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.

Acquisition of British citizenship by birth

Any person born in the UK before 1983 is British by birth. Their birth certificate showing the place and date of birth is an acceptable proof of nationality.

Persons born in the UK after 1 January 1983 are British by birth if one of the parents was a British citizen at the time of birth or was settled in the UK.

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 to remedy this legal deficiency. Otherwise, they may become British once their parents get married. There is no time limit on this latter provision.

A child born in the UK to a member of the armed forces is a British citizen by birth.

So are the children born outside the UK on a British ship or aircraft.

Children born abroad to a British citizen parent are born British by descent – except if born to a British by descent parent.

British citizens by descent cannot automatically pass British citizenship to their children born outside the UK. In some limited circumstances, they can register the child as a British citizen.

Who is born in the UK for the purposes of the British Nationality Act

For the purposes of the British Nationality Act, United Kingdom means Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Guernsey or Jersey). This may be confusing as neither Isle of Man nor Guernsey and Jersey are part of the United Kingdom except for the purposes of nationality law.

Further qualifying territories include Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Virgin Islands.

Dual citizenship

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

However, you may wish to check if your country of birth allows dual citizenship as well. Some countries have procedural requirements which have to be met in order to retain the existing citizenship when applying for citizenship of another country.

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.

Becoming a British citizen

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.

Applications for naturalisation require good character, full mental capacity, residence in the UK for a requisite period of time, knowledge of Life in the UK and knowledge of English (an exemption applies for applicants over 65 years of age), and intention to have one’s primary home in 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 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.


We have 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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