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Registering a Child as a UK Citizen or National

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 19 Mar 2019 | 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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@Pat - Your daughter is already a British citizen by descent and is eligible for a British passport.
TJ. - 19-Mar-19 @ 9:04 AM
@Lark - Your grandchild is a British citizen by descent. All your daughter has to do is apply for a British passport for the child through the British High Commission.
TJ. - 19-Mar-19 @ 9:03 AM
My daughter was born in the UK in 1991, we moved to Canada in 2006, my daughter is still living there. She has just had a baby, does the child automatically get British citizenship, if so how does my daughter apply for it,. My daughter has duel British/ Canadian citizenship, the child's father is is Canadian
Lark - 16-Mar-19 @ 3:41 PM
Hi. I was born in UK [1971], have british and mexican nationality,lived all my life in Mexico. My daughter born in Mexico, she is 3 years old. Is she eligible for citizenship?
Pat - 15-Mar-19 @ 5:46 PM
@Sansa - Your child can only apply for a UK passport if her father is named on her birth certificate you can access his documents.
TJ. - 3-Mar-19 @ 2:21 PM
@Anthony - If your child was born abroad before you became a British citizen then that child is not entitled to be a British citizen.
TJ. - 3-Mar-19 @ 2:16 PM
Hello, I have a daughter who was born in 2016. She was born outside the UK (in another EU country). Her father is British (born in Britain). She should be able to gain British citizenship by descent. Now the problem is that her father has and still is refusing to acknowledge fatherhood. Do we have any chance whatsoever to get the British citizenship for her?
Sansa - 3-Mar-19 @ 8:13 AM
Hi I am british Citizen born abroad, applied for citizenship in 2009 but unlawfully delayed to be naturalised until 2017. I had a son in 2013 born abroad and up to now living abroad with his mother and we are married since 2012 before my son was born. My question is this. Is my son qualify to register for citizenship? Or if not is it possible to quality through discretion of home office secretary based on delaying to naturalise me? Will be glad for anyone who can answer my question please. Thanks.
Anthony - 3-Mar-19 @ 1:08 AM
@mandymac - Irish citizens are allowed to live and work in the UK without any restriction Brexit or No Brexit. You do not lose Irish citizenship by acquiring another citizenship. If your British citizen parent was born in the UK then you are a British citizen by descent and are entitled to a British passport unless this is your father and your parents were never married.
TJ. - 11-Feb-19 @ 6:20 PM
Hi, I was born in 1970 in Australia where I lived for almost 3 years ( my parents are Irish and Scottish). We the returned to to the UK where i have lived all my life. My parents never registered me into the UK although I have been schooled here and worked my whole life. I have not been able to get a British and so currently have an Irish one.I am now going to Australia to see where I was born this year but am concerned that if I apply for an Australian passport, I will experience difficulty in gaining access back to the UK. This type of situation was hightlighted a few years ago by the BBC and it is very similar to the current Windrush issue. Does anyone have any advice or know who i could contact?Thanks
mandymac - 11-Feb-19 @ 12:41 PM
@neason - Your daughter is automatically a British citizen and can apply for a British passport
TJ. - 10-Feb-19 @ 1:20 AM
hi there i become naturalised british citysen in 2008my doughter was burn in 2012 in italy mother non eu i british was my doughter automaticly british thank you
neason - 9-Feb-19 @ 6:40 PM
Hi there, my son is 13 and was born in thailand to his thai mother, i am british born and hold a british passport, i applied for a british passport for my son 3/4 years ago and it was refused because my son was born in 2005 and i wasn’t married to his mother. in 2006 the gov changed this rule to say that the marriage of parents no longer mattered, but with my son being born in 2005 this was no advantage to myself and him. Does anyone know if something has been amended in this ruling or can advise me on what to do please.
Billy - 3-Jan-19 @ 5:19 PM
Hi I would be very grateful for any advice. My son is 18 months old, he was born outside UK and although I wasn't a British Citizen at the time, I had been a UK resident and lived here for many years.I am his only parent and guardian.Since then I decided naturalised as a British citizen. My son has been living with me in the UK since he was 4 weeks old.How can he obtain the citizenship please? The MN1 form does not seem to be clear on which category he falls into and instead it is throwing questions like 'child's British grandparents' details'etc.Many thanks
Lucy - 2-Jan-19 @ 10:40 PM
Hi My partner was born in Trinidad and had a child there (whilst married).He is a british citizen other than by decent.Is his child eligible for citizenship and/or what would she need to do to get it? thanks
Susie - 12-Dec-18 @ 1:53 PM
I am a British citizen "otherwise than by descent" (born in the UK to British parents). I recently adopted my stepdaughter (born 2002) in Slovenia, and am married to her Slovenian mother. I understand we need to register out daughter using form MN1. My problem is there's no clear indication what documents we need to send with our application, even in the guidelines. Is there are page anywhere explaining what documents we will need to send? Thanks
mrps - 28-Nov-18 @ 11:27 AM
Hi there, I'm in Uk as a permanent residency ( ILR ) and my Wife is expecting my baby but at this moment she is outside the UK. Is that possible to give birth a child on UK tourist Visa .?
Waves - 24-Nov-18 @ 7:37 PM
Hi I would be grateful for any advice: Father is British by descent (born abroad to British mother otherwise than by descent). Wife is not British and in U.K. on Tier 2 visa. Children, born abroad, are in U.K. as dependants of mother’s visa. Family has now been living in U.K. for 3 years. To apply for British citizenship for children using MN1 Section 3(5), do the children first need Indefinte Leave to Remain? Guidance note does not say. Thank you
Grove - 23-Nov-18 @ 7:16 PM
Hi, my husband and I moved to the Uk in 2007 with a daughter, she was only 5 months old at the time. We have lived here ever since, so she is nearly 12 years old now. In the meantime we got our permanent residency, and had two more children born in the UK. The youngest got British citizenship at birth (she is 5), the middle child didn't because at the time we haven't had our 5 years in the UK completed. He is 8 now. My question is, can the 12 year old who was born outside the UK but lived here over 10 years now be registered for naturalisation and become British even if us, the parents don't have British citizenship? Same for the middle child, who was in fact born in the UK but he is only 8. Thank you!
sonoli - 22-Nov-18 @ 10:34 AM
@Sisi - You cannot register your child as a British citizen because he was not born in the UK and you had not lived in the UK for at least 3 years before he was born.
TJ. - 20-Nov-18 @ 5:43 PM
Hello .. can I register my son 15 years old born abroad for British citizen..as I’m British citizen born abroad to britannique mother .. I live in England since 2013 .. and my son live in Algeria ..my mother is britannique and my great parentsare britannique too., is their any possibility to register my son for British citizen and bring him to live with me .?? Many thanks ..
sisi - 20-Nov-18 @ 10:11 AM
@Francesco - Your daughters would only be able to apply for British citizenship before becoming permanent residents for 12 months if both you and your wife were British citizens because they were not born in the UK.
TJ. - 15-Nov-18 @ 5:28 PM
@Doc z - If your son leaves the UK for more than 2 years,any time he has already spent in the UK will become irrelevant and when he returns he will have to start his residency period from scratch. Also once your children are above 18, they can only apply for ILR/British citizenship on their own merit and not based on the status of their parents. In summary, once your son returns to the UK in 2025, he will have to apply for his own relevant visa if he is eligible and live in the UK for the qualifying period to earn ILR and British citizenship.
TJ. - 15-Nov-18 @ 5:25 PM
We have been living in UK from 2016 October on a permanent job with tier 2 visa with BRP til jan 2021 which wil be extended til we apply for ILR..our two children Son 17 and daughter 15 are as dependents.If our son who is going to be 18 in 2019 goes to join a university outside UK wil his period of ILR begin after he returns or is there any rule for students who can go out for education and once he returns can he get his ILR as being dependent on his father who hopefully wil beca british citizen by then.My son is supposed to join a course in 2019 October and wil finish in 2025 .. we as his parents wil b having ILR n probably citizens in 2022 or 2023..Need your advice
Doc z - 15-Nov-18 @ 1:25 PM
Hi, I'm Italian as my wife and our 2 daughters (13 and 16). I moved in to uk in 2013, my wife and daughters joined me in Britain in2016. I will soon apply for British citizenship,when I will become British can I immediately apply for my Daughters to becomeBritish before they reach 1 year of permanentresidency that for them will happen in 2022? Thank you
Francesco - 13-Nov-18 @ 9:21 PM
Hi both me and my parents are Filipinos, my father is now a naturalized British citizen. However, he was naturalized after i was born.. My parents were never married.
Pan - 9-Nov-18 @ 12:51 PM
@Sara - Your child can only apply to naturalise as a British citizen after being granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK and after she turns 18.
TJ. - 30-Oct-18 @ 10:22 AM
@LiiB - Your children will be entitled to British passports if your husband was born in the UK or if he naturalised as a British citizen before they were born. You can use the Govuk website to check on the application process.
TJ. - 30-Oct-18 @ 10:20 AM
I came tothis country with my daughter at the age of 3 she is now 17l am thinking of applying for naturalisation for her is it possible
Sara - 29-Oct-18 @ 9:02 PM
I am Greek and my husband is British and we live in the UK. However our 9 year old daughters where born in Greece and have Greek passport. Can they get a British passport too? Greek law allows for dual passport. If so,what is the procedure? Thanks
LilB - 29-Oct-18 @ 12:09 PM
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