I will be totally honest. If I can avoid it, I do not like to deal with Italian consulates in the U.S. Don't get me wrong; some of them are staffed with lovely, hardworking folks but for the most part dealing with a consulate is like getting your teeth pulled. It's just as unpleasant, and just as dreaded. As much as I love Italian bureaucracy (hint: I actually hate it), I tend to want to do everything I can to avoid it.
When clients come to me to compile their applications, I always gently remind them that they can apply in Italy as soon as they have all their documents instead of waiting 3+ years for a consular appointment. Currently (2016), Philadlephia is giving out appointments in 2020!
Now, Italian bureaucracy is legendary... but what I am about to say is truly shocking: this is the one case where going straight to Italy is actually less of a hassle than dealing with a consulate in America in your native language, English. Crazy, right?
I'm truly not just upselling my services: it's pretty much mind-bogglingly easier to apply for Italian dual citizenship in Italy and cut out the middlemen - in this case, the consulates - completely. I'm almost evangelical in how much I believe in applying straight in Italy. After all, when I applied in Italy almost a decade ago my experience was completely painless and not much has changed since then.
That is not to say that there aren't any difficulties in applying in Italy, because there are. Though by law you can apply there, in practice many towns are unaware of these laws and some can even be downright unhelpful. But if you find a town that is ready and willing to help you, it's an endlessly rewarding experience.
However, even with growing interest in applying for citizenship straight in Italy, there is still not much information online about it. Though I've written a few blog posts here and there about it I've never posted a definitive guide. At the risk of losing clients (since by reading this, some plucky individuals will no doubt decide to go it alone... as they well should if they can!), I wanted to put this information out there for anyone who needs it. I feel that strongly about applying in Italy. In fact, if it were up to me I'd like to see Italy have some sort of Law of Return like Israel, but I digress.
So here goes... my definitive guide to applying for Italian dual citizenship in Italy.
First things first: determine your eligibility
Before you can even think of applying in Italy, you'll need to determine your eligbility. You can do so generally by answering the following questions. Think back to your last Italian born ancestor.
1. Was s/he born in Italy?
2. Did s/he die at any time after March 17, 1861 (or is s/he still living today)?
3. Was s/he still an Italian citizen when his or her child was born?
4. For women only: was her child born on or after January 1, 1948?
If you can answer "yes" to all of those questions, you are eligible for Italian dual citizenship. Note that there are some exceptions to these rules: as of 2016, all Italian consulates do not accept applications from people whose Italian ancestors naturalized before June 13, 1912 (this is the date current Italian citizenship laws came into effect. They do not retroactively apply these laws). I may be wrong but I have heard that San Francisco was the last consulate to accept pre-1912 applications but have since stopped doing so. Note: those who have an ancestor who naturalized before that date will most likely be able to apply in Italy because the law may be interpreted differently there.
Also note that women who had children before January 1, 1948 could not pass on Italian citizenship to their children. If you fall into the 1948 category, don't lose heart! You cannot apply via a consulate or an in Italy application directly, but you can petition the Italian courts with the help of an Italian lawyer. Many people have had successful maternal line cases.
Practical example: Vito was born in Sicily in 1901 and came to the U.S. in 1920. He had a son, Salvatore in 1921. Vito became an American citizen in 1944, a full 23 years after Salvatore's birth. Because Vito was still an Italian citizen at the time of Salvatore's birth, Salvatore is an American citizen by birth and an Italian citizen by descent and he and all his descendants are eligible for Italian dual citizenship.
Step 2: Compile your documents
Fewer documents are required when applying directly in Italy.
Let's assume that your last Italian born ancestor was your paternal grandfather. In order to apply in Italy, you would need:
1. Your grandfather's Italian birth certificate
2. His marriage certificate.
3. His naturalization certificate.
4. Your father's birth certificate.
5. Your father's marriage certificate.
6. Your birth certificate.
7. Your marriage certificate if applicable.
8. Your minor children's birth certificates if applicable.
Keep in mind that though these are the requirements listed by Italian law, some Italian towns do like to see death certificates. Remember that we're dealing with Italy and that nothing is ever that simple! All American certificates need translations and apostilles.
If your ancestor did not naturalize a citizen of the United States, make sure to get a "certificate of no record" from USCIS and NARA. There is no need to get a certified copy of the census showing he or she did not naturalize.
Note: When applying at a consulate, your federal documents (i.e. NARA and USCIS records) most likely do not need translations or apostilles. When applying in Italy, they do.
Step 3: Before you get to Italy
Before you get to Italy, make sure that you have gotten your codice fiscale (tax code). This code is your lifeline in Italy and is used for everything from opening a bank account to filing for residency and even obtaining a lease. It's akin to the U.S. social security number. Luckily, you can obtain one before you ever step foot in Italy.
Use this Italian website to calculate your codice fiscale. Please note that this may not always be accurate, but it usually is.
Note: when using this calculator, be sure to input your name exactly as it appears on your U.S. passport. If you would like to obtain a paper codice fiscale card, when you are in Italy you can request it from the Agenzia delle Entrate (Italian finance authority).
Extra note: If you speak Italian it is extremely helpful to call up your intended comune of residence before landing in Italy. Just let them know you plan on applying for citizenship jus sanguinis and "feel them out" to see if they know what the process is. Another helpful hint is to google "Town name" + "jus sanguinis" to see if the town itself has issued any statements or guides. Just by googling, you might find that your town is already well aware of the process and that they might have their own special requirements.
Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part Two where we discuss what to do when you arrive in Italy!
Since 2005, we've been helping people achieve their dream of obtaining their Italian passport or living, working and studying in Italy.
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