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How Citizenship Of A Foreign Country Is Obtained

Updated on November 25, 2015

The concept of citizenship

What is citizenship? The simplest definition of citizenship is having membership of a country. It can also be defined as the legal right of being a member of a particular country.

If you are a citizen of a particular country, you are a legal member of that country and have your rights and responsibilities in that country.

Sometimes a person can have the legal right of being a citizen in two countries. Such a person is said to hold dual citizenship or multiple citizenships. So for example, if John is a citizen of Sweden and the United States at the same time, then we say John holds dual citizenship. Not too many people have multiple citizenships.

There are also those who do not belong to any particular country in the world (in another article we shall look at how this is possible). In other words, these people do not have citizenship of any country. Such people are said to be countryless or stateless.

How citizenship is obtained

There are so many ways a person can become the citizen of a foreign country. While each country has its own ways of determining how a person acquires a citizenship status of their country, the criteria common to most countries are as follow:

Citizenship by birth

One of the most common ways to obtain citizenship of a country is by being born in that country. In many countries all over the world, merely being born in any part of the country automatically makes you a citizen of that country regardless of whether your parents are citizens of that country or not. There are so many countries where this is true. An example is the United States of America. You automatically become a US citizen when you are born in any of the 50 states of America. Here, regardless of where your parents are from, once you are born in the United States, you automatically obtain American citizenship and can eventually even run for presidency in the United States. Let us take the example of President Barack Obama whose father was from Kenya. Since Obama was born in Hawaii, which is part of the United States, he automatically became a citizen of the United States and even went on to become the president of the country.

Citizenship if parents are citizens

Another common way to obtain citizenship of a country is by the law of blood. Here, a person who was born outside a country can become a citizen of that country if only one or both of his parents are citizens of that particular country. So for example, if an American couple travels to Somalia in Africa and gives birth to a child there, that child is considered an American citizen because of the fact that his parents are Americans. Even if only one of his parents is American, still the child is considered an American citizen. In this case, the child can end up having multiple citizenships. This is what is referred to as citizenship by the law of blood.

Citizenship by marriage

Another common way of obtaining citizenship is through marriage. In this instance, a foreigner can become a citizen of a particular country when he marries a citizen of that particular country. For example, a German who is married to an American can be registered in America to become an American citizen. The American married to the German can also be registered in Germany to become a German citizen.

Citizenship by adoption

Adoption is the process of taking someone else’s child and legally becoming the parent of the child. In many countries all over the world, citizenship through adoption is very common. Here, a child from a foreign country can become a citizen of the country where the person(s) who adopted him have citizenships. For example, if an American couple travels to Ethiopia in Africa and adopts a 6-year-old child, that Ethiopian child can easily become a citizen of the United States through adoption. A good example of how this works is the case of American celebrity couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who have three adopted children from outside the United States. All the three internationally adopted children of Brad and Angelina are currently citizens of the United States through adoption.

Citizenship by naturalization

Another very common way to become a citizen of any country is through naturalization. Many countries allow non citizens to naturalize providing they fulfill all the requirements needed to naturalize. When you naturalize, you become a citizen of another country. In many countries, before a foreigner can naturalize and become a bona fide citizen, he or she must have entered into the country legally and must have lived legally in that country for a certain period of time. Many countries also provide the opportunity for asylum seekers who have been granted asylum to naturalize. But before a foreigner can naturalize and become a citizen of another country, there are a number of requirements the foreigner must meet. For example, no country will allow a foreigner with a serious criminal record to naturalize and become their citizen. This is the reason why having a good conduct is one of the requirements needed in order for a foreigner to naturalize and become a citizen of another country. Another major requirement the foreigner must meet is being able to demonstrate that he or she can speak the language of the country he or she hopes to become a citizen in. Also, having met all the requirements, many countries let foreigners hoping to become citizens undergo a test which shows that they have reasonable knowledge of not only the official language of the country but also of pertinent things about the country such as the date the country gained independence, the present and former presidents of the country, the number of states or regions in the country, etc.

Citizenship by presumption

This is where a young child (normally below the age of 7) whose parents are unknown and who is found within the territory of a country is presumed to be a member of that country. For example, if a 3-year-old child from Sweden is found wandering the streets of New York City in the United States and the country of origin of the child or the parents of the child are unknown, the child is presumed to be an American and taken care of by the authorities.

Citizenship by honorary conferment

Sometimes citizenship can be obtained through conferment. In this case, the conferment is normally done by the president of the country. Having an honorary citizenship status bestowed by a country on a foreign individual is one of the greatest marks of honor that a person can get in his or her lifetime or posthumously. That is the reason why it isn’t easy to obtain citizenship through honorary conferment. Before someone can be declared an honorary citizen of another country, the person must have achieved something exceptionally great and helpful to the world. For example, in the United States, an honorary citizen of the United States must be a non-citizen of the United States who has achieved something remarkable. In the entire history of the United States, only eight people have been made honorary citizens of the United States.


Of all the ways of obtaining citizenship of a country, the most common ways of acquiring the status of a citizen of any country are by birth, adoption, and through naturalization. In certain cases, before you can obtain citizenship of another country, you must renounce your prior citizenship. But more often than not, you can maintain your original citizenship while you obtain citizenship of another country. In this case you’ll end up having multiple or dual citizenships. Once you become a citizen of another country, you now have the same rights and responsibilities of the citizens of that country. The only right you might not enjoy is probably the right to run for presidency. In many countries, the right to run for presidency is enjoyed only by people born in the country. For example, if you became a US citizen through naturalization, you’ll enjoy all the rights a US citizen enjoys except the right to become president of the United States.

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    • myvenn profile image

      myvenn 2 years ago from Ghana

      Thank you. So if I may ask, how did you become an American citizen? By birth? Marriage?

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 2 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I would never have guessed all the ways one can gain citizenship. Well done.