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  • Writer's pictureAnnamaria Borelli

To Be or Not To Be: Italian Citizenship is the Question.

Italian Citizenship. Those two words remind me of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. O fortuna vellut luna. Italian bureaucracy is some complicated stuff. Let My Grandmother’s Italy tell you about the experience of the acquisition of Italian Citizenship via IURE SANGUINIS, which, simply put, means eligibility for citizenship by ancestry.

Here are some guidelines.

This song comes to mind when I think of Italian bureaucracy. (I do not own the rights to this music)

Family History

Sad to say friends that just because your name ends in a vowel it doesn’t mean that you will be able to get the citizenship. The MOST IMPORTANT element of this process is to prove that the lineage has not been broken in any way. For example, my grandmother because a naturalized American citizen when my mother was five years old. My mother technically was also born Italian. If you don’t take any measures to formally renounce the Italian Citizenship, under the Italian State you are considered born to an Italian mother. Where it gets complicated is the fact that the laws constantly change. When I got my citizenship done seven years ago and under my grandmother’s specific credentials the woman could pass down citizenship. In some cases, if the lineage is farther back, let’s say great-grandparents, the woman could not pass citizenship it to their offspring. Ah, being a woman is never easy. (that is a topic for another blog). Back to business. So, long story short, provide the necessary documentation to prove the lineage. You must be thinking, well, how do I do that? This brings me to step two.

Documents step one

This word documents sends a shiver up my spine. Almost twelve years in Italy and the word documenti haunts my dreams. I can’t talk about every specific case I have heard of, but I can tell you in my own experience what I Needed to present. The list is as follows:

a) mother’s birth certificate

b) mother and father’s marriage certificate

c) father’s birth certificate

d) father’s death certificate

e) grandmother’s birth certificate

f) grandmother and grandfather’s marriage certificate

g) grandparent's death certificates

h) grandmother’s certification of naturalization

i) grandfather’s certification of naturalization (I will reiterate that my grandfather could not pass down Italian citizenship to me. On his side the line was broken way before my mother was born. He officially renounced his Italian citizenship because at the time you could not have both. My grandmother also had to do this, but since my mother was born BEFORE this occurred, my grandmother was able to pass it down to my mother and hence pass it down to me. Had the opposite occurred, I would NOT HAVE BEEN eligible for Italian citizenship).

j) my birth certificate

Documents step two

At this point you have collected all of your documents. I had to go to various offices stateside as well as across the pond in Italy. I could request citizenship in Italy because I also applied for residency here. If you do not have residency in Italy you cannot apply for citizenship. This was my case seven years ago, I don’t know presently if the rules have changed. However, I think this procedure is pretty standard. Be prepared to spend a lot of time calling your mother’s home town and trying to get the original copies of the documents. Luckily, my grandmother was very good at keeping her documents safe. So she already had the original copies of her naturalisation papers. You might need to request original additional copies just to be safe. I also had to go to Trenton, New Jersey to get original copies of my birth certificate as well as my father’s certificates. That was a real treat, going to downtown Trenton. (I write this sarcastically, I was proud of my parallel parking skills). Before you attempt to get the Apostille (the most concise explanation I can render is that it is a special stamp that confirms the validity of the document overseas in countries that are party to the 1961 Hague Convention). Every single document I provided from the United States needed an Apostille. However, before you get the Apostille, the documents must be notarized. Not to mention, the cost of getting these documents. Each Apostille is about $25 dollars. The notarial services also have a cost so prepare to open those wallets. The documents from Corato, Bari, Italy did not need one being that they were not considered foreign documents.

For a more detailed description about specific costs, you can refer to the US Embassy Website. It is extremely helpful.

Documents Step three

Oh, we are not done my friends with regard to documents. Documents make the world go round in Italy. The bureaucracy here is extremely difficult, time consuming, and stressful. I have never encountered such difficult procedures and some of the worst experiences I have had in Italy have been dealing with the people that work in these offices. They are state jobs, they stamp paper all day, and they have to deal with insistent people like myself. I understand the monotony of it all, but what I don’t understand is not being informed about the procedures and sending me on a wild goose chase where everyone would tell me something different. Be prepared for this. Do yoga before going, have a Prosecco, do something to ease the stress. It is not an easy process. I finally had an edge when getting the documents in Corato. I went to Corato because that was where my grandparents were born. You must go to the municipality in Italy to get the necessary documents because only original documents are accepted. If nonna didn’t save them, you need to get them somehow. I had a distant cousin who worked in the office. He would show me around and introduce me to his colleagues.

You need to learn the art of the schmooze. What is this you ask? Sucking up to people in high places to get what you want. Bake them a cake, give them compliments, make them laugh; these could be some options. When doing business in Italy, of any kind, the interpersonal relationship is key. There needs to be a lot of “confidenza” or “fiducia” (trust) for someone to help you, or rather WANT to help you. If they like you it’s easier. You catch more flies with honey. That is exactly what I did. Every time I would go to Corato I would make a point of seeing this person, and I would ask him questions about the process. Of course I am not saying to use anyone or be fake, what I am saying is that it really does help to have a good relationship with the person helping you. If there is a problem or a blessed short cut, you will need them on your side. Due to this relationship I had to this person, I was able to go into the archives, and we looked for the documents together. It was a real treat for me because I learned about my great-grandparents. I had never met them so seeing their names was a thrill for me. Seven years ago, I don’t know today, the archives were all in filing cabinets. Remember those? I don’t think the new generation even knows what those are. It took hours, but we found the documents. Now, what do I do with these original copies? Oh, it’s not done my friends.

Legalizing the Translations

Here is another piece of the puzzle. Any documents from the US or other counties where the native language is not Italian, must be translated. You can do this by an official translator which has an added cost; or you can do it yourself and legalize the translation at the Tribunal. I decided to do the latter. The dear librarians in John Cabot University, assisted me in this process. You have to translate everything on the page and keep the format exactly how you see it on the original document. (I also suggest making copies of every, single, original document, Apostille, stamp, certificate or any kind. You will need to send ORIGINAL COPIES, however, you must have copies of your own in case they are lost, or there is a discrepancy). Since the translation was not done by an official translator I had to go to the tribunal in Rome to get the stamp that the translations were valid. This process legalizes the translations so they can be used in Italy to certify the translation.

So I go to the Tribunale di Roma with my boyfriend at the time. Who, I must say, was a huge help in this process. We walk into the office, and I go in with my copies. The lady says to me, “these are out of order.” To which I reply, “wait, there is an order? No one communicated to me that there was an order?” This was a normal occurrence in these offices, she huffed and puffed and almost blew my house down, and then finally answered, “here is the order, fix it and come back.” Just as sweet as honey. So I thought to myself. You are going about this the wrong way. I looked towards my boyfriend and said, "come here a second." I told my boyfriend to ask the lady, maybe he would have more luck. "Ok, here is the order, now you go in there and speak to her I’m done," I said in sheer frustration and rage. He goes in and her demeanour TOTALLY changes. The woman was a different person. It was like she morphed into her alter ego. “ah, ma quanti anni hai sei giovanissimo?!” (Ah, how old are you? You are so young)

What? When I went in there she was a total, something I can’t say on this blog, but when my boyfriend goes in there she perks up and is all sweet. Hmmmm, I guess my tactic worked! Safe to say we got the job done, and I guess the lady in the office got to flirt.

I had my original documents notorized, I had my Apostilles, certified translations, if I had to give a DNA sample it would have been in there. I had my residency in Rome. I went stateside, crossed the pond back to Italy, and if you had told me to go to an office in Timbuktu, well, at the time I would have done it. After years of working on this immense project, I was finally ready. I presented my documents to the official, and she said, "I hereby grant you Italian Citizenship." It was a proud moment. More than the emotion of becoming officially Italian, it was the fact that I had defeated and won in this war with Italian bureaucracy. It was more triumphant for that than anything else. I am a DUAL citizen. So I am American first and foremost, but it is also nice to have a whole other continent at my fingertips.

One great positive to having dual citizenship is that you can travel easily. No one asks you questions, you show your passport, and that's it. For study abroad purposes you can avoid the student visa which is never easy. You can go to other countries in Europe with the Italian passport and stay as long as you wish. When you have two continents at your disposal you can conquer the world. May the force be with you as you delve into the depths of Italian bureaucracy. Oh, and if I may, don’t forget that Prosecco in the meantime, you will need it.

Helpful links to make the process more bearable:


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