FAQ: HOW DO YOU ACQUIRE GERMAN CITIZENSHIP?
The most frequent case constellations from our law practice explained.
1. My parents were married at the time I was born. How do I acquire German citizenship?
- Children who were born in wedlock between January 1, 1914 and December 31, 1963 could only acquire German citizenship through a German father.
- Children born in wedlock between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1974, where only the mother was German at the time of birth, only became German automatically by birth if they would otherwise have been stateless. Update August 2021: This gender discriminatory law has been addressed by a new law that was published on August 20th, 2021. Accordingly, if you were born after May 23, 1949, and if you fulfill the other requirements, then you can apply for German citizenship by declaration. Please see our FAQ on our webpage about acquiring German citizenship by declaration.
- Children born in wedlock after January 1, 1975 have acquired German citizenship if one of the parents was German.
- Children born in wedlock between April 1, 1953 and December 31, 1974, with a German mother but a foreign father might be German, but only if a declaration was made. For only a two year period, starting on January 1, 1975, it was possible for such a person to make such declaration stating that she or he desired German citizenship. However, on December 31, 1977, this declaration period expired. Thus, if a declaration of German citizenship was not made by that date, that person did not acquire German citizenship at birth. Update as of August 2021: This gender discriminatory law has been addressed by a new law that was published on August 20th, 2021, the Fourth Amendment to German nationality law. Under this new law, you may be eligible to make a declaration to become a German citizen, if you were born after May 23, 1949, and if you fulfill the other requirements. Please see our FAQ on this webpage about becoming a German citizen by declaration.
- In the past, the above referenced laws sometimes led to unfair results. Therefore, as of August 20th, 2021, persons born after the German Basic Law’s effective date of May 23, 1949, may be able to acquire German citizenship by declaration according to § 5 StAG. Please visit our FAQ which provides additional details about this naturalization process. If you do not fall under the new law, because, for example, you were born prior to May 23, 1949, you may still apply under § 14 StAG for naturalization, if you did not automatically become German by birth. § 14 StAG that previously addressed gender discriminatory laws may now be seen as a “catch all” discretionary naturalization and is still in effect. Its practical use is limited.
2. My parents were not married when I was born. Did I obtain German citizenship?
- Since January 1, 1914, the child of an unmarried German mother was granted German citizenship through his or her mother.
- Children born out of wedlock of a German father have only acquired German citizenship by birth since July 1, 1993, only if, among other things, a valid declaration of paternity has been made before the child is 23 years old. However, in very limited cases becoming a German citizenship may be based on § 5 StAG by declaration or by applying for naturalization according to § 14 StAG for such children and their descendants.
- Children born before July 1, 1993 out of wedlock to a German father could obtain German citizenship by declaration before their 23rd birthday, but only if paternity has been established, and if they have resided in Germany for at least three years.
3. My parents were born outside of Germany after December 31, 1999. I was also born abroad. Am I German?
In such scenario, where a child’s German parents were born is relevant, especially if those parents were born after December 31, 1999, and do not reside in Germany. If neither of a foreign-born child’s parents was born in Germany, even though the child’s mother or father is German, a child born and residing abroad does not automatically acquire German citizenship. An exception might be possible if that child would otherwise become stateless. This result can also be averted if an application for registration is made before the child’s first birthday.
4. I was adopted. Am I German?
Since 1 January 1977, children who are adopted by a German parent have been able to acquire German citizenship. Children who were adopted between January 1, 1959 and December 31,1976 could only acquire German citizenship if a declaration was made by December 31, 1979.
5. I was born in Germany. At that time, my parents were not German. Am I German?
Since January 1, 2000, the topic has been hotly debated. The citizenship of persons who fall within this category is regulated using the so-called option model (“Optionsmodell”). In general, since 2000, a child who is born to foreign nationals in Germany will acquire German citizenship only if one parent has legally resided in Germany for at least 8 years prior to that child’s birth. The so-called “Obligation Option” (“Optionspflicht”) means that, at the age of 21, these children must decide between German nationality and the foreign nationality of the parents.
A law became effective on December 20, 2014, that amended the Citizenship Act. For a summary of the updated law see: https://www.bmi.bund.de/SharedDocs/kurzmeldungen/EN/2014/12/dual-citizenship.html
So, the number of persons who are subject to the Obligation Option has been limited.
6. Are there other bases for automatic acquisition of German citizenship?
Yes, these FAQs are not exhaustive. For example, in the past, marriage between a foreign woman and a German man made it possible to acquire German citizenship under certain circumstances. However, since January 1, 1970, marriage has ceased to be a basis to acquire citizenship. Even though these cases are rare, one can acquire German citizenship if the German authorities have treated him or her as a German national. Also, a child born out of wedlock between January 1, 1914 and June 30th, 1998 might also acquire German citizenship if his or her parents are subsequently married. This is known as “Legitimization” which was abolished on July 1, 1998.
Special regulations also apply to members of German minority groups in Central and Eastern Europe countries. These are just a few of the other possible avenues to obtaining or acquiring German citizenship. A detailed analysis of your specific circumstances may give rise to citizenship, especially under the new laws.
These FAQs reflect questions that have frequently arisen in our practice. Each case is different, and the FAQs do not replace legal advice.