Presented by Sable International

How to inherit British citizenship from a UK-born ancestor

One of the most common questions we get asked at Sable International is which ancestors you can inherit British citizenship from.

These rules are surprisingly complex. Below, we offer a breakdown of the basics so you can determine whether you’re likely to qualify.

We will be hosting free UK nationality consultations across South Africa in February and March.

If you think you or a family member might qualify, we’d love to chat.

Key dates that affect your citizenship options

Whether you were born before or after these dates will often mean the difference between qualifying for British citizenship or not.

1 January 1949 – When the British Nationality Act 1948 came into effect. A variety of separate citizenships were devised for those within the British Empire who weren’t citizens of Britain itself. British women were granted independent nationality for the first time, separate from their husbands. At this stage women could not automatically pass on their British nationality by descent – a historic wrong that has now in some ways been addressed for those born during this time period.

1 January 1983 – When the British Nationality Act 1981 came into effect. This is when some of the separate citizenships became British citizenship. It’s also when you no longer automatically acquired British citizenship by being born in Britain. Now your status would depend on that of your parents. Children born on or after this date could, for the first time, claim their mother’s British citizenship by descent.

1 July 2006 – Children born to unmarried British fathers after this date can acquire British citizenship automatically, if proof of paternity can be shown.

What is British citizenship by descent?

British citizenship by descent means you’ve inherited citizenship through a parent. Unlike with some countries, the UK doesn’t automatically grant nationality to children of citizens.

There are a few factors that need to be considered, including how your parents received their citizenship, whether you were born before certain law changes and which of your parents is British.

It’s important to note that those who are British by descent cannot generally pass that citizenship down a further generation.

The most common ways to qualify for British citizenship by descent are:

  • You were born in the UK to British parents or parents holding permanent residency
  • You were born outside of the UK, but your mother was born in the UK before 1983 and was British at the time of your birth
  • You were born outside of the UK, but your father was born in the UK before 1983, was British at the time of your birth, and your parents were married at the time of your birth.
  • You were born outside of the UK, after 1983, but your British parent lived in the UK for three years or more before you turned 18
  • Your parent is British “other than by descent”.

If your parents were not married at the time of your birth

In the past, you could only claim British citizenship through your father if your parents were married at the time of your birth.

This discrimination against “illegitimate” children was partly fixed in July 2006.

However, if you were born prior to that date, you will currently need to make a special application for citizenship. The UK is currently in the process of updating this legislation to make it easier for those born before 1 July 2006 to apply.

What is British citizenship by double descent?

British citizenship by double descent is the term used to refer to inheriting British citizenship from a grandparent.

As mentioned previously, it’s uncommon for British citizenship to pass down more than one generation by descent. However, there are some special circumstances where this happens.

Some examples of ways you could inherit British citizenship through a grandparent are:

  • Your UK-born grandfather was in the British Crown service at the time of your parent’s birth
  • Your parent was born in a former British territory and was, at one time, registered as a Citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUCK) or a federal citizen of Rhodesia or Nyasaland.
  • Your parents were married before 1949 and your paternal grandfather (father’s father) was born in the UK
  • You were born before 1983 and your maternal grandfather (mother’s father) was born in the UK.

Every family tree is different, so if you have a UK-born grandparent, it’s a good idea to fill in our free British citizenship assessment to see where you stand.

Ancestry visa

If you were born in a Commonwealth country and you have a UK-born grandparent, but you can’t qualify for citizenship through double descent, you might still qualify for the UK Ancestry visa.

This visa allows you to live and work in the UK for five years. Thereafter, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain and citizenship a year later.

What is British citizenship by triple descent?

While British citizenship by double descent is rare, British citizenship by triple descent is even rarer.

It means that British citizenship passes down all the way down from your great grandparent. These cases are always complex as they involve proving that British citizenship passed through multiple generations “other than by descent”.

Your best chance of qualifying for British citizenship through a great-grandparent is if you have a combination of connections to former British territories and the UK itself.

Bear in mind that in some cases it’s essential that you apply for British citizenship before you turn 18. If you have a child under 18, and you have these connections to the UK, it’s worth exploring their options sooner rather than later.

Upcoming changes to British nationality law

A new piece of legislation seeking to correct gender discrimination in British nationality law is currently working its way through parliament.

The changes, which we fully expect to pass into law, would mean that if you failed to qualify for any form of British citizenship because your ancestor was of the wrong gender, or because your parents weren’t married at the time of your birth, you might now qualify.

British nationality law can be incredibly complex. If you think you might qualify or are curious to see your options, please join us at our free UK nationality consultations and we will be happy to take a look at your family tree.

Alternatively, fill in our free online British Citizenship assessment.

We will also alert you of any changes in UK nationality law as they happen.

You can get in touch with our OISC-registered advisers at [email protected] or call us on +27 (0) 21 657 2139.

Must Read

Partner Content

Trending Now

Follow Us

How to inherit British citizenship from a UK-born ancestor