Citizenship vs Residency (How Are They Different?)

The concepts of citizenship vs residency are a common source of confusion among those considering a move abroad.

Each one grants a different set of rights, so it’s important to understand them clearly.

In this article, we’ll explain the implications of citizenship vs residency.

What is a Visa?

First, let’s understand what a visa is, because this is usually the first step in your immigration journey.

Visas are NOT the same as residency permits, although many people confuse the two.

A visa is official authorization that allows you as a foreign national to legally enter a country’s borders. It’s usually stamped or glued inside your passport. A visa normally doesn’t allow you to take up long-term residence or employment.

For example, Portugal’s D7 visa process starts when you collect your entry visa from the Portuguese embassy. Once you arrive in country, you then need to take additional steps to convert it into a residence permit.

A residence permit is what actually allows you to live and work long-term in a country. To get a residence permit, you must first obtain the appropriate visa that permits you to enter the country and then apply for residency status.

Don’t confuse visa and residence permit – they serve different purposes.

What is a Residence Permit?

A residence permit is a document that allows a foreign national to legally live and work in a country where they aren’t a citizen.

Unlike citizenship, a residence permit doesn’t grant the full rights of citizenship, such as the right to vote or run for office.

To get a residence permit, a foreign national must apply to the immigration authorities of the country they wish to reside in.

Requirements to qualify for a residence permit vary by country. But they often include the following:

  • Having a valid passport
  • Proof of financial support,
  • Intent to work or study,
  • Passing a medical exam or having medical insurance
  • Having a clean criminal record

A residence permit is temporary and must be renewed periodically. The length of validity depends on the country and circumstances.

For example, student residence permits are valid for the duration of study while work permits are valid for 1-3 years typically.

Violating the conditions of a residence permit can lead to cancellation and deportation.

The residence permit allows holders to legally work, study, own property, open bank accounts, and access social services in the host country.

But having a residence permit doesn’t equate to citizenship which confers many more rights, benefits and responsibilities. As a residence permit holder, you’re still a citizen of your original home country.

What is Permanent Residency?

Permanent residency is a long-term immigration status.

It allows a foreign national to live and work indefinitely in a country where they aren’t a citizen. Permanent residency is normally a step below citizenship.

To get permanent residency as a foreign national, you usually need to have legally lived in the country for a minimum number of years (such as 5 years in the cases of Portugal and Spain).

You’ll also need to prove you can support themselves financially and have a clean criminal record.

You may also have to show proof of having reached a certain level of proficiency in the national language. The exact requirements vary by country.

Permanent residents have most of the rights of citizens except for political rights like voting and running for office.

Permanent residency isn’t conditional on having a job or studying like other temporary visas. It allows you to live and work in the country indefinitely.

Unlike citizenship, permanent residency can be lost if certain conditions aren’t met.

For example, you could lose your permanent residency status if you commit crimes or move out of the country for too long. What’s more, the status isn’t automatically passed down to your children born outside the country.

Permanent residency is a great option if you want to permanently settle in a new country without giving up your original citizenship.

It’s also a good fit if your original country of citizenship doesn’t allow you to hold multiple citizenships.

Permanent residency status gives the holder most socioeconomic rights and a pathway to naturalization in the future if desired. But it doesn’t grant the full political rights and protections of citizenship.

What is Citizenship?

Citizenship is essentially full legal membership in a country. When you’re a citizen of a country, you’ve got a lifelong legal bond with that nation.

Citizenship gives you a broad set of rights, privileges, and responsibilities that noncitizens and temporary residents don’t have.

For example, citizens can vote, run for political office, and apply for certain government jobs.

Citizens also have responsibilities like paying taxes, serving on a jury, and defending the country during times of war.

There are several ways to get citizenship, including by birth or by naturalization. Birthright citizenship is granted to those born within a country’s borders or born abroad to citizen parents.

Naturalization is how foreign nationals can become citizens by meeting requirements like length of residency, proof of language skills, and civic knowledge (e.g. by passing a civics exam).

You can also naturalize by marrying someone who is already a full citizen.

The key benefit of citizenship is that it can’t be taken away from you – it’s a permanent status. Even if you move abroad, you’ll remain a legal citizen unless you voluntarily renounce citizenship.

And in most cases, your citizenship can be passed down to any children born to you, no matter where the child is born.

Citizenship gives you full political and economic rights within your country.

It’s a lifelong legal relationship that can’t be lost, making it more secure than either temporary or permanent residency status. The tradeoff is that you may also have to take on additional responsibilities as a national citizen.

Citizenship vs Residency: The Main Differences

CITIZENSHIPRESIDENCY
You can apply for a passport You can only hold a residence permit, not a passport
You have the right to vote in national electionsYou don’t have the right to vote (except perhaps in local elections)
You can run for public office in your country You can’t run for public office in most cases
You can’t lose your citizenship Your residency status can be revoked for certain reasons
You don’t need to renew your citizenshipYou’ll need to renew your residency permit, even for permanent residency
If you hold citizenship of any EU/EEA country, or Switzerland, then you can live, work, study, do business, and retire freely across all of them – no visa required.Residency status, even permanent residency, does not grant freedom of movement across the EU/EEA or Switzerland.

What is EU Citizenship?

EU citizenship grants you a set of special rights, which can be transformational for your future.

You automatically have EU citizenship as a citizen of one of the 27 member states of the European Union (EU), the three member states of the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein), or Switzerland.

EU citizenship sits on top of your national citizenship. When you’re an EU citizen, you’ve got the right to freely move, work, and live anywhere within the EU without needing any visas or residency permits.

This right to freedom of movement is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

You can also vote in local and European Parliament elections in your country of residence, regardless of your nationality.

EU citizenship also gives you the right to consular protection from any EU country embassy if your home country doesn’t have an embassy in that nation.

It also grants you the right to petition the European Parliament and lodge complaints with the European Ombudsman.

But EU citizenship doesn’t replace your national citizenship – you don’t get an EU passport for example.

You still hold your original nationality and passport. EU citizenship simply gives you some extra mobility rights and political privileges across EU member states.

Keep in mind that if your country leaves the EU, you lose your EU citizenship status and rights.

Having these rights is tied to holding citizenship in one of the member states, unlike normal citizenship which you keep for life.

The UK’s Brexit is the only example so far of a member state deciding to voluntarily leave the union.

EU citizenship serves as an additional layer of rights that make it easier to live, work and participate politically across the European Union. But your core national citizenship always remains intact.

Citizenship vs Residency: Which One is Best?

For most people, EU citizenship is the better goal if you plan to integrate long-term.

As an EU citizen, you’ll have the right to live and work anywhere in the EU without additional visas. You can participate politically across the EU too.

Citizenship provides the most stable status, as EU citizenship can’t be revoked unless you voluntarily give it up.

With residency alone, you’ll be limited to living and working in one EU country only.

Your long-term residency could be put in jeopardy if you can no longer prove self-sufficiency. And you won’t have EU-wide political rights.

On the other hand, residency gives you limited rights to stay in the EU much faster compared to the 5+ year path to citizenship in most countries.

So if you have short-term plans, going for residency may be better. And residency is always the first step towards acquiring eventual citizenship.

But for an unconditional right to live and work flexibly across the EU, citizenship is usually the better goal if you can obtain it.

The choice depends on your specific circumstances and intentions.

But keep in mind that EU citizenship brings many legal and political advantages that you won’t get with mere residency status.

Weigh your options carefully as you plan your potential move to Europe.

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4 thoughts on “Citizenship vs Residency (How Are They Different?)”

  1. Pingback: 11 Reasons You Should Move to Portugal from USA | Digital Émigré

  2. Pingback: The D7 Portugal Visa (How to Beat Brexit) | Digital Émigré

  3. Normally yes. There’s a process called EU Family Reunification that covers this. I’d recommend speaking with an immigration lawyer in the country where you’re a permanent resident.

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