In Depth

EU citizenship: can I get a passport post-Brexit?

Huge surge in Britons applying for EU passports

The number of British citizens applying for EU passports has surged since the Brexit referendum.

Since 2016, more than 350,000 UK citizens have applied to acquire the nationality of another EU member state, with some giving up their British passports to keep their EU rights after Brexit.

Ireland has received the most applications from Britons, with the number of people applying for the first time for an Irish passport rising from 7,372 in 2015 to 54,859 in 2019.

There have also been significant increases in France and Germany, where there has been a tenfold increase in naturalisation of British citizens, reports The Guardian.

France saw just 320 Britons acquire French nationality in 2015, a number which increased to 3,827 in 2019, according to French government data.

The UK will officially leave the EU at 11pm tonight, but most rights you have to EU citizenship through your family history will still be valid after the deadline.

So if you want to hold on to your EU citizenship post-Brexit, here is how you may qualify.


Austrian citizenship is notoriously complicated to get, but for those tenacious enough to give it a go, here's how it works. 

If born in wedlock before 1 September 1983, people can claim citizenship if their father was an Austrian citizen at the time of their birth, according to Austrian legislation.

For those born after that date, citizenship can be claimed if either parent was an Austrian citizen at the time of their birth. Those born out of wedlock will gain citizenship only if the mother was an Austrian citizen at the time of the child’s birth.

Marrying an Austrian man or woman will only give you alien citizenship status in the country and, even then, this is only after six years of residence in Austria.


Most countries offer citizenship to children born abroad to at least one parent who is a citizen, but Italy goes much further, writes the BBC.

Italian citizenship is passed down from parent to child with no limitation of the number of generations, even on foreign soil, so if you're looking for a way to retain your EU citizenship, you can start by combing your family history for an Italian ancestor.

Ireland, Lithuania, Spain, Poland and Hungary

Each of these offers varying degrees of ancestry citizenship, so if you have roots in any of these countries, they should be your first port of call - although be warned, the criteria are often complex.

Ireland is the most popular citizenship option for Brits, who can qualify in a number of ways.

Irish citizenship

Around five million Brits are eligible for an Irish passport. You can apply if:

  • If either of your parents was an Irish citizen born in Ireland, or if you were born in Ireland to Irish parents, you are automatically a citizen.
  • If any of your grandparents were born in Ireland, you are eligible for citizenship by descent, but you must first register your birth on the Foreign Births Register.
  • If your parents were foreign nationals legally resident in the island of Ireland for three out of the four years prior to your birth, you are entitled to citizenship.
  • If at least one of your parents was an Irish citizen but not by birth, ie by naturalisation or marriage, you can become an Irish citizen after registering your birth on the Foreign Births Register.
  • You can also become a citizen through naturalisation, either as a migrant or through a spouse. The requirements are complex – you can read them here.
Malta and Cyprus 

“For those without a granddad from Galway or nonna from Naples there is another existing path to EU residency or citizenship - through property investment,” says the Financial Times.

Malta and Cyprus offer fast-track citizenship to investors, although you must be able to stump up a significant chunk of cash.

Of the two, Cyprus is the simplest and fastest, Arthur Sarkisian, a director at consultants Astons told the FT. Malta takes longer - up to two years - and also demands official residency for 12 months and a non-refundable donation of €650,000 (£566,000), the newspaper says.


Under special legislation introduced in 1948, if your family were stripped of their German passports during the Nazi era as a result of religious, ethnic or political persecution, you may be eligible to “re-claim” your German citizenship.

According to the BBC, German was the most popular new nationality for Brits in 2017, jumping from just 594 cases in 2015 up to 7,493 in 2017.

However, Germany only allows dual nationality with other EU states, meaning that Britons who become German after Brexit would have to renounce their UK citizenship.


According to the BBC data, France was the second most popular new nationality, jumping from 320 cases in 2015 to 1,518 in 2017. This was followed by Belgium, where applications increased from 127 to 1,381.

Spain and Portugal

These countries have similar “right of return” legislation concerning descendants of the British Sephardic Jews expelled from the region in the 15th and 16th centuries, subject to meeting a language requirement.


This one might be trickier to plan out, but if you're already lucky enough to be married to a Dutch national, you may already be eligible for citizenship, writes The Independent.

Estonia e-residency

Estonia made waves in technology circles when it launched its so-called “e-residency” programme back in 2014.

People living anywhere in the world can sign up over the internet to receive an 

Estonian government ID and gain a special category of residency. Requiring just a short application form and a €100 (£84) fee, the scheme “is proving as easy as it is popular”, says The Guardian.

It doesn’t give you Estonian citizenship or even proper rights to live in the country “but there are some advantages”, says The Independent.

Touted as a “trans-national government-issued digital identity”, e-residency allows users to open a business in the EU and then run it remotely with the ability to declare taxes and sign documents digitally.

What about EU citizens applying for UK passports?

In 2018, data obtained by the Financial Times suggested a similar trend from people living elsewhere in the EU applying for British passports.

It revealed that 13,700 people living outside the UK applied for a British passport in 2016 – up by over a third on the previous year and double the rise between 2014 and 2015.

Alternately, EU citizens wanting to preserve their right to stay in the UK may want to apply for “settled status”. For a settled status application, you must be able to prove that you have resided in the UK for a continuous five-year period.


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