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UK citizenship and naturalisation – What’s the difference?

It is not uncommon for people to use words “citizenship” and “naturalisation” in the same context though it is not always correct. Citizenship is normally given without any initiative on your part, e.g. by birth or by descent when your parents immigrate to a country.

Naturalisation is, however, a conscious decision to become a citizen of a foreign country by sending an application to the relevant government authorities or head of state.

Naturalised citizens are given almost the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities that citizens by birth. However, there are some restrictions, e.g. naturalised citizen cannot become head of state and rule the country.

Naturalisation in the UK

The process of acquiring British citizenship by foreign nationals is regulated by the British Nationality Act 1981.

We want to mention straight away that minors are registered as British nationals without naturalisation. In other words, they are subject to a much easier procedure than their parents, without any strict requirements. Please remember that if a child is born in the UK, they do not automatically become British. On the other hand, if the child’s parents are British or settled here, they can apply for a first child British passport without the need to register a child as British.

How to get naturalised in the UK?

Foreign nationals that apply for British citizenship by naturalisation must meet the following requirements:

  1. Be at least 18 years old.
  2. Be of sound mind and memory.
  3. Intend to stay in the UK. It is simple, the United Kingdom wants its citizens to live in the country, work and pay taxes here.
  4. Speak good English and know the life in the UK.
  5. Be of good character. This will be subject to thorough checks. You might be refused because of an unspent criminal conviction or illegal entry into and stay in the UK.
  6. Meet the immigration requirements and comply with the number of days of absence.

Time restrictions

The route to British citizenship is a step-by-step process for most immigrants. Before you can apply for naturalisation you must be permanently resident in the UK for at least a year. Settlement status in it turn must be secured through one on the eligible visas.

There are requirements that limit the number of days a future citizen can be absent from the UK. In order to get British passport, you must not spend more than 450 days outside the UK during the 5 years before applying for naturalisation. This applies to all apart from spouses of British citizens – they must prove they have not been away for more than 270 days in the preceding 3 years.

And the last criterion applies to everyone: you must not spend more than 90 days outside the Isles during the last twelve months before naturalisation application.


You must have at least two people sign a reference for you; they must know you personally for no less than 3 years and comply with other Home Office requirements.

The United Kingdom allows dual citizenship, but if your country of origin does not, you might need to revoke your first nationality.

If it has been on your mind for a long time to move abroad and set up a business, invest or simply enjoy high living standards in a stable welcoming environment, you should get in touch with regulated immigration lawyers. Our experts will offer you a turnkey immigration solution and help you relocate without wasting your time and money. At the same time, they will support you in other matters, from buying a property in the UK to registering a UK company and optimising taxes.

Tired of getting general advice?

We will work with you to find a customised solution for your immigration, second citizenship, business, tax and other needs.