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Spanish Citizenship: From Options to Obligations

Updated: Nov 21, 2023


Irene from Vision Factory

Author: Irene Gerarduz

Date of Publication: 02/04/2023




Citizenship is a legal status of a person who has a connection to a State. People are usually citizens of the country where they are born. Nevertheless, sometimes a person will apply for naturalization, to become a citizen in another country. There are countries which allow dual citizenship, and countries which do not.



What is naturalization?


This is the process whereby a foreign citizen (whether or not from an EU Member State) acquires Spanish citizenship. It is possible to acquire Spanish citizenship by four different options:

  • by option,

  • by discretionary conferral,

  • by residency,

  • by possession of status

The methods provided for applying for citizenship are various. In particular, persons over the age of 14 and under the age of 18 may apply simply with the help of their legal representative. All naturalization routes lead to the registration of the person concerned in the Spanish Civil Register. Being registered allows the person concerned to obtain a Spanish national identity card and passport.


Spain, citizenship, naturalization, law, residency, nationality

1. Spanish citizenship By option


In general, these are close family ties that the person concerned has with Spanish citizens. Therefore, may options for Spanish citizenship, anyone:

  • Who is or has been under the parental authority of a Spanish citizen;

  • Whose mother or father was Spanish and born in Spain;

  • Who has been adopted over the age of 18.

This is a simple procedure processed through the civil registers.


Law 20/2022 of October 19 on democratic memory introduced a new special procedure that allows certain people to benefit from Spanish nationality:


  1. those who were born outside Spain to a father or mother, or grandparents who were originally Spanish. As a consequence who, as a result of forced exile, lost or renounced their Spanish nationality;

  2. Sons and daughters born abroad to Spanish women. Who lost their Spanish nationality by marrying foreigners before the enactment of the 1978 Constitution.

  3. the adult sons and daughters of Spaniards. Whose nationality of origin has been recognized by the right of option in accordance with Law 52/2007.

  4. This law recognizes rights in favor of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Spanish Civil War and dictatorship.


2. By Discretionary Conferral


In the present case, nationality is conceded at the caution of the Government by Royal decree.


The applicant must prove that there are exceptional circumstances warranting the granting of nationality. The assessment of exceptional circumstances is based on a case by-case basis. The exceptional circumstances on which an application can be based vary: reasons related to culture, sports, science, solidarity, etc.


Although this is an unusual route: Law 12/2015 establishes a special procedure for granting Spanish nationality. It concedes it by discretionary conferral to Sephardic Jews of Spanish origin. Therefore, to get citizenship in this way, people must provide documentary evidence of their origin and their connection to Spain.


3. By Residency


Spain, citizenship, naturalization, law, residency, nationality

This route requires that the applicant be resident in Spain for the length of time and under the legal conditions provided for.


This type of naturalization is regulated and subject to a specific and very detailed administrative procedure. During this procedure the three requirements or conditions that the applicant must prove are verified:

  • Continuous legal residency just completed the application. The duration of the person's residence varies depending on their nationality or personal circumstances.

  • Good civic behavior.

  • Integration into Spanish society. Currently, the integration test is highly objective because the applicant must pass tests established by Instituto Cervantes. The tests verify the applicant's knowledge. Together with fluency in the Spanish language and constitutional and sociocultural knowledge of Spain. Citizens of Latin American countries are exempt from the language requirement test.

The legal residency periods are as follows:

  • 10 years: general period

  • 5 years: for granting Spanish nationality to persons who have obtained refugee status

  • 2 years: for nationals of Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or persons of Sephardic origin

  • 1 year: a) persons born in Spanish territory, b) persons who have not exercised their right to acquire Spanish nationality by option, c) persons who have been legally placed in the custody, guardianship. As well as foster care of a Spanish citizen for 2 consecutive years, d) persons who, during the application, have been married to a Spanish national for 1 year, with no legal or de facto separation, e) the widow(er) of a Spanish national if, at the time of death of the spouse, there is no legal or de facto separation, f) persons born outside Spain to a father or mother, or grandparent, but daughter or son of Spaniards.

For the three routes to naturalization mentioned (option, discretionary conferral and residency), three final requirements must be met:


  • Swearing a promise of loyalty to the King and obedience of the Spanish Constitution and laws.

  • Declaration renouncing the antecedent nationality. Nationals of Latin American countries, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or Sephardic Jews of Spanish origin don’t require it.

  • Registration of the acquisition of nationality in the Spanish Civil Register.


4. By Possession of Status


This is a curious route for acquiring nationality. It is based on the person concerned having possessed and used (in good faith) Spanish nationality for 10 years.



Registration of Nationality


When someone acquires Spanish nationality, birth is registered. Together with, in the margin, the date and route of acquisition of Spanish nationality are noted.


To conclude, with citizenship comes the automatic acquisition of human rights. The loss of citizenship deprives the individual of his or her identity.



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