How I Got Italian Citizenship by Descent

This post dives into my journey towards Italian citizenship by descent.

Italian citizenship by descent
My shiny new Italian passport

For those just starting, here are some key insights and lessons I learned from my experience, which culminated in holding an Italian passport in 17 months from start to finish.

Hopefully, this will help some of you and save you from some headaches along the way.

How it Started…Originally

I began my pursuit of Italian citizenship around 2011, initially focusing on my Mother’s side. After a lot of back and forth with another relative who was spearheading the case and a lot of miscommunication with an Italian lawyer, we hit a brick wall: my Grandfather had renounced his Italian citizenship before the next generation (my Mother’s generation) was born.

Italian citizenship lawyer

GAME OVER. DO NOT PASS GO. DO NOT COLLECT $200.

It really sucked.

All of that work, effort, communications with the Italian lawyer and even getting an Italian friend to help us translate between parties, was a big, fat, waste.

Hitting that dead end on my Mother’s side, I moved on with my life, presuming my Father’s side wouldn’t pan out due to being an additional generation removed from Italy.

For the next decade, I didn’t look any further into Italian citizenship and assumed I had no chance.

Fast forward to 2022, I was literally looking at (investment) programs in the Caribbean to scratch that second passport itch, when I decided I should finally explore my Father’s side for possible Italian citizenship before pursuing an investment program in the Caribbean.

After significant research and working with an Italian attorney to help confirm what I was finding, I discovered a potential path.

That potential path became a legitimate case that I went on to submit to the Italian courts and was eventually recognized as an Italian citizen from birth through descent after 17 months of research, hustle, mailings going out/in and finally getting my Italian passport in the mail.

First moral of the story? Always explore both sides of your family tree!

Let’s dive into what my case looked like and the process of Italian citizenship by descent.

My Italian Citizenship Case Timeline

  • Start to finish: 17 months
    • Time collecting documents: 5 months
    • Time from initial court filing to victory: 11 months
    • Time spent on getting Italian passport: 1 month

My case was significantly faster than average due to my efficient management of the work, and working with pros to help me put it all together.

Others in social media groups were constantly impressed by the speed by which I was able to complete my case from start to finish (considering how it was even more complicated than a standard case, having to go through my Italian Great-Grandmother).

Keep in mind that my case was a ‘1948 case’ (going through a female ancestor), so these timelines don’t necessarily map to someone going the traditional consulate route (through a male ancestor), which will vary depending on which consulate you’re applying to.

My Costs

Pursuing Italian citizenship can be either very cheap (administrative cases done through the consulates) or rather costly if you have to go through the Italian court system and file a lawsuit with an Italian attorney. Since my case was, again, a ‘1948 case’, I spent around $4,500.

Tools I Used

  • Ancestry – Use this to build your family tree and determine eligibility

Supplies You Will Need

  1. Standard envelopes
  2. Portfolio envelope to put all of your documents in
  3. Stamps

My Philosophy: ‘Proper Procedures’ are There to Slow You Down

Look, at the end of the day it’s your job to navigate paper-pushing hell ASAP and move on with your life, not to be a good rule follower for a faceless bureaucracy that doesn’t care about your time, money, or sanity. Don’t forget this!

‘Following the rules’ is for suckers. I’m not saying to do anything illegal, but there are things you can do to speed up your case, simply by being persistent and not sitting idly by (until you actually have to).

There is ALWAYS something you can do to speed things up. This requires you to be RELENTLESS. If speed is your priority (as was mine), then you have to be OK with being a pest and annoying the shit out of people.

Personally, I’m just fine with that :D.

To speed things up and save time, you need to think differently. Simply following “proper procedures” can land you in the same long lines as everyone else, wondering why your case is taking so long.

There are always better ways than the “proper procedures” to get things done. Here’s how I managed to shave off a lot of time:

  • Following up multiple times when necessary. Communicating clearly and completely to avoid back-and-forth.
  • Using lawyers to act on my behalf when advantageous.
  • Finding direct contacts (name/email/number) in government offices and making them my ‘go to’ person when I had to interact with their office.
  • Preparing mailings in advance for contingent documents. (ie: If I needed one document before sending another, the ‘waiting document’ was prepped and ready to go, so all I had to do was add the additional document, the moment it was received and mail it out the same day.

How Strong is Your Reason for Doing This?

If you decide to pursue Italian citizenship by descent, you’re in for a long haul of paperwork and bureaucratic drudgery. At least 1-2 years, if not longer.

Make sure you have a solid reason for doing all of this.

When you hit roadblocks, and you will, you need to remind yourself why you started in the first place. If Italian citizenship and/or an Italian passport is just a shiny object to you, you’ll easily give up when obstacles arise. But if you have serious reasons like global diversification, EU residency, or passing it on to future generations, you’ll be able to overcome those obstacles. For me, having options in life and having a Plan B was the main driver.

Understand why you want to pursue this. It’s easy to get dazzled by the idea of a second passport, but for me, it was a long-term plan that I’d been considering for over a decade.

Make sure you have a SOLID REASON why you’re wanting to do this. Because ‘that’s pretty cool, I want to do that too’ is not a reason.

You need a deeper motivation for putting yourself through this paperwork grinder. If you don’t have that reason fully articulated before you start then you will have a difficult time (on top of the existing difficulties that come with the Italian citizenship by descent process).

You May Be an Italian Citizen Right Now as You Read this

The way you are recognized through Italian citizenship by descent is not that it is granted to you by some faceless government.

A government doesn’t GRANT it to you.

It recognizes that you already are a citizen (if you can prove it).

That means you could actually be an Italian citizen right now as you’re reading this but simply haven’t been recognized because you haven’t proven that you are.

I think this is an important distinction to make. Because if you ARE an Italian citizen right now, but just have to prove that you are, does that motivate you to actually do the work?

How the Italian Citizenship by Descent Model (Jure Sanguinis) Works

Here are the phases you’ll go through when pursuing Italian citizenship by descent:

  1. Determine your eligibility > 2. Collect your documents > 3. Submit your case (either through a consulate or an Italian court, depending on your situation)

Your case is going to be either an ‘administrative’ case (going through your local consulate – the one that is assigned to where you live) or a ‘judicial’ case (going through the Italian court system, which requires an Italian attorney).

italian-citizenship-by-descent-flowchart

You won’t know which one it is (if you are eligible) until you start to analyze your family tree and see if there are any unbroken chains that connect you to your Italian ancestor.

Put simply:

  • Male ancestor = administrative case (apply through your local consulate)
  • Female ancestor = 1948 case (lawsuit in Italy)

Getting Started

Now let’s talk about what I actually did and how I started to execute on my new-found knowledge from my Ancestry family tree.

1) I Analyzed My Italian Citizenship Eligibility

I used Ancestry to analyze both of my family trees.

Italian citizenship by descent - ancestry.com

Luckily one of my family members had already done a TON of work from their own genealogical interests, so that was a huge help as a good starting point.

I highly suggest signing up for Ancestry as it is literally built for this and helps you find documents, birth dates, military records or anything else you may need to start to put together your Italian citizenship by descent puzzle.

It is a critical tool to help you get all of this done.

At first, I focused solely on the line that led to my Italian ancestor, ignoring the branches that didn’t directly connect. This helped me narrow down my search and focus on what mattered most – my connection to my Great-Grandmother.

Once I had all the info such as birth dates, marriage dates, ship manifests…etc, I had a lot to start to chisel away at this puzzle.

But things got tricky due to the rules around women passing citizenship prior to 1948 because the laws didn’t allow for women to transmit citizenship to their offspring.

I was left with some unconfirmed questions like “did she renounce?”, “did she ever naturalize?”, “did she lose Italian citizenship when her husband naturalized?”.

These questions were far too complex to answer on my own, so that’s where having lawyers helped!

I started working with an Italian lawyer who knew the ins and outs of this stuff, the nuances around female ancestors and was thoroughly fluent on 1948 cases. Even though, I was still doing the work and spearheading the damn thing, the Italian lawyer was there providing guidance and acting as sounding board for my questions as things would come up.

2) I Found Attorney #1

If you value your time like I do, then you know it’s worth paying for someone who can get things done faster than you can – like lawyers!

I can always make more money, but I can’t make more time.

How do you find good people to work with? Simple.

  1. Write a brief paragraph of what your situation is and what you need help with. This literally takes no more than 1-2 minutes. You will use this as your template.
  2. Send this template to at least 5-10 companies, legal professionals or the relevant type of service provider.
  3. Filter the people you contacted based on the following parameters:
    1. Response time: The big one for me. I expect a response within 1-2 days. Waiting a week is just not cute, even if they’re ‘in demand’. I can’t move fast if the lawyer takes forever to respond.
    2. Track record: How much experience do they have dealing with cases like yours?
    3. Professionalism: Can you trust them, and do they respect your time?
    4. Accuracy: Do they actually read and answer all your questions?
    5. Prices: Find that sweet spot between value and track record

Notice how price was my lowest priority?

I want the job done RIGHT and FAST. I’m happy to pay extra for work that doesn’t waste even more time by being sloppy. Before I made my choice, I sifted through 10-15 Italian lawyers based on the parameters above.

Many of them screened themselves out simply by sucking at basic stuff like, you know, ACTUALLY RESPONDING.

I ended up finding and hiring a WONDERFUL attorney to help me source my documents in Italy, such as birth certificates from the Italian commune and act as a liaison for anything I needed on the Italian side of things.

Find someone you like working with, and the whole process will be a lot smoother and faster.

3) I Collected All of My Documents

Once you determine that you’re eligible for Italian citizenship by descent through the work you did on Ancestry (or at least think there is a good chance you are eligible), the real work begins – collecting your documents!

Here’s where it gets thick – literally.

This stack is just my case.

The idea here is to create a ‘citizenship kit’ that proves the unbroken Italian citizenship chain from your ancestor to you.

You’ll need birth certificates, marriage certificates, and more from the US and possibly Italy, depending on your circumstances.

For documents inside the US, you can handle a lot of this legwork yourself with a simple spreadsheet.

Being organized is the key to speed.

You can’t control how long it takes the bureaucratic machine to churn through paperwork, but you CAN control how efficient and fast you move, when the ball is in your court.

Italian citizenship by descent case documents

Every second counts when you have documents in hand. If one document depended on another before it could be sent out, you bet that document was in the mail the same or next day.

Here’s what I did:

I created a basic Google spreadsheet to keep track of what was going on with my documents as they were coming and going.

Italian citizenship by descent document dashboard

Create a Google sheet with the following columns:

  1. Name of person who you need documents for
  2. Document type
  3. Agency where the document is kept
  4. State of agency (may not be needed if everything is from one state)
  5. Required: It’s good to have a clear understanding when some documents are absolutely CRITICAL to your case and others are not
  6. Document status (Not started, Order, Received, Waiting, NA etc.)
  7. Apostille – To keep track of which documents may require an Apostille if documents need to be sent to Italy for a 1948 case
  8. Doer: Who is responsible for the document
  9. Notes: For example, if there are any contingencies, like one document depending on another

4) I collected My USA-side Documents

On the US side, you can handle a lot of it yourself as most documents like birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates are public record and can be ordered from wherever they’re kept.

Just search for the type of document you need plus where you know the document is most likely to be stored, ie: ‘birth certificates Ohio’ or ‘marriage certificates Pennsylvania’ and you’ll find the appropriate office to contact. They’ll usually send them to you for a small fee.

New York apparently is a bit trickier (from what I’ve heard), but for the most part, you can get these documents yourself by simply ordering them.

If they have an expedited option DO IT. And if they don’t officially have one, ALWAYS ASK IF THEY CAN EXPEDITE IT TO YOU ANYWAY.

Hard to Find Documents

Sometimes you can’t find certain documents. When that happens, you gotta go full Inspector Clouseau mode and SOLVE THE DAMN CITIZENSHIP PUZZLE!

Here’s an example from my case: I was having a real tough time trying to locate my Great Grandmother’s marriage certificate. It wasn’t in the county where she lived with my Great Grandfather, as I found from a census document. I was stuck for a bit and was starting to think this missing certificate would screw up the whole case.

Italian citizenship by descent marriage certificate
The elusive marriage certificate.

After some brainstorming, I connected the dots. The address I had from the census was their ‘married home’ address, but her actual marriage took place in a different county where her parents lived.

Since women didn’t move out until they were married back then, it made sense. I called up THAT county and they had it! There was no other way I could have found this document without getting in my head and trying to understand what they would have done and what was ‘normal’ back then.

Finding this marriage certificate saved my entire case.

Thanks brain!

5) I Collected Records from Italy

If you’re needing documents from Italy for your citizenship case, you’re going to need some help with that. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do that yourself.

Just pay a professional (ie: lawyer) who does this every single day, speaks fluent Italian and knows how to order the documents you need from tiny one-horse villages in Italy where they don’t speak English.

italian citizenship attorney

I read a comment from a guy (who didn’t even speak Italian) in one of the Facebook groups literally say that he flew to Italy, went to the local office himself only to be told to GTFO and ignored. Don’t be like that idiot!

Just get someone who does this, pay them their fee, and you’re going to save a lot of headache and get results faster.

6) I Ensured 100% Accuracy

The documents in your Italian citizenship kit need to be absolutely perfect and ready to put a bow on it.

Things like misspellings, incorrect birth dates and marriage dates will completely slow you down but these things need to be dealt with.

Here’s an example of one of the discrepancies that came up (thanks to the help from one of my attorneys):

Italian citizenship by descent ancestry

I had to correct several documents that slowed me down, but luckily with good organization it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

If you miss these small details, you’ll have trouble down the line with your case. Make sure to double and triple check every detail because those tiny errors could jeopardize your entire case!

7) I Submitted My Italian Citizenship Case

Once you’ve got all your docs sorted, it’s time to submit your case!

Administrative cases (consulate):

For most people (who are going through a male ancestor), this means submitting your case to the Italian consulate that serves your area.

The timing for each consulate will be different, depending on where you live. You’ll fill out your application, provide all your documents, and wait for your case to be called.

1948 judicial cases (lawsuit in Italy):

But if your case is through a female ancestor (like mine), it means opening a lawsuit in Italy. I know, it sounds crazy that you would actually have to sue the Italian government, but don’t worry, this is a well-trodden path with many having already done it successfully and it’s a pretty badass thing to do 😀

For this, I paid one of the best lawyers in Italy (for this kind of work) – attorney #2.

Italian citizenship 1948 case

I literally MAILED all of my documents to my attorney in Italy for the case filing.

1948 citizenship cases are more complicated, but it’s worth it if you really want to do this (do you remember what is your reason for doing this? See further up in the post for getting clear on your ‘why’).

8) Italian Citizenship: Full Recognition

After 11 months of waiting in the judicial queue, my case was called, reviewed and was VICTORIOUS.

One of my Italian attorneys and I in NYC

I was recognized as an Italian citizen from birth with the help my (other) Italian attorney who actually filed the case on my behalf and represented me in Italian court.

9) Finally Got My Italian Passport

After being recognized as an Italian citizen by descent, the next step was to get the damn passport that I’ve wanted for over 10 years!

Italian citizenship by descent assistance

There isn’t much to go into detail here, but you’ll apply for it the same way you would apply for your USA passport and then need to go to the local consulate office for some admin paper-pushing and give a fingerprint (this wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but I was aware of it ahead of time enough to go through with it).

Final Thoughts

I hope my story has provided you with some insight and inspiration for your own Italian citizenship by descent case. So if you’re considering pursuing Italian citizenship, I encourage you to take the leap.

Don’t let the challenges deter you – instead, let them inspire you to push forward (and remember why you’re doing this in the first place).

And remember, you’re not alone. There’s a whole community of people who have gone through the same process.

Where are you at in your Italian citizenship by descent case? Leave your comment below!

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