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Do you really have to give up your original nationality if you become Spanish?

Which countries does Spain have dual nationality agreements with for citizenship applications through residency? Do you really have to give up your original nationality if there isn't a deal, and what can happen if you use your non-Spanish passport?

Do you really have to give up your original nationality if you become Spanish?
Does Spain allow dual nationality? Photo: Brais Lorenzo / AFP

One of the most frequently asked questions from those applying for their Spanish citizenship by residency is whether Spain allows dual nationality.

This is a tricky question, as even though there are set rules, understanding them fully is often difficult and some aspects are somewhat grey areas.

Every year, the Spanish government receives an average of between 80,000 and 100,000 requests for citizenship.

Many people want to become Spanish, but one of the requisites they are most worried about is having to renounce their original nationality in the process. 

Legally speaking, Spain only allows dual nationality with countries with which it has a specific connection. These include nationals from 12 Ibero-American countries: Chile, Peru, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Colombia.

In addition to these countries, the deal is also applicable to people from Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal, as well as those who have applied using their Sephardic Jewish heritage.

Last year, Spain and France also made an agreement to allow dual nationality between both countries.

READ ALSO – Exclusive: How Spain’s dual nationality deal with France gives hope to other foreign residents

People from the above countries only have to live in Spain for a period of two years (except for France, where it’s still ten years) before applying for citizenship through residence, while everyone else must have been resident in Spain for ten years to qualify for nationality.

It is compulsory that everyone wanting to obtain Spanish citizenship pass both a language and cultural test.

READ ALSO – Quiz: Can you pass the Spanish citizenship test?

Do I have to renounce my original nationality?

Legally speaking, anyone else obtaining Spanish citizenship such as Britons or Americans would need to renounce their original nationality.

The last step in applying for Spanish nationality includes going before a judge to swear allegiance to the Spanish constitution. During this time, they will also ask you to renounce your original nationality.

However, the crucial point is that you will not be requested to physically hand over your other passport, so it will remain in your possession.

READ ALSO – Step by step: how to apply for Spanish nationality

What will happen if I use my original passport?

According to  the website of Spain’s Justice Ministry, Spanish nationals who are not nationals by origin (for example, those who have acquired Spanish nationality through residence) shall lose their Spanish nationality if:

  • After acquiring Spanish nationality, they use the nationality they renounced during a period of three years.
  • When they join the armed forces or take on a political role for a foreign state which the Spanish government expressly prohibits.
  • When a court sentence finds that the person committed perjury, concealment or fraud in the acquisition of Spanish nationality.

Although Spanish law mentions that three-year period, the wording “durante un periodo de tres años” is ambiguous. Does it mean that if they are caught once using their original passport in the first three years after acquiring Spanish citizenship they face losing their Spanish nationality? Or is it if they are caught doing so regularly or exclusively? Is it alright to use your original passport after that three-year period has elapsed?

Whatever your interpretation, you probably shouldn’t use your non-Spanish passport when travelling into Spain or for other official processes in Spain. You also can’t necessarily claim to be from your original country to get legal help from one of its embassies and consulates in Spain, for example.

In a recent article in the Daily Mail, UK MP Michael Portillo explained how he leaves Britain on his British passport and arrives in the European Union with his Spanish passport, although his case is different in that he’s a dual national by birth because he has both a British and a Spanish parent.

In any case, you should consider playing it safe in this sense and sticking to your newly acquired citizenship in most cases.

According to Spanish legal firm Echevarría Abogados, “once Spanish nationality is granted, Spanish law is indifferent to how the other country in question deals with its citizen”, and that “much more important than analysing Spanish legislation, it is necessary to study the rules of the country from which the applicant in question comes”. The renouncement of your original nationality is a “mere formality” for Spain, according to them.

Will my native country make me renounce my citizenship and give up my passport?

This will completely depend on which country you’re from. There are several countries in the world that will make you renounce your citizenship if you become a national of Spain.

These include Austria, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, China, Nepal, Myanmar, Kuwait and Laos, as well as several others in the Middle East and Africa.

Check with your embassy to find out if your country recognises dual citizenship or not. 

US citizens

According to the US government, “the acquisition or retention of foreign nationality does not affect US citizenship”. This means that the US will not force you to give up your US citizenship if you get Spanish nationality.

“A person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both” the US government states.

While you do have to officially renounce your US citizenship to the Spanish government, the US government will not make you do the same, and because of this legal loophole, you can in fact hold on to it.

Canadian citizens

According to the Canadian government, Canadians are allowed to take foreign citizenship while keeping their Canadian one.

British citizens

Similarly, for those from the UK, “Dual citizenship (also known as dual nationality) is allowed in the UK. This means you can be a British citizen and also a citizen of other countries,” said a spokesman from the embassy in Madrid.

As far as the British government is concerned, you have not renounced your British nationality and will continue with the right to hold a British passport and apply for a new one once your current passport expires.

READ MORE: Do I really have to give up my British passport to become Spanish?

What are the risks?

Besides not being able to use your original passport in Spain, if Spain and other governments start sharing information in the future regarding citizenship, this could put you in a precarious position.

This is just speculation, however. In the worst case scenario, the Spanish government could force you to give up your Spanish nationality if you’re going against their rules, you’re caught and you’re unlucky. 

But as things stand, there is little evidence of this happening. Our advice is that you be Spanish in Spain and abroad, and keep your other passport on the low and as a fallback for essential situations only.

READ MORE: What are the reasons for losing Spanish residency or nationality and can I get it back?

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For members


How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

Spain is one of the European countries where getting citizenship through residency can take the longest - 12 to 13 years if you factor in processing times - but there are several ways in which the wait can be reduced enormously. 

How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain

The general rule is that if you want to apply for Spanish citizenship, you will have to reside legally in Spain without long absences for ten years. 

There are other requirements to apply, including a Spanish language exam and a general knowledge test about Spain, as well as not having a criminal record.

Then there’s the long and arduous waiting time for your application to be processed.

Overall, it can end up taking 12 to 13 years for you to finally get your hands on a Spanish passport and ID. 

That’s a very long wait for most people, especially if they want to consolidate their right to live in Spain now and in the future.

However, there are a number of cases in which the wait to get citizenship through residency can be up to four times shorter, even when factoring in the long processing times in Spain.

Being married to a Spanish national – one year to apply

You should obviously be getting married for love, but one of the fastest ways to get Spanish citizenship is by being married to a Spanish national. In this case, you will only be required to reside legally in Spain with your Spanish spouse (in the same home that is) for one year. 

A common-law partnership isn’t accepted for this fast-track citizenship application, and again we must stress that ‘green card’ marriages just for the sake of getting nationality are not at all recommendable, as the citizenship application will include an interview in which you will be quizzed at length about your relationship. 

A widow or widower can also claim Spanish nationality if their partner was Spanish and at the time of their passing they were still married.

Having the right nationality – two years to apply

None of us get to choose which nationality we initially have, but life’s circumstances may mean that you’re in a better position to apply for Spanish nationality faster. 

Nationals from Ibero-American countries where Spanish or Portuguese is spoken (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela), as well as nationals of the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Andorra or Portugal, can apply for Spanish nationality after legally residing in Spain for two years. 

It could be that you’re originally from one of these countries, that you have blood ties in one of them which therefore allows you to claim citizenship there, that you’ve resided long enough in one of those countries to be able to claim citizenship etc. It will all depend on your circumstances and the citizenship laws of said nations, but know that having a passport from one of these countries with historical and linguistic ties to Spain is a way to shorten the residency period before the citizenship application.

There are a couple of other cases to mention – people with Sephardic Jewish ancestry can also apply for Spanish citizenship after two years. Refugees can also do so after five years of residency in Spain.

Being married to the person with the right nationality – three to four years to apply

On a similar note to the section above, if you are married to a person from an Ibero-American country, Philippines, Andorra, Equatorial Guinea or Portugal, you will be able to apply for Spanish citizenship a year after they gained Spanish citizenship themselves. This again depends on both of you legally residing in Spain for the relevant time periods according to Spanish law.

Although you have to factor in that the Spanish citizenship application process takes between one and three years according to most sources (which means that before you apply you would have to wait for three to five years for your spouse to become a Spanish national) it still cuts the waiting period for most nationals by more than half.

Being born in Spain – one year to apply

If you were born in Spain to foreign parents, you can apply for Spanish nationality after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

This can happen at any point in your life, so even if you were born in Spain but your parents then left to go back to their home country or elsewhere, you can move to Spain for a year as an adult and apply for Spanish nationality (you will still need to prove legal residency). 

Generally speaking, a child that is born in Spain to foreign parents doesn’t automatically get Spanish citizenship, but there are 14 countries which don’t automatically give nationality to the children of their nationals who are born abroad.

These are Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe as well as Uruguay. If both parents are from one of these countries, Spain will automatically give nationality by presumption to the child in order for them to not be stateless.

Having Spanish blood ties – one year to apply

If one or both or your parents in Spanish, or one of your parents was born in Spain, you can apply for Spanish citizenship after one year of legal residency in Spain. 

If one of your grandparents was Spanish, then their son or daughter (your father or mother) can apply for Spanish citizenship and pass it down to you. 

The same rules apply to people adopted by those with Spanish nationality or close Spanish blood ties.

There have also been some recent legal changes which allow the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Spanish nationals to directly get Spanish citizenship from their elderly relatives, but this can only be in specific cases such as if they’re the grandchild/daughter of a Spanish woman who married a foreigner before 1978, or the grandchildren of Spanish nationals who renounced their Spanish citizenship.

Naturalisation letter – potentially zero years to apply

La Carta de Naturaleza, as it is called in Spanish, allows foreign nationals who have done something “exceptional” for Spain to become Spanish citizens immediately, with the waiting times that all other applicants have to endure also non-existent.

Some famous names to have been ‘awarded’ express Spanish nationality include British pianist James Rhodes and FC Barcelona footballers Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati. 

The naturalisation letter is controversial and considered unfair by those who have to wait over a decade to get Spanish citizenship, and with good reason. Take the latest example of truly fast-tracked Spanish citizenship: US basketball player Lorenzo Brown, who having never lived in Spain, was granted Spanish citizenship immediately just so he could play for the national team.

This fast-track Spanish citizenship option should not be considered unless you have friends in high places in the Spanish government, as it is awarded by Royal Decree by Spain’s Council of Ministers.