Citizenship requirements in Europe

The creation of the European Union has allowed for the free movement of people between its member countries, being this one of the fundamental rights guaranteed to citizens of the Union by the relevant Treaties. This has led to an increasing number of migrants looking for opportunities in other member states. After spending part of their life in a foreign country, immigrants often consider applying for citizenship as this way they can get full citizenship rights including the right to vote, free movement and better work opportunities among others.

One of the ways to achieve citizenship in the different counties that compose the European Union is through naturalisation based on the number of years residing in a country, however conditions vary widely from one country to another. Here you will find a comparison of the conditions that are required in different member states.

Eligibility requirements – conditions for naturalisation based on residency:

Policies for naturalisation requirements vary among countries. The Citizenship Policy Index (CPI) is used to compare policies for citizenship across the member states. This index gives scores based on how hard the country’s requirements are for individuals to naturalise. According to the CPI,  the  European countries where acquiring citizenship through naturalisation is meant to be easier are the UK, France and Belgium, whereas in countries like Austria, Spain and Greece this is harder to obtain.

The requirements used to calculate the CPI include residency duration, whether individuals have to renounce to the original nationality, language skills, knowledge of the country, financial status, health status, criminal records, integration in the country where they want to obtain citizenship and whether an oath of loyalty is required.

Residency duration

All European countries require that individuals wanting to acquire citizenship through naturalisation have lived for a period of time in the country for which citizenship is desired. For instance, in Belgium it is enough that candidates have lived in the country for as little as three years. This is followed by Ireland where four years are required to apply for citizenship. In countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Turkey and the UK five years are required. Finland and Portugal demand for individuals to have lived in the country for six years. All the other countries from the European Union require between 7 and 10 years. In addition, Austria has a system where naturalisation can be acquired through two different routes, discretionary naturalisation for people residing in the country for 10 years or through legal entitlement after living in the country for 15 years.

Furthermore, every country has its own policies for the time allowed outside the country during the  period of residency and some countries don’t even allow time outside the country. For instance, in Finland, individuals must have lived in the country for at least six years without interruption. In Ireland, however, applicants should not leave the country during the year prior to applying for citizenship. The time of residency should also be legal in order to be eligible to apply for citizenship.

Country knowledge

Another requirement that some member states require is knowledge of the country, which is usually evaluated through a test. Applicants are assessed on aspects such as history of the county, traditions, social and political systems, customs and society. Countries where this is a requirement include Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, the UK and Hungary.
In the UK their UK citizenship test or ’Life in the UK Test’ started to your requirement since 2007 and everybody who wants to become a British citizen must take this test. Applicants should score 18 out of 24 (75%) correct answers. In Denmark, applicants need to get 34 out of 40 (80%) correct answers. More permissive countries are Austria and Germany were applicants need 12 out of 18 (66%) and 17 out of 33 (51%) correct answers, respectively.

Among the countries that do not require applicants to take a test to proof knowledge of the country are Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland and Slovenia.

Language skills

The language requirement should be met in most European countries. Knowledge of the language can generally be proven through a certification showing evidence of the national language skills. Some countries consider that the language skills are acquired through time by living in the country and therefore do not require a test to be taken to proof knowledge of the language. The countries that do not require this are Belgium, Ireland, Cyprus, Sweden, Poland and Italy. On the other hand, most European countries are stricter and require a formal test or certification including Austria, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovenia, Portugal, Lithuania, Finland, Latvia, Denmark and Romania. At an intermediate point would be Turkey, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Greece, Croatia, Malta and France where an interview would suffice to proof competence of the language. Also, exceptions apply in some countries to people with certain health problems, over the age of 65 or who have undertaken some sort of higher education in the country.

Dual citizenship

Some countries also have a requirement four applicants to renounce to the country of origin nationality including Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. More permissive countries include Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Malta, France, Greece, Italy, Slovakia, Portugal, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania.

Additional requirements

Other requirements include integration into the life of the host country through participation in the community and adaptation to the society, a review of criminal records and demonstration of good character (usually through references), proof of a good financial situation and good mental health. Finally, some countries also demand for applicants to show value commitments and to swear loyalty to the country at the end of the naturalisation process.

To summarise, citizenship requirements vary widely within the European member states and changes to these requirements are prone to continue happening.


Naturalisation Policies in Europe: Exploring Patterns of Inclusion and Exclusion, European University Institute. November 2010.


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