British citizenship by naturalisation

Naturalisation is the most common way of applying for British citizenship by adults, i.e. anyone over the age of 18. Naturalisation involves an oath of allegiance to the Queen and requires the intention to have one’s principal home in the UK.

In some limited circumstances persons over 18 can register as British citizens. Some forms of registration are by entitlement, others involve discretion of the Secretary of State.

If you are looking for information about the acquisition of British citizenship by a person under the age of 18 you may wish to read the page on registration of children.

Statutory provisions for applications for naturalisation can be found in the British Nationality Act 1981. Policy guidance documents are published on the government portal.



How to apply for naturalisation

Applications are now made online although you can still use paper form AN if you prefer.

If you are applying online the supporting documents are uploaded to the government portal. If you are using a paper form, the supporting documents are to be posted with the form.

You have to be in the UK on the day the application is received by the government department. This will be the day you submit the online application and pay the fee or the day your registered package is delivered to the Home Office. You will need to track the package for confirmation. Normally it is received the day after it was posted if sent by first class recorded delivery.

Unlike the applicants for an extension of stay in the UK, applicants for naturalisation are not required to remain in the UK while their application is under consideration.

An application for naturalisation has to be supported by two referees who have known the applicant for at least three years. The referees are required to give their passport details and date of birth and confirm how long they have known the applicant, in what capacity, and the applicant’s good character and suitability to become a naturalised British citizen. 

One referee can be a person of any nationality who has a professional standing, such as an accountant, solicitor, barrister, dentist, chemist, travel agent, teacher, lecturer, a director of VAT registered company or a registered Charity. this is a non-exhaustive list. You can check the full list here.

The second referee has to be a British citizen and be either a professional person or over the age of 25.

The application fee is currently £1330. This does not include the fee for a biometric appointment, which is £19.20. The ceremony is included in the fee unless you wish to apply for an individual ceremony on a day convenient for you.

Passport application fee is not included.

General requirements for naturalisation

You have to have indefinite leave to remain (or settled status, or a document confirming permanent right of residence) before you can apply for naturalisation.

Other requirements include:

  • Good Character;
  • Residence requirement;
  • Knowledge of language and Life in the UK;
  • Intention to live in the UK permanently or have the main home in the UK.

Residence requirements for naturalisation

Everyone, except spouses of British citizens, are required to:

  • be settled in the UK (have indefinite leave to remain) for at least 12 months;
  • have lived in the UK for not less than five years lawfully (most applicants would have been in the UK for not less than six years, having spent five years in the UK prior to obtaining indefinite leave to remain);
  • have not left the country for more than 450 days (the day of departure and arrival not counting as absences) in the last five years;
  • have not left the country for more than 90 days in the last 12 months;
  • have been present in the UK on the day five years before the application is received by UKBA.

Residence requirements for Spouses of British citizens

  • be settled (or have indefinite leave to remain) on the day of the application;
  • have been resident in the UK lawfully for at least three years;
  • have not left the UK for more than 270 days in the last three years, and 90 days in the last 12 months prior to the application. Where absences from the UK exceed the permitted limit, the discretion of the Secretary of State may be called for if there are exceptional or compassionate circumstances;
  • have been present in the UK on the day three years before the application is received by UKBA.


Discretion can be exercised where the permitted limit of absence was exceeded due to compassionate and exceptional circumstances, or due to requirements of business or employment.

Knowledge of life in the UK

This requirement applies to applicants of all nationalities, including EU citizens who do not have to take any tests for settlement.

Life in the UK test has no expiry date. If you took the test for your application for Indefinite Leave to Remain it remains valid. Nevertheless, you have to produce the test certificate with the application for naturalisation.

Applicants over 65 years of age are automatically exempt.

There is discretion to wave the knowledge of language and life requirement where the applicant has a  physical or mental condition which would make it unreasonable to expect they would meet the test. Waiver request has to be signed by a medical practitioner.

Life in the UK test is booked online. The official handbook can be purchased online and is available in kindle edition.

There are no Life in the UK test providers outside the UK.

English language requirement

English language requirement is met by:

  • speaking and listening qualification at B1 CERF level or above from an approved Secure English Language Test provider;
  • a degree taught or researched in English (NARIC has to confirm recognition of the degree and the University has to confirm that tuition or research was in English);
  • being a national of a majority English-speaking country.
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Note that no African and Asian countries are on the list.

Intention to live in the UK permanently

This does not mean never going abroad or not accepting a job overseas. However, if the applicant is leaving the country to take employment abroad with no clear plans of returning to the UK this may trigger a refusal of the application.

Naturalisation application process

Once the application is submitted, the standard processing time varies from two to six months. Sometimes, the Home Office takes longer to make a decision and it is difficult to pin it down to a specific time frame. This is because, unlike some applications for registration, all applications for naturalisation are at the discretion of the Home Office.

You can travel while your application is under consideration and you can apply for naturalisation from outside the UK.

Once the application is approved, you will be invited to attend a ceremony at a nominated local authority office. This ceremony has to be booked within a given time, normally three weeks.

At the end of the ceremony you will receive the certificate of naturalisation and will formally become a British citizen. 

Once the certificate of naturalisation is issued, you are required to cut up your BRP card and return it to the Home Office by recorded delivery. Failure to return the card may lead to a £1000 fine.

Although you can travel while your application is pending, it may be important to note that you will not be able to travel after the ceremony until you get your first British passport. This is because British citizens can only enter the UK on a British passport or an emergency travel document. You can apply for your first British passport from overseas but you would have to explain why you left the country without a passport and you may have to wait longer for the passport to be issued. 

Registration of adults as British citizens

Persons born in the UK who have lived in the UK for the first ten years of life

This registration is under s.1(4) of the British Nationality Act 1981. The application is made online or on Form T. The application can be made in the UK or abroad.

What you will need to demonstrate:

  • You were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983;
  • You didn’t acquire British citizenship at birth – you will need evidence of nationality and immigration status of your parents;
  • You were not out of the country for more than 90 days in each of the first 10 years of your life;
  • You are of good character.

Evidence in support of the application

  • Birth certificate showing the names of both parents;
  • Documents showing immigration status of the parents or allowing the Home Office to make the necessary checks;
  • Evidence of residence – passport or travel document if available showing entry and exit stamps, medical records, child’s red book (personal health record), doctors’ letters, nursery letters; letters from school confirming years of attendance.

Discretion to disregard excessive absences

Under s. 1(7) of the British Nationality Act, The Secretary of State has discretionary power to disregard excessive absences. 

Details are given in the policy guidance document: the decision-maker is expected to waive excess absences if the number of days absent from the UK in any one of the 10 years does not exceed 180 days and the total number of days over the 10 year period does not exceed 990 days. Beyond this, discretion is exercised if absences were due to serious illness or circumstances beyond the family’s control.

Persons who would have been British by birth if women could pass citizenship by descent to their children before 1983

Application for registration under this provision can be made from the UK or from abroad. There is no residence requirement and since 25 July 2019 good character requirement does not apply.

Applicants for registration under this section are granted citizenship by descent.

There are two guidance documents for this type of registration – UKM guide and Children of British parents guidance.

The requirements can be summarised as follows:

  • The Applicant has to have been born before 1 January 1983 outside the Commonwealth;
  • The Applicant’s mother should have been Citizen of UK and Colonies (by birth or by descent);
  • Either the applicant’s mother or the applicant’s maternal grandfather should have been born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the UK  or the applicant has to be a Commonwealth national woman married to a person with the right of abode before 1983.

Before the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force, British women who gave birth to their children overseas could not pass British citizenship to them in the same way as men. The BNA came into force on 1 January 1983 and provided for British citizenship to be passed by men and women alike.

The legal deficiency which existed prior to 1983 was corrected with a retrospective effect in 2003 by the introduction of s. 4C to the British Nationality Act 1981. This section provides for registration of persons born to British mothers outside the UK before 1 January 1983.

Further clarification on the law governing transmission of British citizenship by descent through the female line comes from the Supreme Court in the case of Romein. The court considered whether a woman who was a British citizen by descent, i.e. born outside the UK to a British-born father, could pass British citizenship to her children born outside the UK.

The Supreme Court confirmed that registration under s.4C should be allowed in this scenario because pre-1983 nationality law allowed a male British citizen by descent to pass his British citizenship to a male child by registering this child at a British consulate within one year of birth. Since girls could not be registered as British citizens within one year of birth simply because the law only allowed for registration of boys, the Supreme Court found that the retrospective amendments of the legislation under the British Nationality Act 1981 should be extended to persons born to British-by-descent mothers waiving the requirement to have registered the child with the British consulate within one year of birth.

As a result, women born abroad to British citizens by descent are in a somewhat better position then men. But that’s what we call positive discrimination.

Registration of persons born to unmarried fathers

Another scenario permitting registration of adult persons as British citizens is where the person was born to a British father but did not take British nationality from the father because the parents were not married. This historic discrimination against illegitimate children was mitigated by s. 4G of the British Nationality Act.

What you will need to demonstrate:

  • Evidence of relationship – a birth certificate issued within the first year of birth showing the names of both parents. If this is not available, other evidence proving paternity, such as DNA test results from an approved DNA test provider, a court order, or other evidence to prove you are related as claimed.
  • Evidence of your father’s British citizenship – this can be a full birth certificate, certificate of naturalisation, passport, or evidence that he was settled in the UK at the time of your birth if you were born in the UK after 1 January 1983.
  • Good character requirement does not apply from 25 July 2019.


You can apply for registration from the UK or from abroad. The type of citizenship you will be granted will depend on whether you were born in the UK or abroad. It will be citizenship other than by descent if you were born in the UK or citizenship by descent if your were born outside the UK.

British citizenship for British Nationals (Overseas) - registration by entitlement on grounds of residence in the UK

British Nationals (Overseas) can be registered as British citizens under s. 4(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981 on grounds of residence in the UK.

The requirements are:

  • lawful residence in the UK for five years before the date of the application with total absences during this period not exceeding 450 days;
  • the number of absences from the UK in the last 12 months should not exceed 90 days;
  • the applicant should have held indefinite leave to remain or settled status for 12 months before the date of the application;
  • presence in the UK at the beginning of the five year period prior to the date of the application;
  • Good character requirement applies and two referees have to be provided for the application.


These requirements are very similar to naturalisation requirements but there are some marginal advantages of registration. Unlike naturalisation, registration under this section is a matter of entitlement, not discretion. Although good character requirement applies, there is an expectation that at least immigration offences of more than five years are not taken into account.

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How we can help with your application for British citizenship


Last updated on August 28, 2020

Last updated on August 28, 2020