British Nationality

British Nationality can be acquired through an application or acquired at birth. The requirements which an individual must meet vary slightly based on whether they are married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen. Where they are married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen they must meet the requirements of section 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981, anyone else is required to meet the requirements of section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

Children under the age of 18 cannot be naturalised. Where a child is included on an application Home Office must consider whether they are already a British citizen or can be registered as a British citizen either because they have an entitlement or at the
discretion of the Home Secretary. In addition, there are circumstances in which a person who was not born a British citizen automatically becomes one, without the need to be registered, naturalised or apply for British Citizenship. For example, this can happen where a child is adopted by British citizen parents.

Whether or not you were born a British citizen depends on a combination of where and when you were born and the nationality of your parents. British nationality law is one of the most complicated in the world, in part because of Britain’s history and historical relationship with other countries in the world. In some cases it will be necessary to go back several generations to identify whether you are a British citizen or are entitled to apply for British citizenship.

Applying to become a British National

Naturalisation is the most common way for adults who were not born British to become British. People who have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) can, subject to fulfilling residence requirements, apply for naturalisation as British citizens. It is necessary to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the English language and of life in the UK, and to be of good character. Knowledge of English and Life in the UK is formally tested, good character entails meeting specific requirements, the most important of which relate to the applicant’s criminal record. Naturalisation takes place at a public ceremony.

Although significant changes to the process for acquiring citizenship were announced by the then UK government in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the changes were not implemented and the current Secretary of State for the Home Department has since announced that these provisions will not now become law.

As part of the application, you will need to meet the following requirements:

Immigration Time Restrictions

When applying for British citizenship you must be free from immigration time restrictions on the day you make your application which often means having gained settled status before you apply.

Good Character Requirement

Any applicant aged 10 or over must be of good character to apply for British citizenship. Essentially this means that you must show respect for the rights and freedom of the UK, have observed its laws and fulfilled your duties and obligations as a resident. The UK Border Agency will carry out criminal and financial checks.

Sound Mind Requirements

Applicants must satisfy the full capacity requirement when applying for British citizenship (although in some cases this may be overlooked). This means that you are able to make your own decisions and understand the step you are taking.

Dual Nationality

To become a British citizen you do not need to renounce your existing citizenship as many countries will let you have dual nationality. If you are a national of a country who does not allow this, your country of origin may regard you as having lost your existing nationality or refuse to recognise your new nationality. If you are currently a British citizen you will not normally lose this status if you become the citizen of another country unless the new country requires you to give up your British nationality.

Proving British Citizenship

Once you have obtained British citizenship you will be free from UK immigration control and you will be able to apply for a British passport. This is the most acceptable evidence of British citizenship although, alternatively, you may be able to apply for a nationality status document if you do not have the right documentation to apply for a passport.


Registration is the only way in which children can become British and is also used for adults in special circumstances when applying for British Citizenship. It is necessary for those over ten years old to be of good character, but it is not necessary to demonstrate knowledge of the English language or of life in the UK. One example of the use of registration is to address problems created by discrimination in the past. For example, it is now possible for people born to certain British mothers between 7 February 1961 and 1 January 1983 to register as British. At the time when they were born, only British fathers could pass on their nationality to children born abroad. This bar was removed in 1983, but the effects of the historically different treatment still remain for people born abroad to British mothers before 7 February 1961.

Although elements of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 have not been implemented, some changes to the categories of people eligible for registration, notably the children of serving members of the armed forces, British Nationals (Overseas) who have no other citizenship or nationality and the children of British mothers, whenever they were born, were made; these took effect on 13 January 2010.

Different British Nationalities

To complicate matters further, there are many forms of British nationality in addition to British citizenship, mostly as a legacy from the Empire. These include, British overseas territories citizens, British subjects, British nationals (overseas), British overseas citizens and British protected persons. Unlike British citizenship, these other forms of British nationality will not normally provide a right to live in the UK, although they may be a step on the road to becoming a British citizen and also broaden the opportunities to make immigration applications, for example applications based on UK ancestry.