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How to get EU citizenship: Exploring different pathways and benefits

Having dual citizenship (being a citizen of two countries) opens the door to many advantages and benefits. Explore how to get EU citizenship through several pathways.

By Annie André ⦿ updated January 10, 2024  
How to get EU citizenship: different pathways
How to get EU citizenship: different pathways

Would you like the freedom to live, work, and study in over 30 European countries? 

In this article, we’ll cover the most common ways to qualify for citizenship in an EU country. 

Before diving into the details, it’s important to understand the value of EU citizenship and an EU passport holder

This article is designed as a reference point. You should reference the official government websites for up to date information. 

What is EU citizenship?

What is EU citizenship?

Having EU citizenship, short for “European Union citizenship, “means that you are a citizen of one of the European Union member countries. 

An EU passport doesn’t replace your national citizenship.

It’s an additional legal status that coexists with your existing citizenship in an EU member country. Currently, there are 27 EU member states, each with its own rules and requirements for granting citizenship.

The concept of EU citizenship was introduced in 1992 through the Maastricht Treaty, also known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU), signed in Maastricht, Netherlands. This treaty established the framework for the European Union as we know it today, including the rights, freedoms and additional benefits that come with being a citizen of an EU member state.

Benefits of EU Citizenship and an EU Passport

EU Citizenship Benefits

The EU was founded in 1951 by five founding member countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg.

Over the years, more and more countries have applied to become part of the EU which now consists of 27 member countries, with many European countries still waiting to join. 

Although each EU member state maintains their distinct national identity, they work collectively on numerous shared objectives, and common goals, in various areas, such as trade, legislation, and diplomacy.

Because of this fact, obtaining an EU passport has a distinct advantage over a European passport and dual citizenship in non-EU country.

  • Freedom of movement within the EU: to live, work, and study in any other EU member country without additional permits or visas.
  • Freedom of movement within 3 non-EU countries: to live, work, and study in the European Economic Area (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) without additional permits or visas.
  • Visa-free travel and no border checks:
  • Access to Social Services and Healthcare: 
  • Visa-free travel to over 180 countries in the world
  • Borderless travel without passport checks in the Schengen area
  • You are not limited to a 90-day stay within a 180-day period in Schengen countries.
  • The right to vote and run for office in EU elections
  • Ability to pass EU citizenship onto spouse, children and future generations

Education: Access to free or low tuition throughout the EU and 4 non-EU countries.

Many of the public universities in the European Union have low-cost annual tuition and, in some cases, have no tuition fees but modest registration fees because the State covers the majority of the cost. 

As an EU citizen, you can attend any of the universities within the EU, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. These last four countries are not part of the EU but are part of the EFTA, which has special agreements with the EU. That’s a total of 31 countries.

According to the QS World University Rankings, some of the top universities in the world are located in the EU, including the following. 

  • Ranked #7: Zurich, Switzerland: ETH Zurich (1,460 CHF / Year)
  • Ranked #24: Paris France :Université PSL (€170 / Year)
  • Ranked #36: Lausanne Switzerland: EPFL (1,540 CHF / year)
  • Ranked #38: Paris, France: Institut Polytechnique de Paris (1,850€ – 2,650€/year)
  • Ranked #37: Munich Germany: Technical University of Munich (€170 / Year)
  • Ranked #53: Amsterdam Netherlands: University of Amsterdam (€2,209 /year)
  • Ranked #54: Munich Germany: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Free tuition for domestic and international students)
  • Ranked #59: Paris, France: Sorbonne University (€9,700 / Year)

*Note: The UK withdrew from the EU (Brexit), so EU students are subject to international tuition fees in the UK and Scotland. 

While anyone outside of the EU and EFTA can apply for these universities, it’s usually more challenging and more expensive for non-EU students. For example, getting your educational credits evaluated, higher international tuition fees, applying for visas, and getting your own health care coverage. 

How to get EU citizenship?

How to get an EU passport through descent and live in France

Generally, there is no one-size-fits-all way to obtain citizenship in an EU country.

Your circumstances, such as your country of origin, family background, and financial stability, will determine how easy or difficult it will be for you to obtain EU citizenship.

 However, here is a rough ranking of potential routes to EU citizenship based on factors that might make the process relatively easier:

  1. EU citizenship through descent
  2. EU citizenship by Marriage or Partnership: 
  3. EU citizenship through Naturalization after Long-Term Residence:
  4. EU citizenship after you earn your degree in a European university
  5. EU citizenship by Investment: Some countries offer citizenship or residency in exchange for significant investments in their economy, such as real estate or job creation. This can be a quicker route for those who have the means to invest.

1) Ancestry: EU citizenship by descent 

How to get EU citizenship by descent ancestry

Many countries grant citizenship based on descent or bloodline, a principle known as “jus sanguinis,” which means “right of blood” in Latin.

This means that you are eligible to apply for citizenship to a country where your parents have citizenship.

In some cases, you may qualify to apply for citizenship in the country where you’re grandparents or a great-great-grandparent were born. 

The number of generations back eligible for citizenship varies depending on the country.

For instance, in France, you can only go back one generation; to your parents. However, to get citizenship by descent to Ireland, you can go back to your grandparents, and in some special cases, your great-grandparents. 

All you have to do is provide a paper trail that connects each generation to the next all the way to you, usually by getting the birth certificates of your ancestors.

Each country may also have additional criteria beyond the number of generations back, such as passing a language exam and having no criminal record. 

 Which EU Countries Allow Citizenship by Descent?

Below is a list of EU countries and how many generations back you may which qualifies you for citizenship by descent. 

. EU Country Citizenship
by Descent
1 Austria Yes
2 Belgium Yes 1
3 Bulgaria Yes 3
4 Croatia Yes 2
5 Cyprus Yes 1
6 Czech Republic Yes 2
7 Denmark Yes 1
8 Estonia Yes 1
9 Finland Yes 1
10 France Yes 1
11 Germany Yes 1
12 Greece Yes 3
13 Hungary Yes 3
14 Ireland Yes 3
15 Italy Yes 3
16 Latvia Yes 3
17 Lithuania Yes 3
18 Luxembourg Yes 3
19 Malta Yes 2
20 Netherlands Yes (but)
laws may not
allow dual citizenship
21 Poland Yes 3
22 Portugal Yes 2
23 Romania Yes 2
24 Slovakia Yes 3
25 Slovenia Yes 2
26 Spain Yes 2
27 Sweden Yes 1

You may be interested in reading: How to get EU citizenship by descent to 30 countries + a second passport

2)  EU citizenship through Marriage to an EU Citizen

How to get EU citizenship by marriage

Another pathway to becoming an EU citizen is to marry or enter a civil partnership with someone with EU citizenship. 

Typically, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re in a committed relationship with your spouse and may even need to live in the country where you are trying to acquire citizenship for a few years as a legal resident.

You’ll need to check the official government website of your spouse’s EU country to learn the requirements for you to gain your EU citizenship through marriage. 

3) Apply for citizenship by naturalization after physically living in an EU country for several years.

How to become an EU citizen after physically living in an EU country

Most EU countries offer paths to citizenship after a certain period of continuous legal residence. Once you fulfill the residency requirements, you become eligible to apply for EU citizenship by naturalization.

The period of legal residency will vary from country to country usually ranging from 5 to 10 years. For instance, this is how to Get French Citizenship and a passport after five years of residency. 

Additional requirements to fulfill to become a naturalized EU citizen:

In addition to the residency requirements, you will also have to fulfill additional requirements. 

Each country will have their own set of requirements, but here is a general list of what may be required to become a naturalized citizen after long-term residency in an EU country.

  • Continuous Long-term residency: With a valid residency permit/visa (Will depend on the country)
  • AGE: 18 years or older
  • Clean Criminal record: You may be required to prove that you have no criminal record for every country you’ve lived in for the past ten years. 
  • Language proficiency: If you are not a native speaker of the local language, you will most likely need to prove that you can speak at a certain level. Some countries require an A2 level; others require a B1 or B2 level. Some countries, like Belgium, have multiple national languages. You don’t have to speak them all, though, just one. 
  • Proof of financial stability: You may be asked to provide proof of financial stability—a job, investments, rental income, etc. The last thing a country wants is to grant citizenship to someone who will become a burden. 

How to become a legal resident of a country?

There are many types of residency permits or visas that you can apply for to become a legal resident in an EU country, such as a work visa, student visa or a type of long-stay visa, which is how my husband and I were able to live in France as legal residents. 

These visas usually give you temporary residency for a period of time, after which you will have to renew the visa.

For instance, our French long-stay visa gave us temporary residency for a period of 12 months in France. To stay in France past the 12 months, we had to renew our long-stay visa annually. 

Although the long-stay visa does grant you the privilege to legally reside in a country for a period of time, it may not give you the right to work. This means you have to prove that you can support yourself in that country in order to qualify for the long-stay residency permit. And you’ll have to keep doing that each year you renew your temporary residency permit up until the point that you qualify to become a naturalized citizen. 

If you don’t have the means to live in an EU country without working for several years, you’ll have to get a work visa. Unfortunately, to be eligible for an EU work visa, you must have a job offer from a company first.

Many EU countries also have a permanent residency status which will let you live in a country indefinitely or for an extended duration and also work. In some cases, this can be a stepping stone to citizenship, allowing you to eventually become a citizen in the EU country where you are living.

Here are the European countries known for offering citizenship by residency programs:

  EU Country  Required years of
residency before you
can apply for citizenship
1 Austria 11+ years
2 Belgium 5+ years
3 Bulgaria 5 years
4 Croatia 8 years
5 Cyprus 5 years
6 Czech Republic 10 years
7 Denmark 6+ years
8 Estonia 8 years
9 Finland 7 years
10 France 5 years
11 Germany 8 years
12 Greece 7 years
13 Hungary 8 years
14 Ireland 5 years
15 Italy 10 years
16 Latvia 5 years
17 Lithuania 10 years
18 Luxembourg 5 years
19 Malta 7+ years
20 Netherlands 5 years
21 Poland 3 years
22 Portugal 5 years
23 Romania 5+ years
24 Slovakia 8 years
25 Slovenia 10 years
26 Spain 10 years
27 Sweden 5 years

4) Become an EU citizen after you earn your degree in an EU university

Graduate from a university in an EU country: possible to get citizenship after 2 or three years in some countries

Some countries offer pathways to citizenship with reduced residency requirements after completing university studies in their respective countries.

The process is the same as becoming a naturalized EU citizen after physically living in an EU country for several years. However, the required amount of time you must reside in that country is reduced. 

For instance, in France, you are eligible to apply to become a naturalized French citizen after five years of legal residence. However, residency is reduced to two years if you earn your degree in a French university.

Remember that to get into a university, you’ll usually have to speak the language proficiently and prove it with a certificate. 

5) EU citizenship by investment

EU Passport and EU citizenship by investment programs

Getting EU citizenship through investment will probably be the more challenging pathway to European citizenship because it requires a large financial investment. In most cases between 250k to 600k depending on the country. But, If you happen to be in a position of having several hundred thousand Euros lying around and are willing to invest it, this pathway to EU citizenship might be for you. 

Most countries allow you to add your immideate family members to the application process, spouse, children, and in some cases parents or grandparents.

There are a handful of European Union countries that offer citizenship-by-investment programs, also known as economic citizenship programs.

These investment programs usually have various investment opportunities such as investing in real estate, government bonds, a start-up, or making a substantial donation.

The money that you invest must be obtained legally, and you cannot borrow the money you plan to invest. However, in some cases, you may be allowed to take out a mortgage if you invest in property. 

How does EU citizenship by investment work?

 There are two types of investment programs that can lead to EU citizenship. 

  1. Golden passport programs (Not available in the EU) 
  2. Golden visa programs

Golden passports: Citizenship by investment

A Golden Passport program is a way for wealthy individuals to get instant citizenship through financial investment.

This pathway puts your EU citizenship application on the fast track, often bypassing some of the lengthier residency requirements and language proficiency tests associated with traditional naturalization routes.

Unfortunately, there are no golden passport programs for any EU countries where someone can buy citizenship through direct investment. Cyprus used to have instant citizenship for anyone who could invest 2 million Euros, but the program was suspended in 2020.

However, a few EU countries offer Golden residency permits through an investment, which can lead to citizenship. 

Golden Visas: Residency by investment

Golden Visas, also known as golden residency permits or investor visas, are temporary residency permits that are granted to individuals who make substantial investments in a country. 

Most EU countries that offer this type of visa offer real estate investment programs, but some countries, such as Italy and Luxembourg, only offer investment in government bonds, shares, start-ups, or donations. 

Although you won’t get instant citizenship, a golden residence permit is a pathway for you and your dependents to eventually obtain EU citizenship through naturalization after a period of time which can be anywhere from one year to 10 years.

The reason why these residency permits are considered temporary is because they usually have to be renewed, sometimes annually. Additionally, some countries require you to physically live in that country for anywhere from five to ten years. Some countries with residency by investment programs do not require you to reside in the country. 

Some countries, such as Spain offer a fast track citizenship process. People from some former Spanish colonies can apply for citizenship after two years instead of ten years. People from these former colonies can get on the fast track: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Venezuela.

The following countries offer golden residence visas for investing in real estate.

  Portugal Spain Greece Malta Bulgaria Cyprus
real estate
€250,000 €500,000 €500,000 €600,000 €512,000 €300,000
7 to 14
None None 36
None 12 months
prior to the
7th year.
Apply for
5 years
10 years
7 years
3 years
18 months
7 years
Family members
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
€53k fee
per dependent

Additional requirements for a residency via investment

In addition to your investment and residency requirements, each country will have additional requirements. Here are a few examples of additional requirements you may need to fulfill. 

  • Annual income above a certain amount.
  • Clean criminal record
  • Proof of Language proficiency
  • Must be 18 years old. 

Important to know

Once you apply for your golden residency visa through an investment program, it may take several months to several years to process your application. Cyprus is one of the few countries with the quickest processing times, usually around three months.       

In some countries, you are allowed to work on a golden visa; in others, you are not.

A residency visa through an investment program usually grants residency visas for your immediate family members for no additional investment. 

Countries not yet part of the EU but have applied

Countries that may become part of the EU in the futre

If you can’t get citizenship to any of the current EU countries through their existing pathways, it’s worth looking into the following European countries. 

These countries have applied for EU membership or are in the process of seeking approval. Obtaining citizenship to one of them may be your way to getting EU citizenship once they become part of the EU. 

Having said that, the EU has a very strict set of criteria that EU candidates have to meet before they are accepted, and the process can take years. 

The list of potential future EU candidates includes:

  • Albania
    • Applied: 2003
    • Current Status: Candidate country since 2014. Accession negotiations are ongoing.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
    • Applied: 2016
    • Current Status: Potential candidate country. Stabilization and Association Agreement in force.
  • Montenegro
    • Applied: 2008
    • Current Status: Candidate country since 2010. Accession negotiations are ongoing.
  • North Macedonia
    • Applied: 2004
    • Current Status: Candidate country since 2005. Accession negotiations are ongoing.
  • Serbia
    • Applied: 2009
    • Current Status: Candidate country since 2012. Accession negotiations are ongoing.
  • Kosovo*
    • Applied: N/A (Note: Kosovo is not universally recognized as an independent state.)
    • Current Status: Stabilization and Association Agreement in force. Dialogue with Serbia is ongoing.
  • Turkey
    • Applied: 1987
    • Current Status: Candidate country since 1999. Accession negotiations have faced challenges and are currently at a standstill.
  • Ukraine
    • Applied: 1993
    • Current Status: Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in force. The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was signed in 2014.
  • Moldova
    • Applied: 2008
    • Current Status: Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in force. EU-Moldova Association Agreement was signed in 2014.

Not all countries that start the process of applying for EU membership end up getting accepted. For example, Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987 but has yet to become a member.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a 'petite commission' at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my links. It helps me buy more wine and cheese. Please read my disclosure for more info.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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