Italian Citizenship by Marriage vs. Descent

Italian Citizenship by Marriage vs. Descent: What are the Differences?

Are you a foreigner needing to obtain Italian citizenship, but unsure of which procedure to choose? You’re in the right place. In this article, we will explain the differences between two methods of obtaining it: Italian citizenship by marriage and by descent. We remind you that you can consult our blog to learn more about this topic.

Typically, the application for citizenship by descent is processed more quickly compared to citizenship by marriage, but there are many other distinguishing traits. To clarify these doubts, in each paragraph, we will compare the two methods based on the question.

Who Can Apply for Citizenship in Italy?

Citizenship by Marriage

If you are married to an Italian citizen and both of you reside in Italy, you can acquire Italian citizenship by marriage after 2 years from the date of the marriage or civil union (there are no differences for same-sex couples). It is necessary for the marriage to be recorded in Italy. (Consult this article to find out how to request a marriage certificate in Italy). If, however, your residence is established abroad, you will need to wait 3 years after the date of the marriage or civil union. The number of years is reduced by half if there are one or more children under the age of 18.

For residents abroad, it is important that the Italian spouse is registered with AIRE (Registry of Italians Residing Abroad) and has registered the marriage through the competent Italian consulate based on the place of residence.

Please note that, if your marriage was celebrated before April 27, 1983, you automatically acquired Italian citizenship (provided that no divorce occurred before this date). A divorce occurring subsequently does not result in the loss of citizenship; thus, under Italian law, you will still be an Italian citizen. In short, if your case falls into this category, you will have a much simplified process.

Citizenship by Descent (or ‘iure sanguinis’)

As a general rule, if you have an ancestor born in Italy (never naturalized abroad or naturalized after the birth of a child) and none of your direct ancestors has ever formally renounced their right to citizenship, you can apply for Italian citizenship by descent. The rules are contained in Law No. 91 of 1992 (Article 1).

Attention. If you are a descendant of an Italian mother, born before January 1, 1948, you can obtain Italian citizenship only through the Italian judicial system (“judicial route”). Consult this article to learn more. There are no issues from this point of view if you were born after January 1, 1948.

Where to Submit Applications?

Citizenship by Marriage

There are two distinct phases to submit an application for citizenship by marriage.

In the first phase, you will need to obtain and upload all necessary documents (which we will discuss in the next paragraph) on the online portal of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

In the second phase, depending on your residence, if you reside abroad, you will receive a call from the competent Italian consulate (where your native spouse is registered with AIRE) inviting you to submit verified and original copies of each document. If you reside in Italy, it is sufficient to submit all documents to the local Prefecture.

Citizenship by Descent

To submit an application for Italian citizenship by descent, you must go to a consulate or directly to an Italian municipality. (The process will be faster if the municipality is that of your direct ancestors).

What are the Required Documents?

Citizenship by Marriage

To apply for citizenship by marriage, you first need a certificate of knowledge of the Italian language and to demonstrate the absence of past criminal records.

Regarding the language, applicants for citizenship by descent do not need to speak it. However, foreigners applying for Italian citizenship by marriage must speak a certain level of Italian before proceeding. As established in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, you must pass a B1 level language test (minimum level). There are 4 entities currently existing to obtain certification, belonging to the unified certification system known as Certification of Italian Language Quality (CLIQ): University for Foreigners of Siena, University for Foreigners of Perugia, University of Roma Tre, and Dante Alighieri Society.

Regarding the criminal record, you need to provide proof that you have not committed any criminal act during your adult life.

Also, you must obtain a certified copy of your marriage certificate (registered at the Italian municipality where your spouse is registered with AIRE).

Lastly, you will need an official copy of your birth certificate (previously legalized and translated into Italian). This legalization or apostille process will depend on your country of origin where the birth certificate was first issued.

Citizenship by Descent

To apply for citizenship by descent, you must provide the consulate or the Italian municipality (if you decide to submit the application in Italy) with a series of documents (certified copies of some acts of your family). The main documents are:

  • Birth certificates of the Italian ancestor who emigrated abroad (issued by the Italian municipality of birth) and of all direct descendants
  • Death certificate of the Italian ancestor (very important when the ancestor married in Italy, and therefore only the death act can attest to their presence in the foreign country)
  • Marriage certificates of the Italian ancestor who emigrated abroad and of their direct descendants
  • Naturalization acts demonstrating an Italian ancestor (or you can prove with another document that your ancestor never naturalized)
  • Authentic copies of judgments or acts of separation or divorce concerning you (if applicable)

Before submitting the documents, you will need to provide for their legalization (under Presidential Decree No. 445 of 2000 or with apostilles if your country of origin adheres to the Hague Convention of 1961) and translation into Italian.

What are the Processing Times for Applications?

Citizenship by Marriage

The maximum processing time for an application for citizenship by marriage is longer than that for descent: it has been set at 24 months, with a possible extension up to about 36 months (however, remember that, before 2018, there could be a 48-month wait).

Citizenship by Descent

By law, if you choose the administrative route, the Italian consulate has a limit of 730 days to process the application and provide a response, although most consulates usually require less than 730 days. If you submit your application at an Italian municipality, you can shorten the processing time. You only need to establish residence upon your arrival in Italy, providing proof of being able to legally live in the property (real estate) where you stay. Once this is done, the local authorities will verify your actual residence in the property within 45 days from the time you submit your application. After this, the municipality can process your citizenship application. Usually, you will only have to wait a few months; it all depends on the chosen municipality of residence.


We hope this article has helped you understand some of the main differences between obtaining Italian citizenship by marriage and by descent. If you want to know more, you can contact one of our lawyers specializing in Italian citizenship who will be able to advise and assist you best.

Dott.ssa Elena Capodacqua

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