The Ultimate British Citizenship for Children Born Abroad Guide in 2019

The law on British citizenship for children born abroad is governed by the British Nationality Act 1981.

Many British parents of children born abroad (or adults born abroad to British parents) worry about the citizenship status of their children. 

As always, the law is not simple on this matter!

The rules differ in different circumstances, and we will seek to clarify these for you.

The aforementioned circumstances are as follows:

  • If you were born before 1st January 1983
  • If you were born between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006
  • If you were born on or after 1st July 2006

#1 Were you born abroad before 1st January 1983?

If this is the case, the general rule is, you are British if:

Either, your father was born in the UK or ‘registered’/’naturalised’ as a British citizen prior to your birth

AND

Your parents were married when you were born, or later married in a country which ‘legitimised’ your birth upon the marriage of your parents.

A few points to note:

  • British mothers could not automatically pass citizenship on to their children in the same way as fathers could prior to 1st January 1983 – yes, this is very unfair and sexist!
  • Any children of British mothers would have to submit an application to ‘register’ as a British citizen.
  • ‘Registration’ is when someone who is not automatically British is allowed to submit an application to become British.
  • ‘Naturalisation’ is described as the legal act of someone who is not British, becoming British.

Below, we will discuss several examples of children born abroad before 1st January 1983 and explain whether or not they are automatically British citizens, can ‘register’ as British citizens or if you are entitled to citizenship at all.

a) My father was born in the UK AND my parents were married at the time of my birth

You are automatically a British citizen. 

You do not need to ‘register’ as a British citizen.  You can simply apply for a British passport or apply for confirmation of your nationality.

Example: Colin was born in China in 1971. His father was born in the UK in 1951, and was married when Colin was born.  Colin is automatically British and can apply for a UK passport if he requires to.


b) My father was born in the UK but my parents were NOT married at the time of my birth

You are not automatically a British citizen. 

However, due to later amendments to section 4 of the 1981 Act (sections 4E – 4I) you have the option of ‘registering’ as a British citizen using application Form UKF.

If your parents later get married in a country which ‘legitimises’ your birth by their marriage, then you automatically become British and can apply for a British pass or confirmation of your nationality straight away.

If you do not know the law of the country in which your parents were married, it is a good idea to contact the country’s embassy for information.

Example 1: Harry was born in Germany in 1977 (before 1983). His parents were not married at the time of his birth, however, his father was born in the UK.  Harry is not automatically a British citizen.  He cannot apply for a British passport.  However, section 4F – 4I of the 1981 Act allows him to ‘register’ as a British citizen.

Example 2: Emily, was born in France in 1977 (before 1983).  Her parents were not married at the time of her birth but her father was born in the UK.  When Emily was 4 years old, her parents got married in a country which ‘legitimised’ Emily.  Accordingly, she is now considered automatically British.  She does not have to apply to ‘register’ as a British citizen.  If she wishes to travel, she can simply apply for a British passport.


c) My mother was born in the UK but my father was born elsewhere

Unfortunately, you are not automatically British. 

This is clearly an unfair, patriarchal law and was therefore amended by Section 4C of the 1981 Act. 

You can now register as a British citizen if your parents did not register you as a child. 

However, this costs £1206 so you are still at a disadvantage if you are obtaining your citizenship through your mother’s birth in the UK.

Example: Sunita was born in the United States of America in 1978 (before 1983).  Sunita’s mother was born in Scotland, and her father was born in the USA.  Sunita is not automatically British but can apply to register as a British citizen by paying £1206.


d) My father was not born in the UK but obtained his British citizenship through registration/naturalisation in the UK before I was born

You are only automatically British if your parents were married at the time of your birth, or they later married in a country which ‘legitimised’ your birth. 

If you don’t know the law in the country your parents were married, you should contact their embassy for clarification.


e) My was father was not born in the UK but obtained his British citizenship through registration/naturalisation in the UK after I was born

Unfortunately, you are not automatically British.


f) My mother was not born in the UK but obtained her British citizenship through registration/naturalisation in the UK either before or after I was born

You are not automatically British by birth – again a very sexist law!

You can apply to register as a British citizen by descent by paying the £1206 fee. 

However, you must also meet the ‘good character’ requirement when you apply to register.


#2 Were you born abroad between 1st January 1983 and 30th June 2006?

 

a) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ automatically by birth in the UK, at the time I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


b) My mother obtained her British citizenship ‘otherwise than by descent’ after being registered/naturalised before I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act. 

However, you would not be considered British if your mother became British after your birth.


c) My mother had ILR or Permanent Residence under EU laws, when I was born

Unfortunately, you are not automatically British. 

If you are born abroad, the legal requirement is that your mother is British for you to also be British.

Example: Ethan was born in 1984 in Germany to a mother who had indefinite leave to remain in the UK.  If Ethan had been born in the UK he would be a British citizen.  But as he was born abroad, he is not automatically a British citizen.


d) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ automatically by birth in the UK, at the time of my birth and my parents were married when I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


e) My father obtained his British citizenship ‘otherwise than by descent’ after being registered/naturalised before I was born, and my parents were married when I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.  However, if your father registered/naturalised as British after you were born then you are not British by birth.

Example: Maddy was born in France in 2005.  Her father naturalised as a British citizen in 2001 and he was married to her French mother.  Maddy is automatically a British citizen and can simply apply for a British passport.


f) My father was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, but my (natural) father and mother were not married

You are not automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.

However, if your parents later tie the knot in a country which ‘legitimises’ you – you will be accepted as automatically British.

On the other hand, if they never marry in a country which ‘legitimises’ you – you may register as a British citizen under section 4G of the 1981 Act using Form UKF.


g) My father obtained his British citizenship ‘otherwise than by descent’ after registering/naturalising as a British citizen prior to my birth, but my parents were not married

Unfortunately, you are not automatically British. 

Section 4G of the 1981 Act does allow you to register as a British citizen in this case.

However, you will be accepted as automatically British if your parents later get married in a country which legitimises your birth.

Again, if you are unsure about the law of the country in which your parents married, then you can contact that country’s embassy for more information.


#3 Were you born abroad on or after 1st July 2006?

If this is the case, the general rule is, you are British if:

You are a British citizen by birth in two circumstances:

Circumstance 1

One or both parents are British citizens otherwise than by descent; and

They were born British in the UK

Circumstance 2

One or both parents are British citizens otherwise than by descent; and

They registered/naturalised as a British citizen before your birth

a) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ when she was born in the UK, at the time I was born

You are automatically British according to section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


b) My mother obtained her British citizenship ‘otherwise than by descent’ by registering/naturalising as a British citizen before I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.  If your mother became British after your were born then you are not deemed as automatically British.


c) My mother had ILR/Permanent Residence when I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act.


d) My mother’s husband was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, when I was born

You are automatically British by birth under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act. 

This means that your mother’s husband need not be your biological father. 

The legal position is, that the person your mother was married to at the time of your birth is deemed to be your father, instead of your biological father. 

Whilst the consequences of this law can be unfair in other cases, in this case it works in your favour.

Example: Chandni was born in the UK in 2008 to an Indian mother. Her mother was married to a British man (who was born British). Chandni’s mother had an extra marital affair with another man who was Indian. At the time that Chandni was born, her mother was still married to the British man, even though they later separated. As Chandni’s mothers husband was British, and he was still married to her mother at the time of her birth – Chandni is automatically a British citizen.


e) My mother’s husband was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ having obtained his citizenship by registering/naturalising as a citizen before I was born

You are automatically British under section 2(1) of the 1981 Act. If your mother’s husband became British after you were born then you are not British.


f) My mother was a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’ by birth in the UK, when I was born and was not married

You are not automatically British, unless your parents later tie the knot in a country which ‘legitimises’ you upon their marriage.

But, if they do not ever get married, you are not automatically British.  In this case, you can register as a British citizen under section 4G of the 1981 Act.

Example: Pruet was born in Thailand in 2009 to a British mother (who was born British) and Thai father, who were not married.  Pruet is not automatically British but can register as a British citizen for a fee. When Pruet was 4 years old, his parents married in a country which ‘legitimised’ him.  He is now considered British and does not require to register as a citizen – he simply requires to apply for his passport.


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