Heritage is a source of pride for many Americans, but did you know that it can also open the door to residency or citizenship in another country?
More than a dozen European countries allow you to claim residency or citizenship through ancestry.
If you have a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent who was European, there’s a good chance that you’re eligible for a European passport.
Over 191 million Americans may fall into that category. According to the U.S. Census, over 57% of the population is of European descent.
The ancestor does not have to be alive anymore; in most cases, you just have to be able to prove your connection to them. This is easier than ever before, with more ancestry-tracing services than ever before.
A little research into your roots could provide you with your ticket to a new life in Europe. But first, why might you want a new life in Europe?
Why Pursue Citizenship By Ancestry
1. Potential Lifestyle Upgrades
Living in Europe is a dream for many. Aside from the obvious appeal of the Old World, it offers the potential for a host of lifestyle upgrades that you may not have considered.
Many European countries offer free, high-quality health care to their residents. France, Italy, Malta, Spain, and Austria—all countries that offer citizenship by ancestry—are among the top 10 in the World Health Organization’s ranking of the best health systems. For reference, the United States ranks #37.
Contrary to popular belief, life in Europe can also be more affordable than life in the United States. Let’s look at most people’s biggest monthly expense, housing, to illustrate this, using data from the European Commission.
In the United States, the average rent per month for a two-bedroom apartment in Washington is $3,100. In New York, it’s $4,200.
Compare that to some of Europe’s top cities. The average rent per month for a two-bedroom apartment in Paris, France, is 2,150 euros; in Lisbon, Portugal, it’s 1,400 euros; and in Madrid, Spain, it’s 1,100 euros.
Europe is also safer than the United States. It’s the most peaceful region in the world, according to the 2023 Global Peace Index. While the United States comes in at #131 on its ranking of the global state of peace, seven of its top 10 are European countries.
You could reduce any fear about mass shootings you may have by moving to Europe. Its gun ownership per capita is three times less than that of the United States. It also offers a less polarized political climate than the United States, in my opinion.
2. Obtaining Residency And Citizenship Can Be Difficult
Gaining the legal right to live in another country is crucial if you want to leave the United States behind and start a new life somewhere different.
Highly sought-after, residency and citizenship can be difficult to obtain.
A wave of more restrictive policies and outright closures has recently made its way through Europe’s golden visa (residence-by-investment) programs.
Alternate (non-golden visa) routes to residency and citizenship typically involve meeting certain financial thresholds, passing medical and criminal background checks, and investing significant amounts of time in your chosen country.
All of this can be limiting, especially for older people.
Ancestry is a silver bullet in this context.
3. Options Represent Freedom
Without the legal right to live in another country long-term, you’re limited to tourist status, which usually means you can only spend one to three months in a given country at a time.
Tourist status can be flimsy, as events like the pandemic have made clear. In general, it’s easier for a country to turn a tourist away at the border than a resident.
For me, the importance of gaining legal rights to live in another place, whether through acquiring a residency visa or citizenship, goes beyond the ability to stay there longer than three months.
An alternate residency (or citizenship) represents freedom. It gives you the ability to choose something different from your current reality, either because you desire it or because you don’t like the state of things at home.
If not being beholden to any one government or political, social, or economic situation is important to you, you need to have a backup plan, and the ability to live in another place as long as you like needs to be a core element of it.
EU citizenship is possibly the world’s most desirable. It allows you to live and work in any of the 27 EU countries and grants the holder more visa-free access than most other countries.
4. Connection To Your Heritage
Your roots can be an intrinsic part of your identity. Returning to the land of your ancestors is a chance to connect with your genealogical history. It can feel like moving back home rather than relocating somewhere foreign.
Countries That Offer Citizenship Through Ancestry
To The Third Generation
- Slovakia (legislation pending)
*These countries potentially offer citizenship by ancestry beyond the third generation. Note that it becomes more difficult to prove your connection to your ancestor the further back in generations you go.
To The Second Generation
- Czech Republic
To The First Generation
How To Apply For Citizenship By Ancestry
Ancestral citizenship is a birthright, but you’ll have to prove your eligibility.
Policies and protocols for claiming citizenship by ancestry vary from country to country, but generally speaking, you will need to provide proof of your connection to your European ancestor.
This typically entails providing their birth certificate and other supporting documents, such as marriage certificates, as well as your passport and filled-out application forms, which can usually be filed at your nearest consulate.
Many countries keep vital records of birth, marriage, and death certificates. You can request a copy of your ancestor’s birth certificate by providing qualifying information (such as their name, date and place of birth, etc.).
Before applying for citizenship by ancestry, you should ensure that the country in question allows for dual citizenship, unless you plan on renouncing your current citizenship.