If you are an American expat in Spain, you may be considering trying to obtain Spanish American dual citizenship. Both the United States and Spain allow for their nationals to obtain the citizenship of another country, however the criteria and laws for each of these two countries differ. If you are an American citizen interested in gaining Spanish nationality for yourself or your child, then this post is for you!
US regulations for dual citizenship
For the United States, as a country of immigrants, dual nationality has been long recognized, and states that “a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both”. There is no specific legislation prohibiting dual citizenship between the United States and Spain; however, the USA does state that dual national US citizens “owe allegiance to the United States and are obliged to obey its laws and regulations”.
Spanish regulations for dual citizenship
For Spain, dual citizenship with another country has many criteria and restrictions, and has traditionally been based on the presence of “specific cultural links” with Spain, such as a shared history or language. Spain has dual citizenship agreements in place for these countries: all countries in Latin America, Andorra, Portugal, the Philippines, and Equatorial Guinea. This agreement means that a person does not have to renounce their original citizenship. As you can see, the United States is not included in this list.
What does that mean for United States citizens trying to obtain Spanish American dual citizenship? It’s complicated. Officially, an American citizen would have to renounce their United States citizenship in order to obtain Spanish citizenship. Yet due to discrepancies in the Spanish citizenship process as well as no data-sharing between the two countries, many people bypass this rule and obtain both nationalities anyways.
In this case, only one citizenship will be recognized by Spain - your Spanish citizenship. This is because the Spanish government requires you to officially renounce - on their end - your other citizenship. However, to officially renounce your American citizenship, you must submit documentation on the American side of things, as well as pay a large fee. So while you can technically say that you “renounce” your American citizenship in order to attain Spanish citizenship, your American citizenship would be retained as well, unless and until you go through the procedures to revoke it in the United States. In this way, you can obtain both nationalities.
While I know a few Americans who have done this, I personally have not. When consulting with lawyers in Spain, they say while technically this loophole exists, if there is ever a time when the United States and Spain start collaborating and sharing information, it could pose problems that result in the potential loss of citizenship.
Citizenship by Birth
A major exception here is children born in Spain to Spanish and American parents. In this case, the child will automatically be granted Spanish citizenship, and they will also be eligible for American citizenship. In United States law, the acquisition or retention of foreign nationality does not affect US citizenship. Furthermore, neither Spain nor the US require citizens born with dual nationality to choose one or the other when they become adults.
Qualifications for Spanish Citizenship
To find a full rundown of circumstances in which you or your children might qualify for Spanish citizenship, consult the Spanish Government of the Exterior’s website. There are generally 4 ways to qualify for Spanish nationality:
- Nationality by Spanish origin:
- Born to a Spanish mother or father
- Born in Spain to non-Spanish parents if at least 1 parent was born in Spain
- Born in Spain to stateless parents, parents with no nationality, or whose parents' identity is unknown
- Adoptees in Spain under 18 years of age
- Nationality by possession of status or by option:
- Possession of status: People who have possessed or used Spanish nationality for 10 years in good faith without being aware of their real situation.
- By option: Extended to foreign nationals who have been subject to the parental authority of a Spanish national, whose father or mother was Spanish/born in Spain, whose Spanish parentage or birth is determined after 18 years of age, those who are adopted by Spanish nationals after 18 years of age.
- Nationality by residence after 10 years of continued legal residence in Spain. This is reduced to 5 years for refugees, 2 years for countries with which Spain has a dual citizenship agreement or people of Sephardic origin, and 1 year for people born in Spain, married to Spanish nationals, widowers, and other cases.
- Nationality by naturalization: This is only for exceptional circumstances where Spanish nationality is granted after an evaluation of the exceptional circumstances.
Documents to Obtain Spanish Citizenship
To obtain dual citizenship in Spain, it takes around 18-24 months. Standard documents include:
- Birth certificate of applicant (and spouse, if relevant. If married, provide the marriage certificate).
- Consulate-issued certificate containing info about previous citizenship, criminal record, etc.
- Certificate of criminal history or charges in Spain.
- Spanish police document with data of the applicant’s entire legal residency history.
- Spanish empadronamiento.
- Official Spanish form renouncing one’s original citizenship along with a procedure performed on Spanish territory confirming this.
My top advice if you're debating the issue of Spanish citizenship is to consult a lawyer. While I have chosen not to pursue American and Spanish dual citizenship, I am a permanent resident of Spain, with a NIE number and the 10-year renewable TIE card. If you're looking into Spanish residency, download the free guide below: