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How Many Citizenships Can You Have

06 Jul

How Many Citizenships Can You Have

How Many Passports Can You Have?

How many citizenships can one person have at the same time?

This is a question I often get at events like my Offshore Wealth Summit. I’ve done various calculations over the years.

Being born with multiple citizenships is the easiest way to get them… and also the least likely for most people. Our son was born with two citizenships, Irish and American. American came from his parents—known in Latin as jus sanguinis (right of blood). Irish came from being born in Ireland, where Kathleen and I lived at the time—jus soli (right of soil).

Jus soli was eliminated in Ireland after he was born because too many refugees were taking advantage of the system. Women would arrive in the country pregnant, apply for refugee status, have the baby, and then change their status to parent of an Irish child, which gave them an automatic right to stay in the country. I’m not sure why the Irish didn’t change the right to stay rather than eliminating jus soli.

That’s how the United States works. A child born in the United States is a citizen automatically. However, the parents get no rights because of that like they would have in Ireland.

Ireland was the last country in Europe to offer unrestricted citizenship if a child is born in the country. Most unrestricted jus soli countries at the moment are in the Americas. That limits the options for having your child born with two citizenships… unless you and your spouse hold different citizenships.

A friend in Paris has two children who were born with Italian and U.K. citizenship. She’s Italian. Her husband was British. The kids were born in France. Even though France doesn’t offer unrestricted jus soli if you’re born there, those two kids were still born with two citizenships—Italian and British.

Having been born in France and living there while growing up, they are eligible for French citizenship under France’s rules, but it requires living in the country. They could have three citizenships and carry three passports.

I believe their mother didn’t push for the idea of getting French citizenship because “who needs more than one EU passport.” Well, British passport holders would have benefited from that thanks to Brexit. Her kids will benefit from having that U.K. citizenship if they want to live or work in the U.K.

As it turns out, my son, with his Irish passport, can live and work in the U.K. because he’s an Irish citizen, thanks to the special relationship between Ireland and the U.K.

I knew that in the back of my head from my time living in Ireland, but buried that specific rule because when the U.K. was in the EU that rule was moot.

So we’re up to three citizenships.

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Math Is Fun

If one of my Paris friend’s kids has children with someone like them, born with two citizenships, then their kids would be born with four citizenships assuming there was no overlap. If that child was born in a fifth country that had jus soli citizenship like Argentina, we’re up to five citizenships.

That’s really the logical end to how many citizenships one can be born with. Maybe that kid born with five citizenships could marry someone with five citizenships and their kid could end up with 11 citizenships at birth, but that’s a stretch… especially when you start to take in the second level rules.

My son has American citizenship from his parents. He can’t pass on American citizenship to his kids unless he lives in the United States for at least five years before his children are born. He’s only lived in the United States for a year so far, thanks to university.

Being born with multiple citizenships isn’t a choice for the child. They either are eligible or not.

However, you can gain citizenship by choice if you spend the time to make yourself eligible. That’s done in two ways— residency or money.

As someone I knew growing up used to say, do you have more time or money? Maybe you don’t have enough of either, which won’t get you another citizenship.

However, if you spend enough time living in another country, you can be eligible for citizenship. Alternatively, if you have enough money to invest in or donate to a country that offers a citizenship-by-investment program, you don’t have to put in the time as a resident.

Five years of residency is the most common time requirement. Some countries start the clock once you have legal residency. Some start the clock once you have permanent residency (as opposed to temporary residency). Once you’re eligible, the approval process can take a year or more.

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That means time isn’t on your side if you’re looking to have a bunch of citizenships. The other factor against you is that most countries have a clause in their naturalization laws that allows them to revoke your naturalization if you become a naturalized citizen in another country.

Assuming you’re born with just one citizenship, that means you aren’t likely to work your way up to four or five citizenships. Three is your likely cap… four if you also have the money to go the citizenship-by-investment route.

To get beyond two passports in this scenario, you’d need to start with a country that doesn’t revoke your naturalization if you get naturalized elsewhere. The Dominican Republic is one such option.

Once you have that first naturalization under your belt, then you would move onto the second country for naturalization and maybe 11 years or so after you got residency in your first country, you’d have three passports.

Some countries have a shorter time requirement for naturalization… again the DR is one option. Paraguay is another. Others have longer periods, like 20 for Andorra.

And some countries make you give up previous citizenships before they’ll naturalize you and give you a passport, like Singapore.

Again, being born with more than one citizenship is the easiest path.

Some people were born with more than one citizenship, but they have to claim it. Those are people with grandparents born with citizenship of a country that offers citizenship through ancestry. A couple of European countries still offer this like Ireland and Italy.

The only complication is getting all the right documents together, which for an older person whose grandparents have been dead for decades can be difficult.

Two passports are better than one. That should be obvious. However, the benefits of having more than two citizenships start to diminish unless they are geographically unique countries.

By that, I mean three EU passports isn’t as useful as, say, holding passports from the United States, an EU country, and a MERCOSUR country like Argentina.

Four or five passports most likely are more hassle and expense than they are worth. At least that was the conclusion someone I met recently came to. She has two passports, but is eligible for two more.

With one EU passport in hand already, the other EU citizenship she can claim wouldn’t be any real benefit (unless one of the two countries left the EU). She’s not really interested in the last citizenship left as she doesn’t want to live in that country.

For either, she’d have to gather paperwork, spend money on an attorney, and then spend money on getting the passport issued. In the end, not worth it for her.

The question about citizenships shouldn’t be how many can you have… but rather how many would be useful for what you want to do. Sometimes residency alone can be enough in a country.

Stay diversified,

Lief Simon

Lief Simon

Editor, Offshore Living Letter