How to Get EU Citizenship if You’re British (Even Without Irish Grandparents)

get eu citizenship as a brit

Fed up with annoying travel and life restrictions caused by Brexit? Sick of being a second-class citizen in Europe?

Let’s find out how to get EU citizenship if you’re British (yes, even if you’re not lucky enough to have an Irish grandparent!)

I’ve personally researched each one of these pathways for my own second citizenship mission, which ended up in Portugal. They’re the fastest and easiest routes in Europe.

How to Get EU Citizenship if You’re British

Here are seven ways for Brits to get EU citizenship.

Most involve acquiring residency. For those, we’ve picked the countries with the fastest citizenship timelines and most straightforward requirements.

One alternative, if you have the money, is to buy citizenship in Malta. The fast track Malta Golden Visa scheme lets you apply for citizenship after just 1 year of residency.

Let’s explore the different ways for Brits to acquire EU second citizenship.

#1: Get residency in Ireland

  • Timeline: 5 years
  • Need to relocate? Yes
  • Visa requirements: None (Brits have Common Travel Area rights)
  • Language requirements: None

Despite Brexit, UK citizens can still move freely to Ireland.

Because of Common Travel Area (CTA) rules (which predate the EU), UK and Irish citizens can live and work freely in each other’s countries, with no need for a visa or residency permit.

So if you’re a UK citizen looking for an easy pathway back to EU citizenship, Ireland might be exactly what you need.

After five years of legal residency there, you can apply for Irish citizenship by naturalization, get an Irish passport – and regain all your EU rights.

#2: Get residency in Portugal

  • Timeline: 5 years
  • Need to relocate? Yes (except with Golden Visa or HQA visa)
  • Visa requirements: Yes, several routes available
  • Language requirements: Portuguese A2 level
  • Dual citizenship? Yes

Portugal is a top choice for those seeking second citizenship in Europe. The country offers a range of accessible residency visa options, some with modest income requirements.

One of the most popular is the D7 passive income visa, a great fit for retirees or anyone with passive income from abroad.

If you’re employed full-time with a remote job abroad, you can also opt for the Portugal digital nomad visa, which has similar requirements to the D7.

Both of these residency visas are designed for people who want to relocate and live full time in Portugal. You’ll need to spend at least 183 days in Portugal each year to maintain your residency status.

If you want a more flexible option with lower physical stay requirements, then one of Portugal’s investor visas could be a better fit.

With the Portugal Golden Visa, you only need to spend a minimum of seven days per year physically in Portugal to maintain the residency status.

The Golden Visa program has changed recently, with real estate no longer an option for investors. The best investment route now is Portuguese venture capital and private equity funds, with a minimum investment threshold of €500,000.

There’s another investor visa worth considering, especially if you have an entrepreneurial or managerial background.

This is the Highly Qualified Activity (HQA) Visa, designed for entrepreneurial investors willing to create a research driven startup in partnership with a Portuguese university.

The minimum investment is €175,000, which goes towards incorporating and funding your new startup, and investing in research. Your project will be backed by an experienced incubator. There are no business performance requirements to maintain residency status.

The HQA Visa has no minimum stay requirements and a fast 30 day approval window (the Golden Visa can take much longer to be approved).

All the above residency visa options require you to maintain residency status for five years (whether or not you physically live in Portugal). At the five-year mark, you’ll be able to apply for Portuguese citizenship and rejoin the EU.

#3: Get residency in Luxembourg

  • Timeline: 5 years
  • Need to relocate? Yes
  • Visa requirements: Residency with independent income or by investment
  • Language requirements: Luxembourgish (A2 level spoken, B1 comprehension)
  • Dual citizenship? Yes

Luxembourg is another interesting option if you’re looking for a fast and efficient pathway to EU citizenship.

You can establish residency in Luxembourg either through proof of independent income, or by investment in the country.

The first option is known as “residency for private reasons”. To get it, you’ll need proof of having enough resources to support yourself, without needing to work within Luxembourg or claim social security.  

The minimum amount of income you’ll need is based on the Luxembourg minimum wage for unskilled workers, which is currently set at EUR 2,570.93 (based on September 2023 figures).

The second option is getting residency by investment. Luxembourg doesn’t have a specific Golden Visa program.

Possible investment types include the following: 

  • New business – Investment of EUR 500,000 plus creation of 5 jobs in Luxembourg 
  • Existing businesses – Investment of EUR 500,000 in an existing business based in Luxembourg 
  • Management and investment structure – EUR 3 million  
  • Holding a bank deposit – EUR 20 million, held for 5 years in a Luxembourg bank  

To be eligible for citizenship via this route, you still need to spend the whole five years living in Luxembourg.

The Portugal Golden Visa offers a similar timeline but with much more flexibility – i.e. you can maintain residency status without having to physically relocate to the country.

One advantage of going for citizenship in Luxembourg is the quality of the application process. The authorities go “by the book”, making the process efficient, fast, and consistent.

#4: Get residency in Belgium

  • Timeline: 5 years
  • Need to relocate? Yes
  • Visa requirements: Work permit, student, or family reunification only
  • Language requirements: B1 level French, German or Dutch
  • Dual citizenship? Yes

Belgium offers another relatively fast timeline for citizenship, while also allowing you to keep your original nationality.

To get residency as a Brit in Belgium, you’ll first need to apply for a Long Stay Type D visa.

The downside is: Belgium offers only three ways to get residency:

  • As a student (student visa)
  • As an employee of a Belgium company (work visa) – note, your employer will first need to arrange sponsorship
  • To join family members already living in Belgium (family reunification)

There aren’t any options to apply with remote work, passive income, or by investment. That makes Belgium a restrictive option, unless you fit into one of the above categories.

But, if you’re lucky enough to get a job in Belgium, it’s worth waiting out the five years to secure Belgian citizenship.

#5. Buy citizenship in Malta

  • Timeline: 5 years
  • Need to relocate? Yes
  • Visa requirements: None
  • Language requirements: English only
  • Dual citizenship? Yes

Malta offers the fastest possible route to EU citizenship – if you’ve got sufficient capital to invest.

The program is now called Malta Citizenship by Naturalization for Exceptional Services by Direct Investment.

For investors, there are two options within the program: citizenship after 1 year, and citizenship after 3 years. Which one you pick depends on the amount of money you’re prepared to spend.

To get a Maltese passport within 1 year, you’ll need to invest €750,000 in Malta’s National Development Fund, plus another €50,000 for each family member. There’s also a charitable donation requirement of €10,000, plus a requirement to purchase or rent a property.

The property must be worth at least €700,000, and you must keep it for at least five years. You could also rent a property to the value of at least €16,000 per year, and keep it for at least five years (without subletting).

For the three year option, you’ll need to invest €600,000 (plus €50,000 for each family member). The charitable donation requirement and property requirement are the same as the first option.

#6: Leverage your family tree

  • Timeline: Varies by country
  • Need to relocate? Usually not
  • Visa requirements: Usually none
  • Language requirements: Varies by country
  • Dual citizenship? Varies by country

If you’re lucky enough to have a parent who was born in an EU country, then getting citizenship through ancestry might be an option for you.

Most EU countries will let you apply for citizenship if one of your parents was born there, and in several cases one of your grandparents also. Many Brits have been able to regain EU citizenship through Irish parents or grandparents.

Italy is another popular option, as it allows you to apply for citizenship with proof of Italian ancestry “without limits” to how far back it goes. But of course, the main problem here is proving the link and securing the required documentation. That can take years.

Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring your family tree to see if there are any possibilities that might make sense.

#7: Marry an EU citizen

  • Timeline: Varies by country
  • Need to relocate? In most cases
  • Visa requirements: Usually none
  • Language requirements: Varies by country
  • Dual citizenship? Varies by country

Another way to get EU citizenship if you’re British is by marrying an EU national.

In most cases, you’ll be able to naturalize as a citizen using proof of your marriage. Each country will have different requirements for this process.

Some may require a language exam, while many will want you to take up residency with your spouse for a number of years before you’re eligible to apply.

Spain is a notable exception here. If you marry a Spanish citizen, you only need to live together in Spain for one year before you can apply for citizenship.

This is a substantial reduction on the usual Spanish citizenship timeline, which is normally at least 10 years. Keep in mind, Spain doesn’t allow dual citizenship with the UK.

Final Thoughts

Getting your EU citizenship back as a British national is NOT an impossible task.

If you have enough funds and don’t mind donating some of them, then Malta is the fastest route.

If you’d rather invest your money and earn good returns, it’s worth looking at the Portugal Golden Visa via investment funds. You can secure residency without having to ever move to Portugal. Then after five years, you can apply for citizenship.

If you don’t have €500,000 to invest, then the Portugal D7 or digital nomad visa are worth a look. Keep in mind, you’ll have to relocate to Portugal for at least five years to get citizenship with these routes.

Let’s end on a high note with this success story of a British national who recently regained her full EU rights via Portugal – and has the red passport to prove it.

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