UK Immigration & Nationality Lawyers

British citizenship

British citizenship

British citizenship is an ultimate form of belonging to British society. It will give you an entitlement to vote in referendums and general elections and entitlement to apply for a British passport.

British citizenship is granted for life and is not lost as a result of absence from the UK for any length of time. It may be revoked if obtained by deception or following a serious conviction.

What is the difference between citizenship and indefinite leave to remain?

Holders of indefinite leave to remain have the right to live and work in the UK without restrictions. However, this right is lost after an absence from the UK for two years or longer.

Children born outside the UK to holders of indefinite leave to remain are not British by birth. Whereas children born outside the UK to British citizens are born British (this type of citizenship is called “by descent”).

Only British citizens are entitled to have a British passport. Holders of indefinite leave to remain have to naturalise first, i.e. become a British citizen, and then apply for a passport.

Dual citizenship

Britain allows dual nationality and does not require you to renounce other citizenship before applying to become a British citizen.

However, you may wish to check if your country of birth allows dual citizenship as well.

How to become a UK citizen?

If you are born to a British parent you are likely to have acquired British citizenship by birth. There are some exceptions to this rule if you are born outside the UK.

For those who are not British by birth, there are two ways of acquiring British citizenship: through naturalisation or registration.


Naturalisation is the most common procedure for persons over 18 years of age.

You can only apply for naturalisation if you have settled status or indefinite leave to remain.

If you are thinking of an immigration strategy allowing you to become a British citizen, you may be interested to know more about work-related routes to settlement, 10-year long residence rule or settled status.

In any event, you have to have ILR or settled status for at least a year before you can apply for citizenship. An exception is for spouses of British citizens who do not need to wait for a year but still have to get an ILR first.

Citizenship application requires good character, an oath of allegiance to the Queen, knowledge of Life in the UK and knowledge of English (an exemption applies for applicants over 65 years of age).

For naturalisation applications, there are also restrictions on the absences from the UK.

Citizenship through naturalisation is granted at the discretion of the Secretary of State. There is no right of appeal against refusal. An unfavourable decision can only be challenged by Judicial Review.


Registration is largely the process reserved for children under 18.

However, in some limited circumstances, adults can be registered as well. For example, a person who was born in the UK and lived in the UK for the first ten years of his or her life can register at any time, independently of the age.

Also, registration is the process for those who were born to a British mother but due to discriminatory laws at the time did not acquire citizenship at birth.

Citizenship by marriage

There is no automatic entitlement to British citizenship by marriage.

The spouse of a British citizen can apply for naturalisation after three years of residence in the UK. Because of the requirement to have an ILR at the date of the application, most people would apply only after five years of residence – as five years is the requisite period before you can apply for ILR as the spouse of a Brit. Yet, a person who became settled through one of the accelerated routes (as investors, entrepreneurs or innovators) and is married to a British citizen, can apply for naturalisation after just three years of residence.

For spouses of British citizens, restrictions on the absences from the UK are the same as for other applicants for naturalisation. There are exceptions for those who are married to a British citizen in the Diplomatic Service, or in Crown or Designated service.

Do British citizens need a British passport?

You do not have to apply for a passport, but it is likely to be your only ID document proving your right to live and work in the UK.

You are required to return your BRP card to the Home Office as soon as you naturalise as a British citizen.

If you travel abroad you will be unable to return to the UK without a British passport. And this may be another reason to apply as soon as you become British.

British citizens can only be admitted to the UK on a British passport or an emergency travel document. This document is issued abroad if the passport was lost or expired while you lived abroad and there is an emergency requiring you to travel before you can get a new one.

Are all UK-born children British?

Not every child born in the UK is a British citizen. Nationality of the child depends on the immigration status of his or her parents.

A child born in the UK to a British parent or a person settled in the UK is a British citizen by birth.  It is enough if only one parent is settled or British.

Children born before 1 July 2006 do not automatically take their British nationality from their father if the father is not married to their mother. They have to be registered at the discretion of the Secretary of State to remedy this legal deficiency. Otherwise, they may become British once their parents get married. There is no time limit on this latter provision.

We tried here to give brief and clear answers to some frequently asked questions about applications for British citizenship. Please do not take this post as legal advice. Nationality law may be complex. If the outcome of your application is very important or if you have specific grounds for concern, getting legal advice is your best course of action!

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