British passport application and UK citizenship

You can get British citizenship through several different routes. Learn about all the ways to claim citizenship through your ancestry, citizenship by naturalisation and how to compete your British passport application.

British Citizenship

UK passport

British citizenship routes

You may have a claim to British citizenship if you fall into one of these categories:

British citizenship by naturalisation

This is a common route to citizenship for people who’ve been living in the UK on a visa but aren’t British citizens. 

UK naturalisation for South Africans generally follows the below process:

Live and work in the UK for five years

To start the naturalisation process, you’ll first have to live in the UK for five years. If your spouse or partner is a British citizen, the time decreases to three years.

Apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR)

After living in the UK for five years, you can apply for ILR. This gives you most of the benefits of citizenship. You’re allowed to live in the UK without a time limit on your stay. To apply for citizenship, you’ll first have to live in the UK while holding ILR status for 12 months.

Apply for British citizenship

Here are the requirements for applying for British citizenship

*If your spouse or partner is a British citizen, you don’t need to have held ILR for 12 months.

If you meet all these requirements, you can lodge your application. A decision can take up to and over six months. When your application is granted, you’ll attend a citizenship ceremony.

After becoming a citizen, you can lodge your first British passport application.

British citizenship by descent

Whether or not you can claim British citizenship from your parents depends on their circumstances and if you were born in or outside the UK. There are several different circumstances that apply.

You were born in the UK

You’re usually automatically a British citizen, or you can register as one if you were born in the UK.

You don’t need to apply to become a citizen if you were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and one of your parents was a British citizen or “settled”. If you were born in the UK before 1 January 1983, you’re most likely already a British citizen.

There are some situations where you may need to register as a citizen. If you’re under 18 and only since you were born did one of your parents become a citizen, or if you lived in the UK until your were 10 years old.

You were born outside the UK

If you have a British parent and you were born outside the UK, you may automatically be a citizen. British citizenship is normally automatically passed down one generation.

There are three situations where you may have to register as a citizen:

  1. If you were born outside the UK on or after 1 July 2006, you’re usually automatically a citizen. There are some situations where you would have to register as a citizen, including:
    1. If you’re under 18 and have lived with your British parent/s for three years in the UK
    2. If you’re under 18 and your British parent/s lived in the UK for at least three years before you were born
    3. If you were adopted outside the UK
    1. If you were born between 1 January 1983 and 30 June 2006 to a British parent, you may automatically be a citizen. Here’s the situation where you would have to register as a citizen:
      1. If your British father wasn’t married to your mother when you were born.
    1. If you were born before 1 January 1983 to a British parent you may automatically be a citizen. You may have to register as a citizen if either:
      1. Your parents weren’t married when you were born
    1. Your mother was British but not your father

British citizenship by double descent

It’s possible in some instances to claim British citizenship from a UK-born grandparent. Whether you can claim this or not depends on several different ancestry situations.

You were born in the UK

You’re usually automatically a British citizen, or you can register as one if you were born in the UK.

You don’t need to apply to become a citizen if you were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and one of your parents was a British citizen or “settled”. If you were born in the UK before 1 January 1983, you’re most likely already a British citizen.

There are some situations where you may need to register as a citizen. If you’re under 18 and only since you were born did one of your parents become a citizen, or if you lived in the UK until your were 10 years old.

You were born outside the UK

If you have a British parent and you were born outside the UK, you may automatically be a citizen. British citizenship is normally automatically passed down one generation.

There are three situations where you may have to register as a citizen:

  1. If you were born outside the UK on or after 1 July 2006, you’re usually automatically a citizen. There are some situations where you would have to register as a citizen, including:If you’re under 18 and have lived with your British parent/s for three years in the UK
    1. If you’re under 18 and your British parent/s lived in the UK for at least three years before you were born
    2. If you were adopted outside the UK
  1. If you were born between 1 January 1983 and 30 June 2006 to a British parent, you may automatically be a citizen. Here’s the situation where you would have to register as a citizen:
    1. If your British father wasn’t married to your mother when you were born.
  1. If you were born before 1 January 1983 to a British parent you may automatically be a citizen. You may have to register as a citizen if either:
    1. Your parents weren’t married when you were born
    2. Your mother was British but not your father

British citizenship by double descent

It’s possible in some instances to claim British citizenship from a UK-born grandparent. Whether you can claim this or not depends on several different ancestry situations.

If you were born after 1 January 1983 and you’re under 18

Children under 18 may be able to claim British nationality from a grandparent.

If you were born after 1 January 1983 and you’re over 18

People over 18 born outside the UK after 1 January 1983 may be able to claim British citizenship by double descent from their grandparents. 

There are specific circumstances that must apply, including:

  • Having a UK-born grandparent that was in Crown service when your parent was born
  • Your parent must not have a UK-born father but must have a UK-born mother
  • Your parent must also have been registered as a UK citizen between 2 February 1979 and 31 December 1982
  • You or your parent must have been born in a former British colony

If you were born before 1 January 1983

People born outside the UK between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982 with UK-born grandparents may be able to claim British citizenship if they meet various requirements. There are a lot of different routes in this category.

Some common circumstances include:

  • Being born in a former British overseas territory, or having a parent born in a former British territory (including South Africa at particular times)
  • A parent being in Crown service when you were born
  • Your paternal grandfather being born in the UK and your parents getting married before 1949
  • Your maternal grandfather being born in the UK and you being born in a “foreign country” (including South Africa)

If you were born before 1 January 1949

People born outside the UK after 1949 with a UK-born grandparent may be able to claim British citizenship.

A typical situation would include:

  • You or a parent being born in a former British territory

These areas of nationality law are complicated so it’s often better to get advice before you try make an application yourself.

British citizenship by birth

There are a lot of different variables that can determine your nationality at Birth. 

A few common situations are as follows:

  • If you were born in the UK to a British parent, it’s likely you’re automatically a British citizen at birth
  • If you were born outside the UK to a British parent, you may also be automatically a British citizen
  • If you were born in a British overseas territory, you may be a British citizen depending on where and when you were born

British passport application requirements

Once you have British citizenship, you can apply for a passport. You can either apply online or with a paper form.

The documents you require depend on how you got British citizenship.

Born in the UK

If you were born in the UK you’ll need a Birth certificate.

If you were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983, you’ll also need one of the following:

  • A parent’s full UK birth certificate or certificate of naturalisation
  • A parent’s British passport valid when you were born
  • A parent’s British passport number

You’ll also need to provide evidence of a parent’s immigration status in the UK when you were born.

Born outside the UK

There are several different requirements depending on your situation:

  1. If you have a certificate of registration or naturalisation
    You’ll need to provide your certificate and your foreign passport.

  2. If you’re a British overseas territory citizen born before 1 January 1983
    You’ll need your birth certificate, your current passport and your foreign passport.

  3. If your father was born in the UK and you were born before 1 January 1983
    You’ll need your birth certificate with your parents’ details, your father’s birth certificate, your parents’ marriage certificate and your foreign passport.

  4. If you were born on or after 1 January 1983
    You’ll need your birth certificate with your parents’ details, your foreign passport and evidence of one parent’s British nationality (if the document relates to your father, you’ll need to include a marriage certificate showing when he and your mother were married).

    The UK government provides a guidance booklet detailing all the documents you need to apply for your British passport, so if your situation isn’t listed above, you can consult the booklet. If you apply for your passport online, the system will let you know exactly what documents you need to provide.

Types of British nationality

There are a few types of British citizens. The classification of citizenship depends on where and when you were born.

Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC)

This is an old citizenship status that has since been converted to British citizenship or other related citizenship statuses.

British overseas territories citizen

If you were born in a British overseas territory, you may already be classified as a British overseas territories citizen.

If you have British overseas territories citizenship from a qualifying territory, you may have automatically become a British citizen on 21 May 2002.

British overseas territories citizens can have British passports but not the automatic right to live and work in the UK.

British overseas citizen

If you were a CUKC on 31 December 1982 and didn’t become a British citizen or British overseas territories citizen on 1 January 1983, you most probably became a British overseas citizen.

British subject

This term was used to refer to most people with close connections to the UK before 1949. Only a few people have become British subjects since 1983.

British national (overseas)

People who were British overseas territories citizens from a connection with Hong Kong could register as a British national (overseas) before 1 July 1997. If they didn’t register as a British national (overseas) and did not have any other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997, they became British overseas citizens instead.

British protected person

If you were a citizen or national of Brunei on 1 January 1983, you would have become a British protected person. You could also have received this status in 1983 if you were already a British protected person, or you were born stateless because one of your parents was a British protected person.