Common ways to obtain a passport in an EU country
If the citizenship of an EU country wasn’t granted by birth, there are three other general ways to obtain a passport.
Citizenship by descent is granted to descendants in the direct line. If a person's parents, grandparents and, in some cases, great-grandparents are or were citizens of an EU country, they can also acquire a passport of that state.
Citizenship by naturalisation allows third-country nationals who don’t have any ancestors in the country to obtain passports. To do so, the candidates need to prove that they have strong ties with the state.
Naturalisation is available to people who moved to an EU country to work or do business, are married to a country's citizen, have received long-term medical treatment, or got resident permits as financially independent persons.
As a general rule, before applying for citizenship by naturalisation, foreign nationals first need to legally reside in the country for a set time — around 3—5 years, depending on the country.
Citizenship by naturalisation after investing. Investors who obtained their residency permits by investing in the country's economy can also be naturalised. Depending on the country, this EU citizenship path can take 1 to 10 years.
In Malta, for example, an investor can obtain citizenship by naturalisation for exceptional services by direct investment in 1 or 3 years.
European countries to obtain citizenship by descent
All EU states provide citizenship to people born to families with at least one country’s national as a parent. If citizenship is not granted automatically, it can be obtained later.
Aside from that, most of the EU states also issue passports for grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the country’s nationals.
Countries that allow obtaining citizenship by descent
|Country||Generations eligible for citizenship by descent|
How to obtain citizenship by naturalisation in a European country
Naturalisation is the most common way to obtain citizenship of an EU country for foreign nationals. To be able to apply for naturalisation, one has to live in the country, have a residence permit and prove their ties to the country.
Aside from that, usually, naturalisation rules require applicants either to pass an exam on the national language or provide a language proficiency certificate. Some countries, like Austria and Greece, also have the candidate for naturalisation pass an exam on the state’s history, culture and political system.
Here are some common reasons to obtain a residency permit in an EU country.
Marriage or family reunification. Spouses and direct family members can apply for citizenship by naturalisation. Typically, this path is faster than other types of naturalisation.
For example, foreign nationals who are married or live in a registered partnership with a citizen of Portugal will obtain their passport in 3 years instead of 5. In Spain, spouses of the country’s nationals can get naturalised after one year of residency, provided they spent it within the state.
Some countries put citizenship by marriage in a special category. For instance, when a person wants to obtain a passport of Malta after marrying a country’s national, they apply for citizenship by registration.
Employment. Being an employee of a company within the EU is another way to obtain residency. There are two work and residence permits available:
- a regular work permit for people with no special qualifications;
- a Blue Card — a work and residence permit for highly qualified professionals with higher education.
The difference between the permits is in the obtainment process and the minimum salary that is required to be mentioned in the contract. The Blue Card provides more benefits to its holder — for instance, they can leave the country for a maximum of 12 months. Meanwhile, residents with regular work permits can be absent for only 6 months.
Employees of countries based in the EU states obtain citizenship under the general naturalisation laws of the country. For Austria, it's 10 years; for Malta — 7 years.
Business. Foreign nationals willing to invest in a business in the EU can also obtain residency. For instance, they can obtain a D2 visa to Portugal or invest in a business in Spain.
Like employees of companies in the EU, entrepreneurs obtain citizenship according to the general naturalisation rules.
Financial independence. Many EU states allow financially independent foreigners to obtain special residence permits. Usually, such programs require applicants to have a passive or remote income exceeding a set threshold.
To move to Portugal as a financially independent person, one has to provide proof of income of at least €760 monthly. For Austria, the required income is much higher — around €2,000 above rent and other regular expenses.
Timeframes of obtaining citizenship by naturalisation in Europe
|Country||Years of residency before applying for citizenship|
|Czech Republic||10 years|
How to obtain citizenship in the EU as an investor
Foreign nationals can obtain residency in EU countries by investing. After that, they can obtain citizenship by naturalisation.
Portugal, Spain, Greece, Malta, Italy, and Cyprus provide residency-by-investment programs. Each country allows different investment options and sets its own investment threshold.
Most countries that issue residency permits by investment allow the participants of the programs to obtain citizenship according to the general rules of naturalisation. This takes 5 or more years.
Foreigners willing to reside in Malta can obtain citizenship by naturalisation for exceptional services by direct investment in 1 or 3 years.
First, they purchase or rent property in the country and obtain residence permits. After that, applicants pass a strict Due Diligence check and fulfil the investment conditions required for citizenship: make a non-refundable contribution to a government fund and donate to a non-governmental organisation.
After obtaining their permits, applicants must retain residency status for 1 or 3 years, depending on the contribution amount. Once that period has passed, investors can obtain citizenship by naturalisation for exceptional services.
Countries to obtain residency by investment and then become a naturalised citizen
|Country||Minimal investment||Citizenship obtainment timeframe||Family members to join the application|
Benefits of being a citizen
of an EU country
High quality of life. In the top 10 countries with the highest quality of life, 8 are EU states. European countries boast high levels of security, good healthcare and education systems, and low pollution indicators.
A citizen of any EU state can change their residency to any other EU country with almost no paperwork. This makes it possible for investors to reside in countries with the highest quality of life.
For instance, if one obtains citizenship in Portugal, the 20th in the quality of life index, they can move with no restrictions to Switzerland, the 1st country by quality of life.
Visa-free travels. European countries provide some of the strongest passports in the world. Depending on the country, its citizens can travel visa-free to 170—180+ countries. Citizens of the EU states can travel freely to other countries of the Union.
Aside from that, they can visit the USA with an eTA, a type of e-visa which takes around 20 minutes and $21 to obtain.
Access to social services. Citizens of an EU country can take advantage of all the social benefits it has to offer. This includes high-quality healthcare, free education, high pensions, public services, etc.
Citizens of the EU countries can take advantage of the European Health Insurance Card, which allows medical treatment in any other state within the Union.
High-quality education. Citizens of EU countries can study at any university within the Union. This includes some of the world’s best universities:
- ETH Zurich, Switzerland — the 9th university in the QS World University Ranking for 2023;
- EPFL, Switzerland — the 16th best university;
- Université PSL, France — the 26th best university.
Tax optimisation opportunities. Tax systems of EU countries can be beneficial to some investors. For example, Malta's tax system is favourable to businesses — companies there can get a tax refund of up to 100%.
Work and business opportunities. While some residency statuses do not allow their holder to work within the country, citizens are free to get employed with any company they want or start their own business. As an EU citizen, the paperwork for them will be much easier in comparison to such for foreign nationals.
Frequently asked questions
Citizenship of an EU country implies being a citizen and holding a passport of one of the 27 countries of the European Union.
There are three main ways to obtain EU citizenship as a third-country national: descent, naturalisation and naturalisation after investing.
For third-country nationals, there are three main paths to European citizenship: descent, naturalisation and naturalisation after investing.
Generally, acquiring citizenship by descent is the fastest option. But it isn’t available to anyone — the applicants have to be direct descendants of citizens of an EU country.
Naturalisation implies that the candidate has been legally residing in the country of application for a set amount of time. Some common grounds for residence are employment, studying, marriage to a citizen of the country, etc.
Another way to obtain residency and later become naturalised is to join a residence-by-investment program of a country. Such programs require investments from €250,000.
- high quality of life;
- visa-free travels to 170—180+ countries;
- access to European social services;
- high-quality education;
- tax optimisation opportunities;
- business and work opportunities.
There are different paths to citizenship in the EU, and the requirements for applicants depend on the chosen path.
For instance, citizenship by descent is available only to those with direct ascendants among the country’s citizens.
Citizenship by naturalisation is granted to those living in the country for a set amount of years. Usually, this option is available only to applicants over 18 years old with no criminal record.
Foreigners looking to invest in residency in the EU and later obtain citizenship by naturalisation must be over 18 years old, be able to prove the legality of their income and have no criminal record.
17 countries of the EU, including Malta, Italy and Ireland, provide citizenship to direct descendants of the state’s nationals.
The timeframe and expenses on obtaining citizenship in an EU country depend on the specific state. It’s possible, for example, to become a citizen of Malta by naturalisation for exceptional services in 1 year.
Portugal and Cyprus allow obtaining citizenship by naturalisation in 5 years. In Greece, residents can apply for citizenship after 7 years.
There are multiple ways to obtain citizenship of a country within the European Union. Usually, they include becoming a citizen by descent, by naturalisation and by naturalisation after investing in the state’s economy.