Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen

July 14, 2015
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Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen

It’s an odd concept for many Americans when I tell them that I received my dual Italian citizenship due to the amount of ‘Italian blood’ that I have. The United States has no jure sanguinis, or ‘right of blood’ law in place, like Italy does.  Yet, at the age of 22, it allowed me to formally claim my Italian citizenship even though I was not born in the country.

If this sounds like a seemingly easy feat, I’m afraid to tell you that it was anything but. The entire process took more than two years, the majority of which was spent amassing family records dating back to the beginning of the Italian Republic in 1861. This was then followed by three separate interviews at the Italian Consulate over the course of the following year. I was determined, if you hadn’t guessed that already.

I wanted to be a citizen and formally recognize that part of my history and heritage.

Members of my father’s side of the family still live in Italy, and we do talk off and on, but I wanted more. I wanted to be a citizen and formally recognize that part of my history and heritage, not to mention living in Italy without having to obtain a Schengen visa first would be absolute heaven.

It’s an interesting story, how I came to realize that I was rightfully still an Italian citizen–that it had never gone away, even though I had been born in the United States to American parents. As it happens, with the Italian jure sanguinis, there was no limit to the number of generations that could claim their citizenship via blood. However all claims of Italian citizenship by jure sanguinis had to stem from an ancestor who was living after 16 March 1861, the official date of Italy’s unification. Each descendant of this ancestor could therefore pass citizenship to the next generation.

So that was my loophole. My grandfather had been born to Italian immigrants in Columbus, Kansas before either of them had ever become citizens of the United States. Therefore, at the time of his birth my great-grandparents were Italian citizens and only Italian citizens and, therefore, so was my grandfather. Additionally, Italian citizenship law states that, unless a person formally renounces her citizenship it continues to be conferred on each new generation; you only just have to claim it and have it recognized by the Italian government. So, that’s exactly what I did.

Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen

Having finally received my Italian citizenship has changed me, in many ways. I’ve found that I’m accepted by an entirely new group of people as ‘one of them.’ I belong to two countries, simultaneously; sometimes I think, “How crazy is that?!” On a more personal level, it was my way of honoring and embracing where I come from, and the obstacles my great-grandparents had to overcome in emigrating here. I will, of course, always be American, that was ultimately their vision for me, but I am also Italian and I won’t have that side of me diminished just because I live in another country.

I actually decided to return to Italy, not long after I received confirmation of my citizenship, and accepted a job teaching in Milan. It wasn’t the first time that I’d gone to Italy, but it was the first time I had the chance to live there long term, as an Italian citizen. It’s rather ironic, how it all came together actually.

I had initiated the citizenship process more than two years prior to being offered a position in Milan. It just so happened that my application was approved, and my Italian passport issued around the time that the teaching job became available, so I thought, ‘Well why not? There’s really nothing stopping me now!’

In a way, I had always known that I would eventually end up back in Italy. I initially pursued claiming my Italian citizenship so that I would be eligible for Italian jobs after I graduated from college, I really didn’t have a plan, I just knew that I was determined to get back, and that my citizenship would make it even easier for me to do so.

Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen

By the time I had made the decision to move there, I already had my Italian citizenship, so really, I had a rather unfair advantage compared to other ESL teachers that had to go through a lengthy visa process, which I am told included mounds of paperwork. As much as I love Italy, I do have to say that efficiency is not a strong point.

Living in Italy as a citizen, versus when I would come to visit as an American, was a completely different experience. As a citizen, I was able to accept the teaching job, provide them with a copy of my passport, and just show up. Opening a bank account once I got there was extremely easy; an experience I’m told is not shared by many foreigners. Having an Italian bank account to which my paychecks could be directly deposited also made it easier for me to find an apartment and sign the necessary papers. I was able to register with a doctor there rather easily as well.

I’ve found that I’m accepted by an entirely new group of people as ‘one of them.’

Overall, when comparing my experience with my colleagues’, mine was much more fluid and expedited in most cases. I found that whatever documents I might need, be it for housing, a metro card or setting up a cellphone plan, I always received them months before my coworkers did.  When traveling around the European Union, or even outside it, I also found that my Italian passport never failed to get me through the passport checkpoint in record time but letting me hop in the ‘EU citizens’ if the ‘all citizens’ one was too long. To most, this probably doesn’t sound like too important of a reason for having two passports, but I always get a kick out of it!

To say that my family was overwhelmingly supportive of me on my mission to claim my Italian citizenship is an understatement. They helped me track down the numerous birth, marriage, and death certificates for three separate generations, and helped with when getting the American documents translated into Italian.

Having dual Italian-American citizenship is not a thing that I take lightly; I fully view having both citizenships as a privilege that isn’t to be abused. At the end of the day, I accept that my behaviors are American, my accent is American, and my general mindset is American. But it is a unique, and humbling experience to be able to arrive at whichever airport I please in Italy and be told ‘Benvenuta a casa Signora Castago’ (Welcome home Ms. Castagno).

Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen photo credit: Stefano Corso

About L. Gabrielle Castagno

AvatarGabrielle Castagno began traveling at the age of 16, and has been hooked ever since. Gabrielle has ventured to over 9 different countries, most recently residing in Milan, Italy where she was an ESL teacher. She now works with a refugee resettlement agency in Dallas, Texas and is involved with numerous human rights initiatives throughout the US. A dual Italian-American citizen, Gabrielle hopes to return to Italy soon, to work with refugees there.

10 thoughts on “Why I Chose to Become an Italian Citizen

  1. Avatar
    July 23, 2015
    Reply

    I’m so glad you were able to get your citizenship! I also just got mine, after having put it off for years due to the hassle of dealing with the embassy and filling out paperwork–though mine was much easier to get than yours (my mom is from Italy). It is such a blessing to be part of both worlds and to be a citizen of two countries.
    And having an Italian passport certainly can be a benefit while traveling to foreign countries!

    • Avatar
      L. Gabrielle Castagno
      July 26, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Erika!
      That’s so great to hear! I have to say, being able to use the fast track ‘EU Citizens’ line at some airports is so nice! 🙂

  2. Avatar
    July 17, 2015
    Reply

    Wow! So am I reading this correctly, if your great-grandparents are Italian citizens then you are entitled to Italian citizenship?!

    • Avatar
      L. Gabrielle Castagno
      July 17, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Contessa!
      So to answer your question, yes AND no. Had my grandfather decided to formally renounce his Italian citizenship, which he received because he was born to Italian parents then, no, I would not have been eligible. However since both my grandfather and my father decided to keep their Italian citizenship I was therefore eligible to have mine recognized as well. So essentially, had my great-grandparents, grandfather, father, etc. decided to formally give up their Italian citizenship in favor of just having American citizenship then, no, I wouldn’t have been able to have mine formally recognized. Hopefully I haven’t confused you more!

  3. Avatar
    July 15, 2015
    Reply

    Great article, interesting to see how it works in other countries. I’m from New Zealand, and it’s very common there for people to get ‘ancestry passports’ if their grandparents were born in the UK or Ireland, although it doesn’t go any further back than grandparents. Many New Zealanders know this because it’s a nation of well-travelled people, but I doubt that as many Americans would know this. So, if any Americans are reading this who might be interested, this is something that’s certainly worth looking into! 🙂

    • Avatar
      L. Gabrielle Castagno
      July 16, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Elen!
      That’s rather intriguing to hear that New Zealand has something similar, I would never had known if you hadn’t mentioned it. I’m glad you found the article interesting as well!

  4. Avatar
    Heather
    July 14, 2015
    Reply

    Hi there, I assume you are obliged to pay taxes in both countries if you are a citizen of both? Can you please explain the tax situation with dual American/Italian citizenship? Thank you!

    • Avatar
      L. Gabrielle Castagno
      July 14, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Heather!
      Great question. Italy is a little different from the U.S. regarding taxes. While the U.S. requires its citizens to pay taxes regardless of if they are living in the country or abroad, Italy only requires citizens to pay taxes if they are a resident in the country. So I did pay taxes while I was working in Milan as an ESL teacher but no longer do since I am residing and working in the U.S.

  5. Avatar
    July 14, 2015
    Reply

    That’s fantastic that you were able to receive your citizenship! I have always been interested in receiving mine but can never figure out what exactly is required. Where did you find all the requirements?

    • Avatar
      L. Gabrielle Castagno
      July 14, 2015
      Reply

      Hi Ashley!
      I’m afraid to say it wasn’t an very romantic process. I literally just googled ‘Requirements for Italian citizenship jure sanguinis’ and was directed to a few websites in particular that had a checklist for the documents needed to apply. I would recommend calling the Italian Consulate for your state as well to confirm the documents needed. The trickiest part is getting apostilles for all of the documents, as well as translations for the ones that aren’t in Italian. Usually the Italian consulate for your area will recommend a translating company and can provide additional support with procuring the apostilles.

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