Home Moving to the UK Visas & Immigration British citizenship: applying for UK nationality
Last update on December 03, 2020

Understand how to get a British passport, take the UK citizenship test, and more.

If you are living in the UK and want to settle permanently, you can apply for UK permanent residency – also known as UK indefinite leave to remain – and then have the chance to apply for full UK citizenship.

Foreigners can apply for UK indefinite leave to remain after five years of legal residence in the UK in most cases, although in some instances it will be sooner. You can apply for UK citizenship after five years of residence (sooner in some cases) if you’re a permanent resident for 12 months. Requirements vary depending on your nationality, whether you have family in the UK, and what type of visa you arrived on. The process is simpler for citizens of EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, although the situation may change when the UK leaves the EU following the 2016 Brexit vote.

Should you wish to apply for a divorce in the UK, rules vary depending on your residency status.

Current UK citizenship law is based on the 1981 British Nationality Act and is complex due to Britain’s imperial history, with certain categories of foreign nationals from former British colonies and British overseas territories able acquire UK citizenship through simplified routes.

It has become slightly more difficult for non-EU/EFTA nationals to obtain UK indefinite leave to remain or UK citizenship through naturalization. Both processes now involve sitting a Life in the UK test.

This guide looks at:

Who can get UK citizenship or permanent residence, UK?

While the UK is still an EU member country, different conditions apply for citizens from EU/EFTA countries. If you are an EU/EFTA citizen, or a relative or partner of an EU/EFTA citizen, see our guide to EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK for more information.

If you are a non-EU/EFTA citizen, you can apply to settle in the UK with indefinite leave to remain if you have lived legally in the UK for five years on any of the following visas:

  • Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 5, or Domestic Worker visa
  • Ancestry visa
  • Retired Person visa

You make a UK indefinite leave to remain application after two years of residence in the UK if you’re the family member or partner of a British citizen or someone who settled under indefinite leave to remain.

If you’re on a Turkish Businessperson visa, you can make a UK indefinite leave to remain application after four years. You can apply after 10 years if you’ve been in the UK legally, have Discretionary Leave, or have signed up to the Private Life route.

Each of these application routes has conditions, including passing the Life in the UK test. Check if you are eligible to apply for UK indefinite leave to remain, along with full details of conditions, here.

Non-EU/EFTA citizens settled permanently in the UK can apply for citizenship through naturalization if they have lived legally in the country for at least five years (with no lengthy periods spent abroad), have had UK indefinite leave to remain for at least 12 months, and meet the Life in the UK test requirements. Full criteria details are available here. If you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, you can apply for UK citizenship after three years. Further details here.

Right of Abode (ROA) and UK citizenship for other British nationals

If you are a citizen of a British Overseas Territory or a citizen of a Commonwealth country born before 1 January 1983 with a parent born in the UK, you may qualify as a British national under current nationality law and be eligible for ROA. Those eligible for ROA can settle in the UK easier and can register for UK citizenship rather than go through the naturalization process. The following types of British national are eligible for ROA and registration for UK citizenship:

  • British overseas territories citizen
  • British overseas citizen
  • A British subject
  • British national (overseas)
  • A British protected person
Indefinite leave to remain

More information on these types of British nationality is available here.

Difference between UK citizenship and indefinite leave to remain

Many of the rights given to those with UK indefinite leave to remain are the same as those given to UK citizens. Both are able to:

  • work, study, or become self-employed in the UK without a visa
  • access UK public funds and welfare benefits
  • pay ‘Home Student’ rates for higher education
  • live permanently in the UK
  • leave and re-enter the UK without a visa
  • be joined by family and partners

There are a number of additional benefits to full UK citizenship. If you become a UK citizen, you will be able to:

  • vote in parliamentary, local, and European elections and stand for public office
  • obtain a British passport (ranked third in the world on the Global Passport Index
  • acquire EU citizenship, meaning you can travel freely across EU countries (this may be subject to change from 2019 following the Brexit vote)
  • leave the UK for unlimited periods of time (with UK indefinite leave to remain, you can’t leave the UK for longer than 2 years)

However, you will need to give up the citizenship of your home country unless you are able to apply for dual citizenship (see below). You will also have to pay the additional UK citizenship costs.

UK dual citizenship

The UK allows dual citizenship. This means that you can gain UK dual nationality and take UK citizenship without having to give up the citizenship of your home country.

If you become a British citizen and want to retain citizenship in your home country, you will first need to check that your home nation permits dual citizenship. A list of countries that allow dual citizenship is available here. Check with your country’s consulate or embassy in the UK to find out about dual nationality laws.

British passport

You don’t need to apply for UK dual citizenship. You will acquire it upon taking UK citizenship if you don’t renounce the citizenship of your home country, or if you are a UK citizen and you apply for citizenship abroad.

Those with UK dual nationality have the same rights as those with only UK citizenship. However, if you are a UK dual national, you will not be able to get diplomatic help from the British government when you are in the country where you hold your other citizenship.

Applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK

You can apply for UK indefinite leave to remain through the UK Visas and Immigration website. You need to complete the SET (O) UK permanent residence application form which is available here. The form is lengthy with 88 pages divided into numerous sections. There are guidance notes to completing the form which can be found here.

Once you have completed the UK indefinite leave to remain application form, you need to send it to the address on the form or take it to the nearest UK visa premium service centre. A list of local centres is available here. You will need to provide the following documents:

  • valid passport or travel ID
  • your biometric residence permit
  • birth certificate for any dependants listed in the application who were born in the UK
  • proof of marriage or cohabitation status if applying as a couple
  • police registration certificate (if you were required to register with the police)
  • proof of finances
  • proof that you have passed the Life in the UK test
  • English language qualification
  • proof that you have been legally residing in the UK for 5 years (or less if the requirement for your application less)

You will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and a photograph).

Applying for UK citizenship

You can acquire UK citizenship through the following ways:

  • by birth in the UK to a British citizen or someone with permanent residence
  • by descent if you were born abroad to a British citizen who was born in the UK or became a UK citizen through naturalization, registration or adoption
  • naturalization
  • registration
  • adoption

UK citizenship by birth

From 1 January 1983, a child born in the UK (or British Overseas Territory) with at least one parent who is a UK citizen or permanently settled in the UK automatically acquires UK citizenship. Prior to 1 January 1983, anyone born in one of the British colonies was considered a citizen of the UK and Colonies and were eligible for either UK citizenship, British overseas citizenship or British overseas territories citizenship.

UK citizenship by descent

From 1 January 1883, a child born outside the UK acquires UK citizenship through descent if at least one parent is a UK citizen through birth, naturalization, registration or adoption. Prior to 1983, citizenship of the UK and Colonies was automatically transferred for only one generation and only through the father, if parents were married. Since 2009, those born before 1983 to a British mother have been eligible to apply for UK citizenship through descent.

You can check whether you qualify for UK citizenship through birth or descent here.

UK citizenship by naturalization

You can apply for UK citizenship by naturalization after five years of residence, or three years of residence if you’re married to or in a civil partnership with a UK citizen. You need to meet the following requirements:

  • sufficient knowledge of English
  • passed the Life in the UK test
  • have no serious criminal convictions
  • spent no more than 450 days outside the UK in the last five years (270 days in the last three years if partner is a UK citizen) and no more than 90 days abroad in the last year
  • have had indefinite leave to remain for the last year

There are three ways to make a UK citizenship application:

  • Using the UK citizenship application form, available here. Guidance notes available here.
  • With the Nationality Checking Service of your local authority, see information here.
  • Apply through a licensed immigration adviser. More information here.

When making your UK citizenship application, you provide your biometric information along with the following documents proving:

  • identity
  • knowledge of English language
  • that you passed the Life in the UK test
  • legal residence in the UK
  • indefinite leave to remain
  • relationship status if applying as a partner of a UK citizen

Decisions on UK citizenship applications are normally made within six months. If your application is successful, you then book a place at a citizenship ceremony. These are organised by your local council and there is an £80 fee. You may bring two guests. Once you’ve received your certificate of UK citizenship, you’ll receive a request to return your biometric residence permit back to the Home Office within five working days.

UK citizenship by registration

Registration for UK citizenship is a simpler method of acquiring UK citizenship than naturalization but only certain categories of people are eligible. These are British nationals overseas who don’t have full UK citizenship (as listed above) along with certain other specific cases. More information on registering as a UK citizen is available on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.

UK dual citizenship

UK citizenship by adoption

A child acquires UK citizenship automatically if legally adopted and at least one of the adoptive parents is a UK citizen.

If you are successful in your UK citizenship application, you will be eligible for a UK passport. This currently allows you to travel without a visa to numerous countries including EU/EFTA member states. However, the situation regarding free movement around the EU/EFTA may change as a result of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Life in the UK test

You will need to take the official Life in the UK test for both UK indefinite leave to remain and UK citizenship, unless you are aged under 18 or over 65 or have a physical or mental condition.

The test costs £50 and is taken at a UK test centre closest to where you live. You will need to book in advance and provide ID and proof of address.

The Life in the UK test lasts for 45 minutes and consists of 24 questions based around traditions and customs in the UK. Questions are based on information in a handbook associated with the test. The handbook can be purchased for £12.99 here.

More information on the Life in the UK test is available on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.

UK citizenship and indefinite leave to remain fees

Current UK citizenship fees are:

  • By naturalization – £1236
  • By registration – £1121
  • Children under 18 – £936

A full list of current UK citizenship fees is available here.

The current cost of applying for UK indefinite leave to remain is £1875.