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Registering a Child as a UK Citizen or National

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 3 Jan 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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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
Hi In relation to my comment below, the entire family has been in the U.K. since 2004
AR - 22-Oct-18 @ 9:57 AM
Hi, I have limited leave to remain however my son has been granted ILR LR. He is 17. Can he apply for British citizenship before he’s 18. Both parents are not British citizens and have limited leave to remain. He was born out side the U.K. Thanks
AR - 22-Oct-18 @ 9:56 AM
@Jon - Your child can apply for a British passport and your wife can apply for a family visa as a spouse.
TJ. - 16-Oct-18 @ 2:45 PM
Hello I am birtish citizen.. I am married to afhippno woman. We got 11 months old baby.. They want come live UK with me..what can we do from here.. easy way.. type visa... for us..
Jon - 15-Oct-18 @ 11:14 PM
@Rav - You made a mistake having the child in India. Children born outside the UK to foreign parents are not entitled to British citizenship even if the parents have ILR. Your child will only be able to apply to register as a British citizen once BOTH parents are British citizens or if one parent is a British citizen and the other has ILR.
TJ. - 8-Oct-18 @ 1:30 PM
Hi I'm on ILR in the Uk since May 2016 and got married in Dec 2016, my wife came to the Uk and dependent and stayed here for 7 months then moved to India for delivery. We have a baby girl in Jan 2018. Can my baby girl get the British passport as I'm on ILR but she is born in India? I'm yet to apply for my British passport. Please advice
Rav - 8-Oct-18 @ 2:28 AM
@la guerrera - Your child can apply for settled status from March 2019 which will grant Permanent Residency in the UK
TJ. - 29-Sep-18 @ 3:07 PM
I want to know if i have 2 brithish children 14yrs old ,from my previous relationship from a british man,they have a british passport, and i want to know if they can give any rights to there brother or to.I came to this country with a six month visa,i overstayed here for 2 yrs before i put my application futher.During that time I got pregnant from my second relationship and my child was born before home office made there decision ,they gave me a two yrs and a halflive to remain in 2012.My childs father is european and my son has a european passport but because of brexit ,i want t know which type of document i can apply for my child,after the two years and a half ,they gave me the five yrs live to remain on the basis of member of a europan family,but me and my childs father are not married, Thank You
la guerrera - 28-Sep-18 @ 9:35 PM
@toddc - You were born outside the UK so you are a British citizen by descent. That means that your child is not eligible for British citizenship because he was also born outside the UK. Your son can however apply for an Ancestry visa
TJ. - 21-Sep-18 @ 6:46 PM
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
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