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Registering a Child as a UK Citizen or National

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 20 Sep 2018 | comments*Discuss
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Under British nationality law a child born to British parents outside of the UK does not automatically become a British citizen. However, depending on the type of citizenship or nationality held by the parents, it may be possible to register the child as a British citizen or as another type of British national. British citizens or nationals who adopt children from abroad may also use the procedure described below to register their adopted children as British citizens or nationals.

British nationality rules changed on 1 January 1983 when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force – prior to that date British women were not able to pass their nationality on to their children. Some of the rules and definitions changed again on 21 May 2002 - the procedure described below applies to children born after that date. The rules on registration also differ for children born before 1st July 2006 as, prior to that date, fathers could generally only pass on their nationality if they were married to the child’s mother.

Citizenship by Descent and Citizenship Otherwise Than by Descent

Whether or not British citizens can pass on citizenship to their children depends, in part, on whether they are citizens by descent or “otherwise than by descent”. British citizens by descent inherited their citizenship from a relative. Examples of citizens “otherwise than by descent” are those who were born in the UK, or in a qualifying UK territory, or who have become naturalised British citizens. However, it is also possible to become a British citizen “otherwise than by descent” through registration.

British citizens otherwise than by descent have a much greater ability to pass citizenship on to their own children than British citizens by descent.

Children Born Outside the UK

Children born outside the UK to parents who are British citizens otherwise than by descent will usually be British citizens by descent. For children born before, 1st July 2006 this would generally only be the case if either the mother was a British citizen and / or the child’s British father was married to the child’s mother at the time of the birth. (However, exceptions may apply – for example if one of the child’s parents is employed by the British armed forces.)

Children born outside the UK to parents who are British citizens by descent will not automatically be British citizens but may be eligible to be registered as British citizens. A child born abroad who is adopted by a British citizen, in a recognised adoption procedure, will automatically be entitled to become a British citizen.

Registering a Child as a British Citizen

It may be possible to register a child born outside the UK to a British citizen by descent as a British citizen if:
  • The parent was born to a British citizen otherwise than by descent and satisfied a minimum qualifying residence period in the UK of 3 years prior to the child’s birth. An application to register a child on this basis must be made before the child is one-year-old. The child would become a citizen by descent and therefore would generally not be able to pass on British citizenship to his or her own children. OR,
  • The child and both of its parents have lived in the UK for a minimum qualifying period of three years. If both parents agree to the child being registered as a citizen, applications may be made on this ground up to the child’s 18th birthday. A child registered as a citizen on this basis will become a citizen otherwise than by descent and will be able to pass citizenship on to his or her own children. Children over 10 must be “of good character” to qualify for registration which means that they must have respected the laws, rights and freedoms of the UK.
Children who would otherwise be stateless may also be entitled to be registered as British citizens.

For children who do not satisfy all the requirements for registration, but in respect of whom there may be some good reason why they should be registered as British citizens, it is possible that the Home Secretary could exercise his discretion to agree that they should be registered as British citizens.

Registering a Child Born Outside the UK for Another Type of Nationality

Even if a child does not satisfy the requirements to be registered as a British citizen, it may qualify for another form of British nationality. Depending on the type of nationality being applied for the application may be entirely discretionary or there may be specific requirements which must be met.

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[Add a Comment]
My British Mother naturalized me when i was about 13 years old and living in South Africa. My son was born in South Africa in 2000 and i was not married to his Mom. What claim does he have to British citizenship??? Is being naturalized by your British Mother viewed as British by descent??? toddc
toddc - 20-Sep-18 @ 6:53 PM
@Adilia Lourenci - If you became a permanent resident after your daughter was born you will need to apply to register her as a British citizen before your can apply for her British passport. You can apply to register her as a British citizen using the MN1 form
TJ. - 17-Sep-18 @ 9:41 AM
Hii I have a daughter she born uk she have 6 years old I am brasilian I have resident permanent uk and her I want aplication bristish passaport for her ,, I am confusion what aplication I do , child just born Uk , and aplication passaport please
Adilia Lourenci - 16-Sep-18 @ 2:39 PM
@Costa - If your wife has been living in the UK for at least 5 continuous years she will have to apply for a PR document and thereafter apply to naturalize as a British citizen. Once your wife receives her PR document, your daughter will be entitled to apply to register as a British citizen using the MN1 form under section 3(1)
TJ. - 13-Sep-18 @ 10:01 AM
Hi I am a former EEA national who has just obtained UK citizenship. My wife is an EEA national. My 6 year old daughter was born overseas but has been living in the UK since her first month of life (with a few gaps of 2-3 months each). How can they obtain British Citizenship please? Kind regards
Costa - 13-Sep-18 @ 12:19 AM
@Jona - If your daughter's father was a British citizen before she was born you can apply for her British passport
TJ. - 12-Sep-18 @ 5:20 AM
Hi i would like to have and advice for my daughter she had a british father ,my daughter born in philippiness on august 25 2008,my husband live in uk my daughter and i never lived in uk,my concern is can i apply my daughter as british citizen,thank you
Jona - 12-Sep-18 @ 3:12 AM
@SiSi - If you are a single parent then as long as you have lived with your son in the UK for at least three years at any time you can apply to register him as a British citizen using the MN1 form under section 3(5). If not he can apply for ILR using SET (O)
TJ. - 11-Sep-18 @ 8:22 PM
Hi .. it’s me again .. but I never lived in Uk in the past .. and I’m divorced ..and my ex husband is algérien nationality and never lived in Uk ..so what can I do for my son ..??
SiSi - 11-Sep-18 @ 6:21 PM
@Bits - Your children can only apply to register as British citizens once you have all spent at least 3 continuous years in the UK as a family unit. They will able to apply using the MN1 form under section 3(5)
TJ. - 10-Sep-18 @ 1:25 PM
My husband was born in the UK, and I was registered in the UK.My mom and dad are from Scotland and Ihave a British passportwill my adopted son aged 9 ,beabl to get a Britsh passport
Tracy - 10-Sep-18 @ 1:21 PM
@Sheetal - If you were born in the UK before 1983 then in most cases you are a British citizen and all you have to do is apply for a British passport. However if at the time of your birth any of your parents were working in the UK as a diplomat for a foreign country then you are not eligible for British citizenship.
TJ. - 10-Sep-18 @ 1:20 PM
Hi My husband was born to two British parents based in South Africa in 1979. He was registered as a British citizen at birth at the consulate there. Are my two South African born children (2010 and 2013) eligible for British citizenship if we have now relocated to the U.K.? We are on a spousal sponsored settlement visa with residents permits.
Bits - 10-Sep-18 @ 11:57 AM
[Add a Comment] Dear Concern I have the citizenship documents of uk, camden. I was born there on 15 august 1982. My parents were unaware about the process of applying citizenship. We stayed in uk for3 years. My father was a govt official and was deployed there for a limited time. Please help me regarding this issue.
sheetal - 10-Sep-18 @ 11:36 AM
SiSi - You can only apply to register your son as a British citizen if you have lived in the UK with him and with his other parent for at least 3 continuous years or if his other parent has ILR or British citizenship.
TJ. - 9-Sep-18 @ 10:05 AM
Hello .. I would like to have adice..I’m British by descent born in 1976 to a britannique mother out side Uk.. I had my certificate of registration as British citizen section 4C in 2011 .. after that I moved in Uk and I live now since 2013 . i have two kids who where born out sid Uk and they live in Algeria my son 15 and my daughter 20 .i would like to know if I can register my young son for British citizen.. but I had my British after he was born and i never lived in Uk in the past .. just since 2013 till today .. if any one can help..????
SiSi - 8-Sep-18 @ 6:22 PM
@Nadin - Your child born in the UK will automatically be a British citizen. The application for a birth certificate and a British passport should take no more than a month
TJ. - 7-Sep-18 @ 8:12 AM
Hello, I would like to ask for advice on my situation. I am a British by descent citizen UK passport holder (was born outside the UKto a full British mother only, not father). I am currently living/working outside the UK and will be taking maternity leave and delivery in the UK for the birth of my child. Would this entitle my child to being a British Citizen who be able to receive a British passport? We will be returning to the same country soon afterwards and do not live/reside in the UK. Any advice on process procedures or issues to consider? What would be the duration of the passport to be issued for my newborn to travel back for my job? Note: 60 days maternity leave/ staying in the UK only 40 days after delivering. Thank you for your help.
Nadin - 6-Sep-18 @ 9:22 PM
@Karen - Your children were only eligible to apply for British citizenship until they were 18 because you are a British citizen by descent. They are however entitled to ancestry visas which they can use to establish permanent residency and acquire citizenship in the UK.
TJ. - 6-Sep-18 @ 4:30 PM
@Sohi - If were a British citizen when your daughter was born she does not need to apply for British citizenship using the MN1 form. She is already a British citizen by descent and can apply for a British passport directly through the High Commission in Pakistan. Your wife will need to apply for a spouse visa before she can come to the UK
TJ. - 6-Sep-18 @ 4:27 PM
I am a British citizen by descent, my parents and entire ancestry are British citizens.My husband is South African with UK born great-grandparents only. My brother was born in the UK, my mother was pregnant with me when she arrived in South Africa where I was born and lived until I was aged 3. My parents with myself & brother returned to the UK when I was 3 and lived in the UK for nearly 4 years when we then came back to South Africa permanently. My daughters now aged 25 & 27 with to obtain British Citizenship but we have been told this is unlikely and they probably can only apply for the ancestral route as they are over 18. Is there any way they could apply for British Citizenship? My brother and his 2 children all hold British citizenhip as he was born in the UK. Thanks
Karen - 6-Sep-18 @ 3:09 PM
Hi, I am a British citizen otherwise than by descent, my daughter and wife are in Pakistan. I want a few suggestions on my understandings of the issue,first, my daughter is eligible for British citizenship under MN1 process and my wife can apply for a spouse visa? secondly, do I need to apply in the UK for my daughter's citizenship or I have to apply in Pakistan ( country of my daughter's residence)? Lastly, do my daughter need to travel to the UK first on Pakistani passport or she can get a British passport in Pakistan once her citizenship is decided through the MN1 application?
sohi - 6-Sep-18 @ 1:24 PM
@Wendy - Your child is not eligible for a British passport because she is not a British citizen. However because you lived in the UK for at least 3 years before she was born she can apply to register as a British citizen using the MN1 form under section 3(2). Once she is registered she can apply for a British passport
TJ. - 4-Sep-18 @ 7:53 PM
Iam a British Citizen according to my passport, I got the passport initially due to my father being born in the UK but I lived in Uk for over 3,5 years in total thereafter. I returned to South Africa and had a child, she is now 12. the father is not British and we never married. Can I be considered naturalised in my own right by having lived there for over 3,5 years ? And therefore my child be eligible for a passport? I was advised that it could be likley .. but I am finding it hard to confirm on any of the sites, not from phone calls to various departments. Your help would be appreciated! Many thanks
Wendy - 4-Sep-18 @ 6:02 PM
@Jeff S. - Once you have lived in the UK as a family unit for a continuous period of at least 3 years you can apply to register your children as British citizens using the MN1 form under section 3(5). You must do this before they turn 18. If they apply under this section they will be able to automatically pass British citizenship to their children regardless of where they are born.
TJ. - 3-Sep-18 @ 12:41 PM
@Chi - Unfortunately discretion cannot be applied to your case.
TJ. - 3-Sep-18 @ 12:37 PM
Hi, My parents were born in the UK and held UK passports - I was born in New Zealand and qualified for both NZ and UK citizenship. My Wife also has dual citizenship (Swiss & UK). We moved to the UK as a family 3 years ago. Our 2 children (11yrs & 13yrs) were born in the UAE and have attended UK school the past 3 years. Neither myself or my wife can pass our UK citizenship to our children automatically so they both hold NZ & Swiss passports. They have both entered the UK on their Swiss passports - can we begin to apply for UK citizenship for them? Thanks
Jeff. S. - 3-Sep-18 @ 11:01 AM
I have ILR. My Child was born outside the UK, has spent 8yrs in the UK my partner does not have ILR. Are there any discretionary grounds I could use to register my child as a citizen now or if he spends up to 10yrs in the UK as my partner would still not have met requirements for ILR by then? This will save a lot of visa renewal fees.
Chi - 2-Sep-18 @ 10:58 PM
@Casr - Your daughter is an automatic British citizen by descent. She will not be able to pass on British citizenship automatically to any children she has born outside the UK.
TJ. - 1-Sep-18 @ 1:27 PM
My husband and I are both naturalised uk citizens (so British other than by decent, I think). I gained citizenship five years ago and he a year ago. We lived in the uk for 15 years each up until a year ago when we went abroad due to family illness. Our daughter was born abroad this summer - can we pass our citizenship to her?
Casr - 1-Sep-18 @ 4:43 AM
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