People often come to us asking: what’s the easiest country to get citizenship of the EU?
It’s a particularly common question among British citizens, many still angry at losing their EU rights after Brexit, especially the right to freedom of movement.
We believe Portugal is, overall, the easiest country to get citizenship of the EU.
That’s due to the following factors:
- Short residency period of just five years before applying for citizenship
- Range of flexible visa options to suit remote workers, retirees and investors
- Dual citizenship OK – keep your original passport
- Easy language requirements – A2 Elementary level (equivalent to a good GCSE)
- Access generous tax benefits while counting up the years to citizenship
- Reasonable minimum stay requirements
- What’s more, Portugal has one of Western Europe’s lowest costs of living
But identifying the easiest country to get citizenship of the EU isn’t always an easy task.
There are several countries that could fit the definition of “easiest”.
Let’s examine them in more detail.
If you have significant funds to invest in or make a donation to a country, then it’s possible to get EU citizenship in a matter of months.
If you’re descended from parents who are EU nationals, such as in the case of Italian citizenship, then getting that second passport is usually a straightforward procedure.
The same goes for marrying an EU national spouse. In one particular country, marrying a national can net you a second passport in just a year.
The easiest country to get dual citizenship in the EU also depends on your original nationality.
Check out my video for 8 reasons you need dual citizenship
As you can see, finding the easiest country to get citizenship in the EU depends on many factors. Let’s take a look at some EU countries that fit the criteria of being ‘easiest’ in various ways.
🇲🇹 MALTA: easiest country to get citizenship by investment
The small island of Malta offers the EU’s most well-known citizenship by investment program.
Malta is one of the only remaining places where making a substantial investment (plus donation) to the government can get you citizenship fast.
Usually, the process takes around 18 months. Malta citizenship by investment is the fastest in Europe.
Malta also has a passive income residency pathway, which, in theory, you can use to become eligible for citizenship after five years.
But, we’ve asked around, and, in reality, it seems that the Maltese government ignores or rejects most citizenship applications via this route.
Some foreigners living there have been turned down for citizenship even after 20 years or more of residency.
Malta wants people to buy citizenship, rather than earn it by actually living there for an extended period.
That might be why Malta seems to discourage applications through the ordinary naturalization route.
🇮🇪 IRELAND: easiest country to get citizenship if you have a UK passport
If you’re British, Ireland is always a possibility, despite Brexit. You can move there anytime with no restrictions, thanks to the Common Travel Area (CTA).
The CTA is an agreement between the UK and Ireland that predates the European Union. Under the CTA, British nationals can freely live, work, study, and claim benefits in Ireland (and vice versa).
Once you’ve been resident in Ireland for five years, you can apply for Irish citizenship. An Irish passport will restore your lost EU rights. You don’t even need to learn another language in order to get one.
For non-British nationals, Irish citizenship by naturalization is far more challenging.
Ireland doesn’t have a passive income pathway that leads to citizenship.
So the only option is to invest big bucks (€1 million or more) to get residency by investment with the Ireland Golden Visa, also known as the Irish Immigrant Investor Program.
Even then, you’ll still need to meet the five-year residency requirement if you want to apply for citizenship.
🇱🇺 LUXEMBOURG: easiest country to get citizenship bureaucracy-wise
A tiny country sandwiched between France, Germany, and Belgium, on first glance Luxembourg doesn’t look too exciting.
But it’s more interesting than you might think, because Luxembourg offers not only a viable passive income based residency pathway, but also a fast and efficient citizenship timeline of five years.
Foreigners who’ve been through the naturalization process report that the Luxembourg government follows the rules precisely.
The information you receive on the government website is exactly what’s done in reality.
That’s not always the case with citizenship applications. It’s refreshing to see a country that does things by the book.
Luxembourg does have certain language requirements for citizenship.
You’ll need to reach a level of A2 in speaking and B1 in listening on the Common European Language Framework in either French, German or Luxembourgish, before submitting your citizenship application.
(Read more about the EU language levels in our citizenship language learning guide).
What’s more, the Luxembourg citizenship application itself is free of charge, although you may need to pay for preparation of various documents.
🇪🇸 SPAIN: easiest country to get citizenship by marriage
We don’t normally include citizenship pathways by heritage or marriage. But Spain’s is so fast that we felt it was worth including. After just one year of marriage to a Spanish citizen, the foreign spouse can apply for Spanish citizenship.
But, in general, Spain isn’t the most appealing destination for gaining second citizenship in the EU.
Most importantly, Spain doesn’t allow dual citizenship. If you want a Spanish passport, you’ll have to give up your original nationality.
Although a Spanish EU passport might be more powerful than your original one, we believe two passports are always preferable to one.
If you don’t plan to marry a Spanish citizen, then we don’t recommend Spain as an option for second citizenship at all. The timeline for naturalization is a whopping 10 years.
You’ll also be subject to high taxes and complicated bureaucracy along the way.
🇵🇹 PORTUGAL: best all-rounder as easiest country to get citizenship
We saved the best until last, and the best is Portugal.
It ticks so many boxes as the easiest country to get citizenship of the EU.
Portugal has a fast five-year timeline to become eligible for citizenship and offers several excellent and flexible residency pathways (such as the Portugal D7 visa).
Portugal also allows applicants to keep all their original nationalities, and has one of the lowest language requirements in the EU.
Not only that, but if you decide to make Portugal your primary home, you can benefit from 10 years of preferential tax treatment under the exciting non-habitual residency (NHR) tax scheme.
The NHR is aimed at foreigners and new residents who have overseas income and/or work in high value professions.
If you decide to get residency via the Portugal Golden Visa route, you can choose whether or not to live in Portugal.
Should you decide not to, your investment will ‘live’ in the country on your behalf. It clocks up the five years until you become eligible to apply for citizenship.
Portugal offers a wide range of options to get the Golden Visa, including real estate, venture capital and private equity funds, capital transfer and creating jobs for locals.
Top 3 FASTEST Portuguese residency routes
You can apply for Portuguese citizenship after just five years of residency.
This is one of the fastest timelines in the EU. But when are those five years counted from?
Well, the clock starts when you receive your residency permit.
That’s why it makes sense to get to that point as quickly as possible, avoiding any unnecessary hold-ups or complications.
Here are the top three fastest Portuguese residency routes.
|Residency route||Basic requirements||Timeline to residency permit (estimated)||Minimum physical stay requirement|
|Portugal Golden Visa (Investment Funds)||Minimum of €500,000 invested into an eligible Portuguese fund.||6 to 8 months from time of investing and submitting application at SEF.||7 days per year|
|Portugal Highly Qualified Activity (HQA) Visa||Minimum of €175,000 investment, plus company setup in Portugal. Can all be done via a concierge-style incubator service.||1 to 2 months from submitting application at SEF.||7 days per year|
|Portugal D7 ‘Passive Income’ Visa||Minimum of €705 per month in passive income, plus 12 months of savings (for one person).||4 months from time of submitting application at embassy.||183 days per year|
Read our guide on how to get Portuguese citizenship.
Conclusion: There’s no easy answer – it depends
If you’re looking at acquiring an EU second passport, the question of what’s the easiest country to get citizenship isn’t easy to answer.
As you can see, the definition of ‘easiest’ depends on many things, including your personal circumstances, your existing nationality, your desire to learn another language, and how much money you have available.
There are other easy routes, such as by descent or by marriage. But here at Digital Émigré, we focus mainly on pathways to EU citizenship that you, the individual, can more easily control.
Whether that involves creating your own online income source to take advantage of passive income visas, or leveraging one of the EU’s residency by investment programs, you can be the architect of your own life – no matter where you or your parents happened to be born.