British citizenship: Applying for a UK passport

To obtain a UK passport, you first need to be a British citizen. There are three ways to become British:

  1. Automatic acquisition of British citizenship at birth.
  2. Citizenship by registration.
  3. Citizenship by naturalisation.

Automatic acquisition

The UK does not operate a system of “birth-right” citizenship. Being born in the UK does not automatically lead to British citizenship. Since 1 January 1983, it has been necessary for at least one parent of a child born in the UK to be British or settled in the UK. This type of citizenship is known as citizenship “otherwise than by descent”.

British citizens who were born in the UK can normally pass their citizenship down to one generation born abroad. This type of citizenship is known as “citizenship by descent”.

The UK’s British nationality laws have historically been discriminatory against various categories of people. It was not until 1 July 2006 that children could claim citizenship through an unmarried father.

An area of particular complexity relates to children born in the UK before 1 October 2000 to EEA citizens. Whether or not the child is British will normally depend on whether at least one parent was “exercising Treaty Rights” at the time of the child’s birth. 

If you are unsure whether you or your children are already British citizens through automatic acquisition, our experienced lawyers can consult with you and advise on your particular circumstances.

Citizenship by registration - children

Some people will not be born British, but will have a legal entitlement to be registered as British citizens. Citizenship by registration is commonly used by children under the age of 18 who were:

  • born in the UK and one of their parents became settled or acquired British citizenship some time afterwards;
  • born in the UK and have lived continuously in the UK for 10 years since birth (this specific route is also open to adults);
  • born outside the UK to a British by descent parent who had lived in the UK for at least three years before the child was born;
  • born outside the UK to a British by descent parent and have since then lived in the UK for at least three years with both parents; or
  • not born in the UK but may be entitled to British citizenship under the Home Secretary’s policy for registering children at discretion. Discretionary registration is complex and encompasses a variety of scenarios, such as adoption or children applying for citizenship at the same time as their parents.

This is not a finite list. If you think your child has a claim to British citizenship, please contact our team. We can arrange a paid consultation with you to assess your child’s circumstances and confirm their citizenship entitlements to you.

Citizenship by registration – adults

Registration as a British citizen is also open to some categories of adults. This is because British nationality law has historically discriminated against certain categories of people, namely women and “illegitimate children” born out of wedlock to unmarried fathers. 
Adults may be able to register as British citizens if they:

  • were born outside the UK before 1 January 1983 to a UK-born British citizen mother;
  • were born outside the UK and Commonwealth before 1 January 1983 to a non-UK born British citizen mother;
  • have a UK-born paternal grandfather and their parents married before 1 January 1949; or
  • were born before 1 July 2006 to an unmarried British father.

Again, this is not a finite list. If you believe you may qualify for registration as a British citizen by descent or ancestry or because of historic gender discrimination, arrange a consultation with a member of our team.

Citizenship by naturalisation

What is naturalisation? 

“Naturalisation” is the name of the process by which a foreign adult acquires a new citizenship. Naturalisation is probably the most common way in which adults become British citizens.
General naturalisation requirements
All applicants must demonstrate they:

  • are over 18 years old;
  • are of good character and sound mind;
  • have sufficient knowledge of English language and have passed a Life in the UK Test;
  • have not broken any immigration laws;
  • intend to make the UK their principal home (unless married to a British citizen);
  • have spent less than 90 days outside of the UK in the last 12 months; and
  • have been free from immigration controls for at least 12 months (unless married to a British citizen).

Residence requirements for naturalisation

All applicants must demonstrate they:

  • have lived in the UK for at least five years before the date of application; and
  • have spent less than 450 days outside the UK during the five year period.

Spouses and civil partners of British citizens benefit from reduced periods of residence requirements.

All applicants must demonstrate they:

  • have lived in the UK for at least three years before the date of application; and
  • have spent fewer than 270 days outside the UK during the three years.

In certain cases, it is possible for applicants who have been absent from the UK or longer periods of time to qualify.

Naturalisation costs 

The Home Office fee for naturalisation is currently £1,330 plus a £19.20 biometric enrolment fee. 
Please note that naturalisation fees tend to increase on an annual basis coinciding with the new financial year, although recently they have remained static. 

How long does the neutralisation process take?  

Naturalisation applications cannot be expedited and the current standard processing time for such cases to be considered by the Home Office is six months, although in our experience processing time can often be shorter.

Naturalisation application process

The application process is now fully digital with applicants being required to make their application online and then attend a UKVCAS (UK Visa and Citizenship Application Service) service point to enrol their biometrics. The application is then passed to the Home Office Nationality Department to process. 
After a successful applicant is advised that their application for naturalisation has been approved, they must attend a citizenship ceremony at which they will be presented with a naturalisation certificate. Only once this ceremony is complete will a successful applicant become a British citizen. After this is done, the certificate is used to apply for a new British passport.

The benefits of naturalisation 

  • Being a British citizen gives you the right to vote. For many EU nationals, not being able to vote in either the EU referendum or the recent general elections has been a cause of concern.
  • Holding a British passport enables the UK to provide consular assistance abroad.
  • Obtaining British citizenship now can be an insurance policy against future changes to the law and the costs and procedure of applying.
  • Obtaining British citizenship can be a wise move for international families. Indefinite leave to remain can be lost if you stay outside the UK for two years or more. Families with global plans should consider naturalisation because citizenship cannot be lost through absences, unlike indefinite leave to remain status.

How can Shepherd and Wedderburn immigration experts help with obtaining British citizenship? 

John Vassiliou has particular expertise in British nationality law. He was the lead solicitor in the landmark 2018 Supreme Court case of Romein, which opened the door to registration of those born outside the UK and Commonwealth before 1 January 1983 to a non-UK born British citizen mother. John has dealt with a wide variety of unusual or complex citizenship scenarios and has written extensively on the subject. He has participated in Home Office-led stakeholder consultations in relation to nationality legislation.

Our specialist immigration team is experienced in helping clients secure British citizenship. We also pride ourselves in our fast turnaround times to ensure that our clients can achieve their goals without delay.

If you have any questions about UK citizenship, please get in touch with our immigration experts by completing the form below.  

  • The biggest benefit of the whole process was that Jacqueline and the team took all the stress away. Jacqueline and her team are very good at communicating and clearly explaining every step in the process, providing progress reports, managing unexpected issues and ensuring I knew everything was taken care of and well managed the whole way through.

    Jane Holloway, March 2019

  • During the process of completing the application you and your firm made the process seamless. You were clinical in the documentation that was required, your legal reps were very specific and promoted the family motive, you also advised us to get many references. We believe that your attention to detail and personal involvement at every stage of the application for us resulted in the successful application being granted, despite applying outside the rules.

    Angela & Bruce Potter, June 2019

  • I'd like to thanks Jacqueline and her team for her immense help during my application process. It's been an uncertain time with the pandemic and I won't be able to deal with the stress coming with the visa applications without the team's professionalism and efficiency. The communication was easy, and the team always keeps me well informed of new developments. They go above and beyond to suggest the most cost effective and least complicated method for my visa extension. I can't be more grateful for their help - especially during the stressful time.

    D Cheuk, March 2020

  • When we needed legal services under the most trying of times, you and your firm came through for us with relief that was much needed. 

    R Partain, February 2021


  • I have received a fantastic service from Shepherd and Wedderburn’s Immigration Department. Jacqueline has been dealing with my immigration matters for the last 20 years ago till now. She and her immigration team help me step-by-step and support me all the way in dealing with the Home Office. Thank you Jacqueline and her Immigration Team!

    J Hui, February 2021


  • I would like to thank Ms. Jacqueline Moore & all the team at Shepherd & Wedderburn. Very professional, very knowledgeable, highly recommended.

    S Russell, August 2020

  • Jacqueline Moore has been assisting with my Immigration case since 2014, she has a keen eye for detail, and has gone far beyond ordinary my expectation many times to assure my applications were successful. She gave timely expertise to a difficult aspect of my immigration history in reference to my ILR application. Her input was invaluable and I can’t say what a relief it was to know that my application was in such safe hands. I have now received my stay and will certainly be recommending the team at Shepherd and Wedderburn.

    A Mitchell, March 2020

  • After my successful application for indefinite leave to remain, which was handled by Shepherd and Wedderburn, I decided to do my naturalisation application with the firm as well. The whole experience has been a very positive one; the team are very helpful and professional, and they make sure they address any queries in a timely manner. The process was explained to me clearly, and I was made aware of the timeline of different steps. My naturalisation application was also a successful one, with a short turnaround time, and I am extremely happy and satisfied with the service I have received. 

    Y Sarabi, March 2020