luck and need to get them translated again.  A political cartoon comes to mind – one I drew in Ms. Quinn’s 9th grade history class, of William Taft romping around in a bathtub full of money.  Swimming in the bathtub, what a glorious day, watching all our troubles [money] go swirling down the drain!

7. In the meantime, set an appointment at the Italian consulate in your jurisdiction and fill out your Italian citizenship application. 
If San Francisco is yours like it’s mine, you’ve got a 5-10 year wait for appointments. Plenty of time to get your documents in order and paid for. 🙂  Of course, if you check on a weekly basis, I’m sure last-minute appointments will open up.  For me, the commute from Salt Lake City to San Francisco isn’t a leisurely jaunt, so it’s not too easy to get there last minute.  (As far as I know, right now Detroit has only a 1-2 year wait.)  Fill out your citizenship application while you wait.  You’ve got time. 🙂

8. Attend your consular appointment with all your documents and applications and hope for the best.
Don’t forget your $250 application fee (pocket change in comparison to the records, if you’ve got to go back four generations, like me).

9. Wait to hear from the Italian government on your approval.
Generally, if you have all your documents, certified and translated by an approved translator, your citizenship will be approved – it’s just a matter of waiting.  The wait can average 6 months to 2 years.

10. Celebrate! You’re now an Italian citizen!  
Put on some Puccini, crack open a bottle of Chianti Classico, and celebrate!
In my case, $1,780 and 5-10 years later (depending on consulate appointment availability)…better make it a bottle of Colossi Sicilia Rosso…super cheap spaghetti wine.  Going to need to save what few pennies are left for that plane ticket back to Italy.

Are you interested in becoming an Italian dual citizen?  Have any questions on the process or where to begin if you think you might qualify?  Leave me a comment and let’s discuss.

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  • Reply
    Sue Giallombardo Walker
    March 23, 2017 at 5:50 PM

    I think I’m about to decide to do this my dad was born in US (1917) to his Sicilian born parents. His father didn’t become a US citizen until 1922..His mother died 1924 without becoming a citizen. They were both from the same town and as such their is family still there, descendants of their siblings.. so I would have help in securing local documents.. I been to both Sicily and Italy 3 times now and would love to spend more time there.. so seems like a good thing to do..

    • Reply
      March 23, 2017 at 6:26 PM

      Hi, Sue! I think it’s a great option to look into. For me, it’s obviously a large part of heritage, but also because I want to give myself and my children [hopefully, if they come someday!] all the wonderful aspects of being an Italian and European Union citizen.
      It sounds like you would definitely qualify. Because your father “inherited” citizenship from his father, since his father never renounced Italian citizenship, then you can inherit it by right from your father. Women could receive citizenship before 1948, but not pass it down until after 1948, but because it’s through your father, you could still also qualify because of his mother, too.
      I say you’ve got nothing to lose! It’s a bit tedious, but fairly easy. Let me know when you get started if you have any questions along the way!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2017 at 4:23 PM

    I have everything except my grandfather’s birth certificate. When writing to the archives, his record year (and his brothers) were part of the ones destroyed in WWII. I have his parents, information from the archives, and the Italian military has him recorded when I inquired there, but he did not return to serve. My uncle HAD his BC, but threw it away because it was old and he said it was of no use to the family. What can I do? How long is residency for Sicily? I plan on being there for several months for a visit with family.

    • Reply
      March 23, 2017 at 6:32 PM

      Hello, Shirley. You don’t need to live in Italy/Sicily at all to qualify for citizenship jure sanguinis, or right of blood. To be sure that you qualify, is this your maternal or paternal grandfather? If it’s maternal, your mother would have needed to be born after 1948 for your to qualify. If it’s your father’s father, then you qualify so long as your grandfather did not become a U.S. citizen before your father was born.

      In regards to the birth record, it’s best to check with the consulate under whose jurisdiction you fall, but I recently worked with someone with a similar situation in regards to the birth record being destroyed. In that case, the best route would be to get a hold of his military record in Italy. A Liste di Leva was created every year, and included ALL men who were to turn 18 years old that year. The information was taken from the birth books 18 years earlier (ex. if you were born in 1900, you would automatically be listed in the military rolls in your hometown in 1918). So, if you can get a certified copy of the Liste di Leva for that year, that could be solid proof of your grandfather’s birth. Likewise, even if he didn’t go back to serve, there is quite possibly a service record labeling him as a deserter, because he failed to heed to demand of the military tribunal court from Rome.

      • Reply
        March 23, 2017 at 8:13 PM

        This is on my paternal side. My father was born in 1921 and his father gained citizenship in 1922. Nonno’s military record from Italy lists him as not reporting for duty (born 1893, uncle brought him over in 1911, just turned 17 to work on the railroad). I think he was labeled as a deserter and then he could not go back to visit family… by the time they lifted the deserter status, his parents had passed, and his brother died in the war in 1918.

        What you are saying is if I get a CERTIFIED copy of the Liste di Leva for that year (even though it doesn’t have a lot of info, just his name and remark), it could qualify for dual citizenship? Is it easier for my children to apply at the same time or if after I get mine, they can do it later?

        The reason I mentioned residency is because my relatives in Sicily said they would be my “witnesses” or some type of “backer”(?) in standing up for me. I plan on being there for at least 3 months.

  • Reply
    Blair Pettrey
    September 13, 2016 at 7:08 PM

    Love you

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