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British citizenship: how to apply and get UK citizenship

Guidelines on applying for British citizenship and getting qualified legal support

Why Does British Citizenship Require Careful Planning?

When you apply for naturalisation and a British passport, you are at the final stage of becoming a British citizen. Normally, it takes several years of effort and careful planning to be able to apply for British citizenship.

With a British passport, you can live, work, study, and run a business in the United Kingdom without any restrictions, as well as cross British borders freely. The status of a British citizen is sought after and is revoked only in exceptional cases, so your and your family’s position will be secured.

British immigration rules that allow foreign nationals to obtain British citizenship through naturalisation are rather strict. Refusal from the British immigration authorities often crashes the hopes of an applicant who has lived in the UK for a long time and was sure that their dream was about to come true. To avoid this, it is better to get support from qualified immigration advisors. They will help you plan the application process, gather all the necessary documents, and fill in the application form correctly.

Obtaining British Citizenship by Naturalisation

Naturalisation allows foreign nationals who have lived and worked in the UK for several years to get British citizenship. As a rule, by this time, they have already obtained an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

Ten steps to obtaining British citizenship:

  1. Determine whether you meet all the immigration requirements: have you lived in the UK for the required period of time? Do you have a clean immigration record? And so on.
  2. Collect all the necessary documents to confirm your right to obtain British citizenship. Pass the Life in the UK test and prove your knowledge of English.
  3. Find two referees who meet all the Home Office’s requirements and can vouch for you.
  4. Fill in and submit an online application form and pay an application fee.
  5. Upload scanned documents to the government website.
  6. Make an appointment with one of the immigration centres in the UK to submit your biometrics.
  7. Stay in touch while your application is being processed in case the Home Office caseworkers have additional questions for you.
  8. Get an approval letter and an invitation to a citizenship ceremony. You can choose from several available dates. However, you must remember that:
    • A Home Office approval letter does not grant you the right to get British citizenship unless you swear an oath.
    • You must swear an oath not later than three months after getting the approval, so you need to hurry.
  9. Swear an oath and get a certificate of naturalisation.
  10. Apply for a British passport with your certificate of naturalisation and pay a passport fee.

When Can Permanent Residents Apply for British Citizenship?

Most foreign nationals who come to the UK on work and business visas must obtain ILR, or settlement, at least 12 months before their citizenship application.

As a rule, to get a British passport, you must spend at least six years in the UK: five years on a long-term visa and 12 months with ILR. The only exception applies to spouses of UK nationals. They can apply for British citizenship after three years of living in the UK and straight after obtaining ILR.

Applicants must not spend outside the UK more than:

  • 450 days – in 5 years of staying in the UK;
  • 270 days – in 3 years of staying in the UK.

The required duration of stay in the UK before naturalisation

Visa type

Duration of stay

UK Skilled Worker visa, UK Minister of Religion visa, and UK Sportsperson visa

6 years

UK Scale-Up Worker visa6 years
UK Global Talent visa5–6 years
UK Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa*5–6 years
UK Tier 1 Investor visa*5–6 years
UK Innovator visa*5 years
UK Innovator Founder visa5 years
UK Representative of an Overseas Newspaper, News Agency or Broadcasting Organisation visa*6 years
UK Representative of an Overseas Business*6 years
UK Spouse and UK Civil Partner visas**5 years
Other legal routes11 years


* The visa route has been closed;

** To obtain ILR, a UK Family visa holder needs to stay in the country for five years. You will be able to apply for naturalisation immediately after becoming a settled person. Only the last three years in the country will be counted.

Requirements To Applicants For British Citizenship By Naturalisation

Applicants who are not married to UK citizens

If you are not married to a UK citizen, you need to fulfil the following requirements to obtain a British passport:

  1. Legally stay in the UK for at least five years and not be absent from the country for more than 450 days.
  2. Have an ILR for at least 12 months before applying for British citizenship. Remember the 90-day rule: the number of days of absence must not exceed 90 days in the last year.
  3. Prove that the UK is going to be your home after obtaining British citizenship.
  4. Prove that you speak English well enough. To meet the requirement, you need one of the following:
    • Be a citizen of an English-speaking country
    • Have a higher education diploma proving that you studied in English, for example, a diploma from a British university
    • Pass an English test
  5. Pass a Life in the UK test.
  6. Be of good character and have no criminal record.

Applicants who are married to UK citizens

If you are a spouse of a British national or a UK settled person, you need to fulfil the following requirements to obtain a British passport: 

  1. Legally stay in the UK for at least three years and be absent from the country for not more than 270 days.
  2. Apply for British citizenship without spending 12 months in the UK as a permanent resident. Remember about the 90-day rule: the number of days of absence mustn’t exceed 90 days in the last year.
  3. Prove that the UK is going to be your home after the obtaining of citizenship.
  4. Prove that you speak English well enough. To meet this requirement, you need one of the following:
    • Be a citizen of an English-speaking country
    • Have a higher education diploma proving that you studied in English , for example, a diploma from a British university.
    • Pass an English test
  5. Pass the Life in the UK test.
  6. Be of good character and have no criminal record.

To demonstrate a clean criminal record, an applicant needs to have no criminal convictions, traffic fines, administrative or immigration offences, financial issues (bankruptcy, illegally acquired public benefits, tax debts), etc. If you have any violations or offences on your criminal record, you need to mention this in your application. You also need to inform your Immigration advisor about any issue for them to find the best solution for you under these circumstances.

What Documents Are Required To Get British Citizenship?

Here is the list of the documents that are necessary to get British citizenship:

  1. Your current and expired passports and a valid biometric card (if you have one).
  2. Documents proving that you have an ILR.
  3. Confirmation of good knowledge of English.
  4. Life in the UK test results.
  5. Marriage certificate, if any.
  6. Tax reports for 5–6 years before naturalisation.
  7. Payslips and the letter from your employer.

Imperial & Legal’s advisors will help you collect, translate, and notarise all the necessary supporting documents.

How To Fill In Application For British Citizenship?

For most immigration categories, you can use an online application form. First, you need to choose the required form type, then carefully fill it in by answering all the questions. The application fee can also be paid online.

After you submit your application and pay the application fee, you will receive your reference number. Use it to upload all the supporting documents to the official portal and make an appointment in one of the immigration centres to submit biometric data.

How Long Does It Take To Obtain British Citizenship?

It can take up to six months for the Home Office to process your application, but it usually happens quicker. The processing depends on whether you submitted all the documents. To avoid any issues, it is important to get support from qualified immigration advisors.

If the Home Office is happy with all the evidence, you will receive a letter of approval and an invitation to a citizenship ceremony. Only after swearing an oath, you will get a certificate of naturalisation.

What Are Other Ways To Become British Citizen?

You can obtain British citizenship if:

  1. You were born in the UK before 01 January 1983.
  2. One or both of your parents are UK nationals or UK permanent residents.
  3. You are an officially recognised refugee.
  4. You are a stateless person.
  5. You have legally stayed in the UK for the last ten years.
  6. You got the settled status more than 12 months ago under the EU settlement scheme.
  7. Your parents are citizens of one of the British Commonwealth countries and moved to the UK before 1973, and you have lived in the UK for more than two years (you were born in the UK or you moved to the UK before you turned 18 years old).
  8. You are a British national or citizen.
  9. You lost your British citizenship for some reason.

British Citizenship for EU Citizens

EEA citizens can apply for UK citizenship if they have spent five years in the country and have had one of the following documents for the last 12 months:

  • ILR – indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
  • Settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme that allowed EU citizens who wanted to stay in the UK after Brexit to get permanent residence if they applied before 31 December 2020.
  • ILE – indefinite leave to enter the UK.

If you and your family got ILR as EU citizens, you need to prove that you have stayed in the country for five years, followed the corresponding agreement(s) between the UK and the EU, and all that time either worked on payroll or earned a living in any other legal way without applying for public benefits.

How Much Does It Cost To Get British Citizenship?

As a rule, there are three mandatory payments: an application fee, a citizenship ceremony fee, and sometimes, a biometrics fee.

Normally, the application fee and the cost of the citizenship ceremony are added together for convenience and are included in the naturalisation costs.

Your naturalisation costs will depend on your status at the moment of application.


Cost (£)

Naturalisation for foreign nationals


Naturalisation for citizens of British Overseas Territories 


Naturalisation for children of British residents and citizens

1,206* – adult applicants

1,012 – applicants under 18 

Citizenship ceremony



* An application fee and the cost of the citizenship ceremony are included in the amount. If the application is approved, no biometrics fee is required.

** The citizenship ceremony is paid additionally for any child applicant who turns 18 while their application is being processed.

What To Do If Application For British Citizenship Is Refused?

The most common reasons for a refusal are incorrectly completed applications and lack of evidence. It is less often that your application is refused because of the Home Office caseworker’s mistake, but they are also humans and make mistakes.

Imperial & Legal’s advisors can guarantee that there will be no issues with filling in your application and preparing the documents with their support. If your application has been refused, our experts will review your case and work out a plan of action. Possible solutions:

  • Re-apply, if you initially applied for citizenship yourself and made mistakes that cannot be fixed.
  • Ask for an administrative review, if a mistake was made when the initial application was being processed.
  • Appeal to an independent court if the Home Office doesn’t want to reach a compromise and violates the applicant’s civil rights. Our advisors are ready to defend your interests in a British immigration tribunal.

Six Types of British Nationality

The UK was a large colonial empire on which the sun never set. It has inherited several types of nationality from those times:

  1. British citizen.
  2. British overseas territories citizen.
  3. British overseas citizen.
  4. British subject.
  5. British national (overseas).
  6. British protected person.

The system is confusing, but if you want to become a British citizen and already have British nationality, it will change the requirements you have to meet, as well as determine the status of your children born inside and outside the UK. 

British Citizenship By Birth

If a child is born on the UK territory, it does not guarantee citizenship. From 1 January 1983, children who are born in the UK automatically become citizens only if one or both of their parents are British nationals or permanent residents.

If the child’s parents do not have a British passport or an ILR, the child will not become a British citizen even if they are born in the UK.

British Citizenship By Descent

Citizenship by descent works differently. A child can be born outside the UK and still become a UK citizen if at least one of their parents (sometimes, even grandparents) has a British passport.

However, as a citizen by descent, you will not be able to pass UK citizenship to your children if they are born outside the country. The only exception applies to families who have to stay abroad due to the Crown or EU service.

When Can Children Register For British Citizenship?

The article has already covered citizenship by naturalisation for adults and citizenship by birth and descent for children.

However, not every child is born into a family of British nationals. Suppose a child was born after 1 January 1983 and did not have parents with a British passport or an ILR. Can they become a UK citizen?

Fortunately, yes, they can. They can apply for citizenship before they turn 18 if their parents have stayed in the UK and at least one of the following is true:

  1. One of the parents has become a settled person or a UK citizen after the child was born.
  2. The child has stayed in the UK for the first ten years of their life and has not been absent from the country for more than 90 days a year. Good reference letters will help a lot.

Niceties of Registering Children For British Citizenship

If a child is a minor, their parents or guardians fill in their application. It is then submitted to the Home Office with the evidence that the child is eligible for British citizenship.

It is not uncommon for parents to apply for British citizenship together with their children. Sometimes, the British authorities refuse parents but approve their children’s applications.

If your application is refused and your child’s is approved, you need to confirm that you agree to obtain a new passport for your child. Otherwise, the approval will be revoked.

British Overseas Territories Citizens

It will take another article to fully explain who the British Overseas Territories citizen is. But in a few words, it works the following way: if you were born in any British overseas territory after 1 January 1983, you automatically become a British Overseas Territories citizen if one of your parents or both have similar ILR or citizenship.

As a British Overseas Territories citizen, you can obtain a British passport. Previously, you could not get the same rights as British nationals and would have to inform the Home Office every time you planned to stay in the UK. Thanks to British Overseas Territories Act 2002, the situation changed, and the citizens from 13 overseas territories automatically got British citizenship with full rights.

British Subject

The British subject status was automatically given on 1 January 1983 to elderly people who had not become citizens of the UK, a Commonwealth country, Ireland, or Pakistan before 31 December 1948. This status is unusual since a person remains technically stateless.

The category also includes the Irish citizens who had already had the status and decided to retain it after 31 December 1948.

British subjects can obtain a British passport. However, they will still be restricted as to how long they can stay in the UK. They can become British citizens with full rights under certain conditions.

FAQ About British Citizenship

What is the difference between ILR and UK citizenship?

At first glance, a settled person has the same rights as a UK national. Besides, foreign nationals often choose to remain permanent residents, especially if it is forbidden in their homeland to have multiple nationalities.

Permanent residents don’t have to obtain additional permits to live, work, run a business, and study in the UK. Just like citizens, they have access to healthcare services, social benefits, and voting rights during local elections. Besides, settled people can sponsor their foreign relatives to come to the UK. Children of permanent residents become British citizens automatically if they are born on the UK territory. However, British settled people can lose their status if they are absent from the UK for too long. Foreign nationals coming from countries outside the Schengen Area can leave the UK for not more than two years.

The main difference between a permanent resident and a citizen is that your citizenship has no expiration date and cannot be revoked if you stay outside the UK for too long. Furthermore, as a citizen, you get an opportunity to travel around the world visa-free.

Who can be my referee if I apply for British citizenship?

According to the immigration rules, your referees can be from two groups of people:

  1. Qualified specialists of any nationality and citizenship, including doctors, priests, and lawyers. If your referee is a lawyer, they can’t represent your interests in your citizenship application.
  2. Any British citizen of good character over 25 years old.

Is it possible to obtain British citizenship by investment?

Unfortunately, the British government doesn’t offer any citizenship by investment programs that allow foreign investors to get a second passport under an accelerated scheme. To become a British citizen, you must stay in the country for a long time and prove your good knowledge of English and local customs.

However, British immigration rules allow certain visa holders to get UK citizenship one year earlier – in five instead of six years (see the table above).

Is it necessary to give up my first citizenship to get a British passport?

No, it is not. In the UK, it is not forbidden to have multiple nationalities, so you won’t have to renounce your first citizenship to get a British passport.

However, it is recommended to check the immigration rules of your home country as well. Some countries request to be informed if you get a second passport. If your home country forbids dual citizenship, you will have to give up your first one to become a British citizen.

Who are British protected people?

You would have become a British protected person on 1 January 1983 if you were a Brunei citizen, or had already been a British protected person, or were a child of any of the mentioned categories.

You would have lost your British protected person status if:

  • The territory where you lived became independent, and you became a citizen of that country.
  • You became a citizen of another country.

A British protected person can get a British passport, just as a British subject or a British Overseas Territories citizen. However, naturalisation is required to get the same rights as a British national.

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