I remember the moment when the thought of moving to Italy first embedded itself in my head. My husband and I already loved the country after several trips there—but hadn’t considered anything beyond a few weeks’ vacation.
We were in the lovely seaside town of Sperlonga, south of Rome, meandering along the delightful, squiggly lanes, when suddenly we walked into a small piazza, and a picture-perfect scene of daily life played out in about one minute. A man was singing a Neapolitan folk tune while sweeping the street with a handmade broom, while a woman leaned out her window to lower a basket to a delivery boy who loaded it with vegetables. She pulled it up while chirping out her thanks to him.
Just then, a couple of men dressed in suits wandered past to have a caffè in the bar, linking the street-cleaner by the arm and pulling him in for a coffee, too. We heard cups clanking and lively banter from the barista as they entered.
It was a freeze-frame moment that implanted the seed: This would be a great way to live!
It took a while to finally decide to move. But once we did, we went full-force forward to do so legally. And in that process, we learned a few key things.
The best path to entry is citizenship—and with North America’s strong Italian links, you just may qualify. Over 15 million U.S. citizens are of Italian descent, and nearly 1.5 million Canadians also claim at least partial Italian ancestry. And you don’t have to give up your U.S. or Canadian passport to become an Italian citizen, either.
If you have an Italian parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent, you may qualify. Italian citizenship is transmitted by birthright (legally known as jure sanguinis). The key point is whether that family member was naturalized as a U.S./Canadian citizen before the next descendant was born. In other words, if your grandfather was Italian, but he became a U.S./Canadian citizen before your father was born, it means your father never had Italian citizenship by birthright. But if your grandfather became a U.S./Canadian citizen after your father was born, then he automatically “gave” Italian citizenship to your father. You must demonstrate that the Italian citizenship was transmitted to your parent or grandparent without a break in that birthright.
But then there is the glitch that blocked me: If your Italian ancestor was a woman, and she was born on or before January 1, 1948, you won’t qualify. That’s because women weren’t granted the right to transmit their citizenship until that date. In that case, citizenship must be through the paternal line.
To provide a clear paper trail between you and your Italian ancestor, you will need:
- Official birth and marriage records from their hometown in Italy.
- Official birth, marriage, and death records in the U.S./Canada, legalized with an apostille (or certification, in the case of Canada), and translated into Italian by a certified translator.
- The certificate of naturalization for your ancestor.
There is a $335 application fee. You must book an appointment with your nearest Italian consulate to submit your application and be interviewed in person. The wait time can be a year or more for the consular appointment. Expect the whole process of accumulating paperwork, applying, and waiting for acceptance to take about two to three years. It can be complicated, but if you qualify, it gives you an Italian passport, with all the benefits of EU citizenship, which you can then pass on to your own children.
By Valerie Fortney-Schneider