Between the subclauses and strange stipulations, it’s easy to get lost in the rules around German citizenship for children of expat families. The good news is that this guide will outline everything you need to know about citizenship if you have, or plan to start, an international family in Germany.
German Parent? Citizenship Through Principle Of Descent
If your child is born to a German mother, then put your feet up because no further action is required; your little one is automatically a German citizen.
If your child’s father is German and married to the mother, same rules apply. However, if the father is German but not married to the (non-German) mother, he will need to have his paternity acknowledged with a document called a Vaterschaftsanerkennung. This process must be initiated before the child reaches 23 for them to be guaranteed German citizenship. You can find out more about how and where to get a Vaterschaftsanerkennung here.
The principle of descent also applies to non-German parents who have become German citizens through the process of naturalisation. You’ve done the paperwork, so they don’t have to!
Child not born in Germany? Doesn’t matter. One German parent is enough to guarantee your child citizenship for life.
And the good news goes on; children considered German by virtue of parental descent are one of the few groups allowed to hold dual citizenship. Germany has strict rules around this (see below) and generally does not allow its nationals to hold multiple citizenships. One of the exceptions to this rule is if a child is born to one German parent and one non-German parent; in this case, the child is allowed to hold both German citizenship and the citizenship of the other parent and will not have to decide which nationality to retain as an adult, which can be the case for other children born in expat families.
Changes To Citizenship Through Principle Of Descent
In 2014, new citizenship laws went into force in Germany which state that German people born abroad after the 1st of January 2000 who then go on to have their children abroad will not automatically pass their German citizenship onto their children. In order for the German citizenship to be passed onto the child in this case, the parent must register their child with German authorities within one year of the birth.
The easiest way to explain how this multi-generational rule applies is through an example. Let’s say that Peter, a German citizen, moves to Australia and marries an Australian woman. In Australia, his son, Thomas, is born on January 1st 2000. Thomas automatically receives both German AND Australian citizenship by virtue of descent. Thomas goes on to live primarily in Australia and there he has a child of his own, Rebecca. Rebecca will not automatically gain German citizenship, despite the fact that her father, Thomas, is a German citizen. Thomas needs to register her with the German authorities in Australia within one year of her birth for her to gain German citizenship.
For now, this change will not affect too many expat families. It is worth bearing in mind, however, as it will become increasingly relevant with time.
No German Parent? Citizenship By Principle Of Birthplace
As of January 2000, if two international parents have a baby born in Germany, the baby can claim German citizenship if:
– At least one of the parents has lived legally in Germany for a minimum of eight years (or seven years if they have completed an integration course) AND
– This parent has the right to a permanent residency permit in Germany.
If these conditions are met, the child will automatically receive German citizenship in addition to the citizenship passed on through their parents. In this case, the parents should be informed by the registry office that their child has acquired German citizenship.
However, there is a catch; children who have acquired German citizenship by principle of birthplace will be required to choose between German citizenship or the citizenship inherited through their parents by the age of 23. Therefore, as adults, they will need to decide whether they want to retain their German citizenship and forfeit the citizenship they inherited from their parents, or vice versa. This rule is called Optionspflicht.
Importantly, Optionspflicht does not apply if the parents are from EU countries or Switzerland. In such cases, the child will be able to keep their dual citizenship.
Children who have obtained German citizenship through principle of birthplace will be informed by the German government that they have five years to decide which citizenship to retain starting from age 18 and expiring at age 23. If they have not officially opted to retain their German citizenship, they will automatically lose it after age 23.
Luckily for the children whose future is decided by this rather ruthless-sounding rule, an important exception was introduced in 2014; if the child has grown up in Germany, then they will not have to give up their German citizenship in order to retain the citizenship of their parents’ country of origin.
A child is considered to have “grown up” in Germany if, before their 21st birthday:
– They have lived at least eight years in Germany OR
– They have attended school in Germany for at least six years OR
– They have a school leaving certificate obtained in Germany or a vocational training completed in Germany.
In short, a child born to two foreign parents could obtain German citizenship if one of the parents has lived in Germany for at least eight years and has a permanent residency there. If the family remains living in Germany for another eight years, the child will be a dual citizen of Germany and their other parent’s birthplace. However, if the family or child leaves Germany, they will need to choose between the citizenship of their parents or the German citizenship as an adult, since Germany will not allow them dual citizenship.
Again, if the child’s parents come from EU countries or Switzerland, they will not be subjected to Optionspflicht.
For more information (in German) see this government webpage.
No German Parents? Citizenship Through Naturalisation
If you already have a child when you arrive in Germany or have one before you or your partner have spent eight years in the country, then the only way for your child to become a German citizen is through naturalisation.
If this is the path you wish to pursue, your child will probably be naturalised at the same time as you.
Naturalisation is not automatic and only takes place upon request. Applications for naturalisation must be lodged by a legal representative, generally a parent, for anyone below 16 years of age.
Under German law, if a person meets the legal requirements to be naturalised, they can apply for their spouse (who might not be entitled to claim naturalisation in their own right) and their underage children to be naturalised along with them. This provides the opportunity for the entire family to obtain German citizenship simultaneously.
Moreover, if your child is naturalised along with you, the fee for your child will be €51, instead of €255. If you are applying for multiple children to be naturalised, the fee can be further reduced.
However, gaining German citizenship through naturalisation requires all other citizenships to be renounced. There are some exceptions to this (for instance, if the other citizenships held are from EU countries or Switzerland), but by and large dual citizenship is not allowed. This rule also applies to children who are being naturalised.
In order to apply for naturalisation, the applicant must:
– Have spent at least eight years legally in Germany (reduced to seven if the applicant has completed an integration course)
– Have a permanent residency permit
– Prove they are able to financially support themselves and their family without the help of welfare
– Have sufficient knowledge of the German language
– Pass a naturalisation test assessing their social knowledge and values
– Express commitment to the German constitution
– Have no serious criminal convictions
For more information on becoming a German citizen through naturalisation, see this government webpage.