Just before the holidays, I received a message that I'd been waiting on for three years. An early Christmas present, letting me know that all the paperwork had been finally signed, filed and processed, and, as of that moment, officially, I was a citizen of Italy. Merry Christmas to Me (and the Mrs., who realized her life-long dream of marrying an Italian)!
Although relatively easy on the difficulty-of-obtaining-a-second-citizenship scale (if you qualify, of course), it still took 3 years of diligently pushing the process forward, step-by-step. So I'm very happy to be at the end of the road.
Generally, when I mentioned that I was pursuing Italian citizenship, most people would ask three questions: 1) Why? 2) How? and 3) Are you still going to be a US citizen? The easiest first: yes, I'm still a US citizen. I did not have to, nor would I want to, give that up. As to why... the easy answer is why not? I'm a big believer in having options. Having an Italian citizenship means being part of the European Union (as long as it still exists), which opens doors to hassle-free living, working and traveling in almost all of Europe. Plus, I mean, come on, Italy is easily one of the coolest places on earth, so how could I say no to being a part of that? As to how, well, read on...
Here's an interesting fact: the law in Italy says that if you have an Italian ancestor, you are an Italian citizen. Full stop. It's called citizenship by "jure sanguinis", literally the "right of blood" in Latin. Now, there are some caveats of course, and you have to be able to prove your lineage, but once you're able to do that, your Italian citizenship will be recognized. Which is what I did.
To figure out if it would work for you, see if you pass these 3 tests:
Test 1: You have to have an ancestor from Italy. For me, check. All of my great-grandparents on my father's side were Italian citizens. The law allows you to go as far back as 1861, which is when Italy became a country (so if your ancestors left Napoli in 1650, for example, sorry, that's not going to fly because they weren't Italian citizens).
Test 2: If emigrating before 1948, your Italian ancestor has to be male. You can rail against the patriarchy if this bumps you out of qualification, but those are the rules. Luckily for me, check, as both my great-grandfathers were, of course, male. It also helped that I have the same last name as my great-grandfather, so I focused on that linkage (great-grandfather had a son, my grandfather, who had a son, my father, who also had a son, me).
Test 3. Here is where things get a little tricky: at no point can your Italian ancestor have broken the link of Italian citizenship by renouncing it. For my great-grandfather, getting US citizenship meant renouncing his Italian one. However, and here's the trick, if the next person in line, my grandfather, was born BEFORE the Italian citizenship was renounced, then that person is an Italian citizen by blood. Got it? For me, my grandfather was born in Oregon BEFORE my great-grandfather became a US citizen. Therefore, by Italian law, my grandfather was an Italian citizen, and Italian citizenship was passed down by blood to both my father and I (without us knowing it of course). And, since neither my grandfather, my father or I ever renounced our Italian citizenship (how can you renounce something you don't know you have), I passed this test.
That's it. You are an Italian citizen if you pass those tests. Now to the hard part: proving it. You'll need to get official copies of birth, death, marriage and divorce records of everybody down the line, plus citizenship records for your emigrating ancestor. Then, the records have to be certified, amended for any errors (like misspellings, or Anglicization of names, which of course happens a lot, including to my grandfather), apostilled, and translated into Italian. This process took me almost 2 years. Luckily, there are some companies that help like My Italian Family, which I used to get all of my great-grandparents' records from Italy.
What you'll find out is that tracking down your paperwork is actually not the longest part of the process. You'll also have to slug through some bureaucracy. To apply for Italian citizenship you have to go to the nearest Italian Consulate, which requires an appointment. Easy enough? Nope. When I tried to book an appointment in July of 2015, the first available date was March 2017. That's right: 20 months! Just to submit your paperwork. Then there's no telling how long it will take for everything to actually get processed.
I figured there had to be a better way.
A bit of internetting later, and I found Italy-based italyMONDO!, which offered a "skip the consulate service" that dramatically cuts down on the waiting time. It sounded too good to be true, so much so that many friends kept asking if it was some sort of scam. I spoke with them, checked references, sleuthed online, but it everything checked out. The company was actually founded by an Italian-American guy named Peter who, in 2006, also figured there must be a better path to dual-citizenship than waiting around for the consulate. So he went to Rome, did the process by himself (i.e. banged his head against a wall for an unknown length of time), figured out all the ins and outs, then started italyMONDO! to help others.
In order to "skip the consulate", italyMONDO! has partnered with a number of small towns in the least-touristed region in Italy - Molise (ask an Italian to name all of Italy's states, the one that they won't be able to remember is Molise). The local town governments agree to help register you as both an Italian citizen and a citizen of their town and in return, you spend 2 weeks living, dining, sightseeing and generally touristing in their region.
What an easy sell right?. In September, the Mrs. and I spent two amazing weeks in the tiny (population 1,200) hilltop village of Montagano, on a trip unlike any experience we've ever had before (you can read about it here). By Christmas everything had been processed and I got my early Christmas present via the italyMONDO! team (not bad for only speaking to them for the first time in January of 2016).
I went back to Montagano for 4 days in January to pick up my official national ID card, register for my passport and have another round of awesome time with the friends we made last time. Che Figata!
I'm glad the hard part is over, and I'm looking forward to using my Italian passport for the first time soon.
The paperwork process isn't all bad. You're bound to learn a couple of fun facts along the way. For example, I found out that my great-grandmother was born in Corsica, France, which almost put a damper on the whole thing (combing through French records wouldn't have been fun, but luckily her family later registered her birth in Italy). Another one: both my great-grandparents had the same last name before they were married. No, they're not cousins. Over half the families in this town had the same (my) last name (and still do today).