Italian citizenship: One American woman’s tale of how she did it and how you can, too

Annamaria Borelli was raised in New Jersey but obtained her Italian citizenship in Italy.
Annamaria Borelli, raised in New Jersey, got her Italian citizenship seven years ago.

(Director’s note: I often get asked about obtaining Italian citizenship, particularly from readers who have Italian incestory. I’m as white as typing paper and I have to live in Italy 10 years to apply. But American blogger Annamaria Borelli, who lives in Bari, Puglia, has gone through the process. This is her story and advice. Read her other blogs at Not My Grandmother’s Italy | travel blogger (

Italian Citizenship. Carl Orff’s song “Carmina Burana” comes to mind when I think of Italian bureaucracy.

Italian bureaucracy is complicated.  Let me tell you about the experience of the acquisition of Italian Citizenship via iure sanguinis, which means eligibility for citizenship by ancestry.

Here are some guidelines.

Family History

It’s sad to say, friends, that just because your name ends in a vowel doesn’t mean that you will be able to get citizenship.  The most important element of this process is to prove that the lineage has not been broken in any way.  For example, my Italian grandmother became a naturalized American citizen when my mother was 5 years old.  My mother technically was also born Italian.  If you don’t take any measures to formally renounce the Italian Citizenship, under the Italian State you are considered born to an Italian mother.  

Where it gets complicated is that the laws constantly change.  When I got my Italian citizenship done seven years ago, under my grandmother’s specific credentials she could pass down citizenship to me.  In some cases, if the lineage is farther back, let’s say great-grandparents, the great grandmother could not pass citizenship to her offspring.  Ah, being a woman is never easy.  (That is a topic for another blog). 

So provide the necessary documentation to prove the lineage.  How do I do that?  This brings me to Step Two. 

Step One 

The word “documents” sends a shiver up my spine.  Almost 12 years in Italy and the word documenti  haunts my dreams.  I can’t talk about every specific case I have heard of, but in my own experience what I needed to present is as follows:

  1. Mother’s birth certificate.
  2. Mother and father’s marriage certificate.
  3. Father’s birth certificate.
  4. Father’s death certificate.
  5. Grandmother’s birth certificate.
  6. Grandmother and grandfather’s marriage certificate.
  7. Grandparents’ death certificates.
  8. Grandmother’s certification of naturalization.
  9. Grandfather’s certification of naturalization (I will reiterate that my grandfather could not pass down Italian citizenship to me.  On his side the line was broken way before my mother was born.  He officially renounced his Italian citizenship because at the time you could not have both.  My grandmother also had to do this, but since my mother was born before this occurred, my grandmother was able to pass it down to my mother and, hence, pass it down to me. Had the opposite occurred, I would not have been eligible for Italian citizenship).
  10. My birth certificate.

Step Two

At this point you have collected all of your documents.  I had to go to various offices in the U.S. as well as in Italy.  I could request citizenship in Italy because I also applied for residency here.  If you do not have residency in Italy you cannot apply for citizenship.  This was my case seven years ago, I don’t know if the rules have changed.  However, I think this procedure is pretty standard.  

Be prepared to spend a lot of time calling your mother’s hometown trying to get the original copies of the documents.  Luckily, my grandmother was very good at keeping her documents safe.  She already had the original copies of her naturalization papers.  You might need to request original additional copies just to be safe. I also had to go to Trenton, New Jersey, to get original copies of my birth certificate as well as my father’s certificates.

That was a real treat, going to lovely, downtown Trenton.  (However, I was proud of my parallel parking skills). Every single document I provided from the United States needed an Apostille (a special stamp that confirms the validity of the document overseas in countries that are party to the 1961 Hague Convention). However, before you get the Apostille, the documents must be notarized.  Each Apostille is about $25. The notarial services also have a cost so prepare to open those wallets. 

The documents from Corato, my grandparents’ hometown outside Bari, did not need one as they were not considered foreign documents. 

For a more detailed description about specific costs, you can refer to the U.S. Embassy Website ( It is extremely helpful.

Step 3

Oh, we are not done with documents.  They make the world go round in Italy.  The bureaucracy here is extremely difficult, time consuming and stressful.  I have never encountered such difficult procedures, and some of the worst experiences I have had in Italy have been dealing with the people that work in these offices.  They are state jobs, they stamp paper all day and they must deal with insistent people like myself.  I understand the monotony of it, but I don’t understand officials being uninformed about the procedures and sending me to different places on a wild goose chase.  

Be prepared.  Do yoga before going. Have a Prosecco. Do something to ease the stress.  It is not an easy process.  

I finally had an edge when getting my grandparents’ documents in Corato.  You must go to the municipality in Italy to get the necessary documents because only original documents are accepted.  If nonna didn’t save them, you need to get them.  I had a distant cousin who worked in the office.  He showed me around and introduced me to his colleagues. 

You need to learn the art of the schmooze.   Bake them a cake. Give them compliments. Make them laugh. When doing business in Italy, the interpersonal relationship is key. There needs to be a lot of confidenza or fiducia (trust) for someone to help you, or, rather, WANT to help you.  

If they like you it’s easier.  You catch more flies with honey.  That is what I did.  Every time I went to Corato I made a point of seeing this person, and I would ask him questions about the process.  I am not saying to use anyone or be fake. I am saying that it really does help to have a good relationship with the person helping you.  If there is a problem or a blessed shortcut, you will need them on your side.  Due to this relationship I had with this person, I was able to go into the archives and we looked for the documents together.  

It was a real treat for me as I learned about my great-grandparents.  I had never met them so seeing their names was a thrill.  Seven years ago, the archives were all in filing cabinets.  Remember those?  The new generation doesn’t.  It took hours, but we found the documents.  Now, what do I do with these original copies? 

Oh, we’re not done.

Step 4

Here is another piece of the puzzle.  Any documents from the U.S., or other countries where the native language is not Italian, must be translated.  You can do this by an official translator which has an added cost or you can do it yourself and legalize the translation at Rome’s Tribunal.  I did the latter.  The dear librarians at Rome’s John Cabot University assisted me.  

You must translate everything on the page and keep the format exactly how you see it on the original document.  (Also, make copies of every original document, Apostille, stamp and certificate of any kind.  You will need to send original copies. However, you must have copies of your own in case they are lost or there is a discrepancy).  

Since the translation was not done by an official translator I had to go to the Tribunal in Rome to get the stamp that validated the translations. This process legalizes the translations so they can be used in Italy to certify the translation.

So I went to the Tribunale di Roma with my Italian boyfriend at the time who was a huge help in this process. We walked into the office with my copies. The lady said, “These are out of order.”  

“Wait,” I said. “There is an order? No one communicated to me that there was an order?” 

She huffed and puffed and almost blew my house down, and then finally answered, just as sweet as honey, “Here is the order. Fix it and come back.” 

I thought,  You are going about this the wrong way.  I looked towards my boyfriend and said, “Come here a second.”  I told him to ask the lady. Maybe he would have more luck.  

“Ok, here is the order,” I said in sheer frustration and rage. “Now you go in there and speak to her. I’m done,” 

He goes in and her demeanor totally changed. The woman was a different person.  It was like she morphed into her alter ego. 

“Ah, ma quanti anni hai sei giovanissimo?! (Ah, how old are you? You are so young?!),” she said.

What? When I went in she was a total … something I won’t say on this blog. But when my boyfriend went in she perked up and was all sweet.  I guess my tactic worked. Safe to say we got the job done, and the lady in the office got to flirt. 

I had my original documents notarized. I had my Apostilles and certified translations. If I had to give a DNA sample it would have been in there. I had my residency in Rome. I went stateside, crossed the pond back to Italy, and if you had told me to go to an office in Timbuktu, I would have done it.  

After years of working on this immense project, I was finally ready. I presented my documents to the official, and she said,  “I hereby grant you Italian Citizenship.”  It was a proud moment.  More than the emotion of becoming officially Italian, it was the fact that I had defeated and won in this war with Italian bureaucracy.  I felt more triumphant for that than anything else.  I am a dual citizen.  So I am American first and foremost, but it is also nice to have a whole other continent at my fingertips. 

Italian citizenship advantages

One great positive to having  dual citizenship is that you can travel easily.  No one asks you questions. You show your passport, and that’s it. For study abroad purposes you can avoid the student visa which is never easy.  You can go to other countries in Europe with the Italian passport and stay as long as you wish.  When you have two continents at your disposal you can conquer the world.  May the force be with you as you delve into the depths of Italian bureaucracy.  Oh and don’t forget that Prosecco in the meantime. You will need it.

Helpful links to make the process more bearable: