Getting dual citizenship – especially by naturalization – is rarely an easy task.
But some countries make it more difficult than others.
The 17 hardest countries to get citizenship are:
- Vatican City
- Saudi Arabia
- North Korea
- United Arab Emirates
- San Marino
- Brunei Darussalem
So what exactly makes these citizenships so tough to obtain?
Perhaps it’s the need to reach fluency in a difficult language. Or the requirement to convert to a different religion.
Or perhaps it’s just the sheer number of years you need to live in the country before its government allows you to naturalize.
Let’s dive in and find out exactly what makes them the hardest countries to get citizenship.
17 hardest countries to get citizenship
This tiny nation in the Persian Gulf is one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
With an economy based around natural gas and a small native population, Qatar guards its citizenship with extreme care.
So how can a foreigner get citizenship in Qatar?
Well firstly, you need to live in Qatar for at least 25 CONSECUTIVE YEARS before you can apply for citizenship by naturalization.
You’ll also need good Arabic language skills, proof of good conduct, and proof of sufficient financial means to earn your living.
Qatar doesn’t recognize dual nationality, so you’ll have to give up your original passport if you want a Qatari one.
Oh yes, and you’ll probably have to convert to Islam (if you’re not already a Muslim). That surely makes Qatar one of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
#2. Vatican City
Tiny Vatican City is one of the smallest nations on the planet. If you get citizenship there, you’d be joining around 450 fellow citizens.
Trouble is, there’s a good reason why Vatican City has such a small number of citizens. The rules surrounding the process make it one of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
According to current legislation, you can get citizenship of Vatican City in only three circumstances:
- If you’re a cardinal living in Vatican City or Rome
- If you’re a diplomat representing the Holy See
- If you live in Vatican City because you work for the Catholic Church
These three specific and unusual circumstances go a long way towards making Vatican City one of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
Nestled between Austria and Switzerland, the tiny mountainous state of Liechtenstein has around 40,000 citizens.
Liechtenstein is one of the richest countries in the world, with a GDP similar to that of Monaco.
While it’s not a member of the European Union, Liechtenstein is part of the European Economic Area (EEA). That means Liechtenstein passport holders have full freedom of movement rights across the whole EU and EEA – just like EU citizens.
So how can you become a citizen of Liechtenstein? It’s mainly the extensive timeline that makes Liechtenstein one of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
You’ll have to live in Liechtenstein for at least 30 YEARS before you become eligible to apply for citizenship by naturalization.
It’s possible to reduce this timeline to 10 years, if you can persuade members of your community to vote in favor of your naturalization.
Alternatively, you could just marry a Liechtenstein citizen and gain citizenship after five years.
The isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has some of the world’s most stringent entry policies. And that’s just for tourists!
To become a citizen (assuming you don’t have Bhutanese parents), you’ll need to live in Bhutan for at least 20 years before applying.
You’ll also need proof of good behavior during that time, including no record of saying anything against the Bhutanese king.
The authorities of Bhutan can reject your citizenship application without giving a reason.
And once citizenship is granted, it can be revoked at any time in the future if you speak out negatively about the king or country.
#5. Saudi Arabia
The oil-rich state of Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, the most important locations in the Islamic world.
Many expats live and work in Saudi Arabia, some for long periods of time.
But how can you get citizenship of Saudi Arabia?
For starters, you must have lived there for at least 10 years before applying. The ability to read, write, and speak fluent Arabic is another tough requirement.
You must have a clean criminal record and be “generally considered moral” – whatever that means. The minister of the interior has the final decision over whether to approve a citizenship application.
Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, so you’d have to give up your original passport to acquire a Saudi one.
Next door to Saudi Arabia is the state of Kuwait, another oil-rich desert nation.
Here, acquiring citizenship by naturalization is similarly challenging. You have to live in Kuwait for a minimum of 20 years before applying.
Not only that, but you’ll need to speak fluent Arabic and be a Muslim, either by birth or conversion.
Like most of its Gulf neighbours, Kuwait doesn’t recognize dual citizenship.
In light of all that, Kuwait definitely makes the cut as one of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
Beautiful Switzerland – one of the world’s happiest countries – is also one of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
For starters, the timeline to Swiss citizenship is one of Europe’s longest – at 10 years minimum residency.
If you’re not already a citizen of the EU or EEA, you’ll need a ‘C residence permit’ to live and work in Switzerland.
You’ll also need to speak one of Switzerland’s national languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh) to B2 level and write it to A2 level.
The citizenship by naturalization process involves three approval stages: confederation, canton, and commune. Individual cantons and communes can set their own requirements for the process – making it even more challenging.
Having a Swiss passport could be well worth the effort, especially in an increasingly dangerous world. Switzerland is consistently ranked one of the world’s safest countries, as well as one of the safest countries for women.
It’s not only tiny countries that guard their citizenship jealously. The world’s most populous country – China – also makes it difficult for foreigners to get citizenship by naturalization.
According to Chinese nationality law, a foreigner can ‘try’ to become a Chinese citizen if if they have Chinese relatives, have settled in China, or have “other legitimate reasons.”
Note the use of all those vague terms. They’re certainly not making it easy.
You’ll also need to have lived in China for a long time, but the law doesn’t specify an exact number of years.
#9. North Korea
The isolated state of North Korea, sometimes known as the Hermit Kingdom, is one of the world’s most mysterious and enigmatic countries. It’s also one of the hardest countries in the world for US citizens to travel to.
What’s more, North Korea has one of the world’s weakest and least useful passports, so it’s unclear why anyone would want to get one.
North Korean citizenship is only granted by the Presidium of the Supreme Peoples’ Assembly. But no one really knows what the process involves, because there’s no clear legislation governing it.
As you might expect, North Korea doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, and once citizenship is granted, you won’t be able to give it up.
In stark contrast to North Korea, nearby Japan has one of the world’s most powerful passports, allowing holders to travel to 193 countries visa-free.
But how can a foreigner acquire Japanese citizenship through naturalization? Is it even possible?
According to Japan’s nationality law, a foreigner must have been domiciled in Japan for at least five consecutive years before applying for citizenship.
You’ll also need to be of “upright conduct”, and able to make a living in Japan.
Naturalization is forbidden if you have ever “formed or belonged to an organization plotting or advocating the overthrow of the Japanese government”.
Japan doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, but at least the language requirements are easy. You only need to have a grasp of basic Japanese suitable for handling daily life.
That means being able to speak, understand, read and write Japanese at the level of a 7 or 8 year old elementary school student.
#11. United Arab Emirates
We go back to the Persian Gulf once more for another of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
The United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has a challenging citizenship process similar to its neighboring countries.
You’ll have to live there for at least 30 years before the UAE will consider your application for naturalization. But there’s an exception for citizens of Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, all of whom can apply after just three years of residency.
Citizens of other Arab countries can apply after seven years in the UAE.
#12. San Marino
You’ll be looking at a very long-term commitment if you want to become Sammarinese. This tiny country bordering Italy has the longest citizenship timeline in Europe.
To naturalize as a citizen of San Marino, you must have been resident for at least 30 years. What’s more, you must renounce any other nationality. As you’d expect, San Marino doesn’t recognize dual citizenship.
The Grand and General Council of San Marino is in charge of approvals, and your application must be passed with a qualified two-thirds majority.
Most of the EU countries make the citizenship by naturalization process fairly easy.
But Austria is an exception. It’s one of the EU’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
So why is it so tough to become an Austrian citizen?
For starters, Austria has one of the EU’s longest timelines to citizenship. You’ll need to maintain unbroken residency in the country for a minimum of 10 years before applying for naturalization.
What’s more, Austria wants you to sign a binding agreement in which you promise to learn German to the required standard (B2).
If you manage to reach B2 level quickly enough, you’ll be rewarded with a reduced timeline of just six years’ residency.
Monaco is one of the world’s richest countries with an extremely high GDP per capita.
That puts it in high demand, so the government makes it challenging to acquire residency, let alone citizenship by naturalization.
To become a citizen of the Principality of Monaco, you first need to spend 10 years as a resident there.
When you apply for citizenship, you’ll need to prove your residency history by showing a long-term tenancy agreement or the deed to a property.
And property in Monaco doesn’t come cheap, in fact it’s the most expensive in Europe.
Lastly, to naturalize as a citizen of Monaco, you’ll need to give up any of your existing citizenships.
Finland is one of only two EU countries included in this roundup of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
We mainly chose to include it because of the tough language requirements for naturalization.
to apply for Finnish citizenship, you’ll need to pass a Finnish language exam at level 3-4.
The Finnish language is widely considered one of the world’s most difficult. But the good news is, Finland also has Swedish as its second official language, so you could also take the language exam in Swedish.
Other than the language exam, you’ll need to be resident in Finland for seven years before submitting your application.
Singapore is the final contender in this roundup of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
This small Asian country has one of the world’s most powerful passports, regularly vying with Japan for top position.
But how easy is it to get citizenship of Singapore?
In theory, you only need to maintain permanent residency in Singapore for a minimum of two years to be eligible for citizenship by naturalization.
You can get permanent residency in several different ways:
- By having an employment pass with a monthly income of at least 2,500 SGD
- By investing at least 2.5 million Singapore dollars in the country’s economy. You must also show proof that you have your own company with at least 50 million Singapore dollars in annual turnover.
But jobs in Singapore are increasingly difficult to get, and the government is making the citizenship process more rigorous.
What’s more, Singapore doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, and has compulsory military service for all male citizens.
#17. Brunei Darussalem
Brunei Darussalem is the final entry on our list of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
This tiny sovereign state, located just off the north east coast of the Indonesian island of Borneo, is well known for both its wealth and its use of sharia law.
Life in Brunei is subject to many rules, some with severe consequences if broken.
It probably doesn’t surprise you to discover that getting citizenship of Brunei is very challenging. Normally, most foreigners acquire citizenship via marriage. Naturalization in Brunei without marriage is quite uncommon.
Even getting permanent residency status is difficult. Foreigners must be resident in Brunei for at least 10 years if married to a citizen, 15 years if not.
We even found it challenging to find much information online about getting citizenship in Brunei. Unsurprisingly, Brunei, like most of the other countries on this list, doesn’t recognize dual citizenship.
With all things considered, Brunei is definitely one of the hardest countries to get citizenship.
Before you go
In this article, we’ve discussed 17 of the world’s hardest countries to get citizenship.
We noticed most countries on the list have several things in common.
With the exception of Finland, none of them allow dual citizenship.
Many of the countries on the list are small and rich, such as San Marino, Monaco and Brunei. Other countries are well known worldwide for their insular nature, such as North Korea or Bhutan.
You might have noticed that few EU countries made it onto this list of the hardest countries to get citizenship. That’s because Europe has many countries with fast and straightforward naturalization requirements.
Here’s a rundown of the key factors to take into account when choosing a country for second citizenship.
And if you’re looking for an easy route to a second passport, check out our top picks: