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Born abroad to a British mother: Citizenship FAQ

10 March 2021 James Ritchie Dual Nationality

If you were born abroad to a British mother, and seeking a British passport, you might have come across an obstacle with the Passport office.

This blog will not cover the full spectrum of rules related to nationality, but will briefly answer the most common questions on registering as a British citizen if you were born before 1983 to a British mother.

Am I not already British by virtue of having a British mother?

If you were born after 1 January 1983, then you are British. However, prior to this date, women had not been able to pass on citizenship to their children in the same way as men at the time of birth. This historic wrong has since been changed, however the process is not automatic. One must make an application using the correct procedure.

Can’t I just apply for a British passport?

No, you will need to register as a British citizen. This is done by making an application to the Home Office and attending a biometric appointment in your respective country of residence. You will also need to submit a selection of evidence proving your relationship to your mother.  

What do I need to prove?

Documentary evidence is required to prove your relationship to your mother, in addition to your mother’s citizenship. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Your birth certificate;
  • Your mother’s birth certificate;
  • The marriage certificate of your mother’s parents; and
  • The birth certificates of your mother’s parents.

Can I pass my newly registered British citizenship on to my children?

The short answer is no.

To explain, there are two ‘types’ of British citizen:

  1. a British citizen ‘otherwise than by descent’; and
  2. a British citizen ‘by descent’.

 People who acquire British citizenship by birth or adoption in the UK, by naturalisation, or in certain instances by registration, will be British citizens ‘otherwise than by descent’

The difference between the two types lies in whether they can pass on citizenship automatically. Those ‘otherwise than by descent’ citizens may have a child outside the UK, and this child will be born British ‘by descent’. This child will not be able to automatically pass on their citizenship to the next generation.

What if my mother was also born abroad?

Since 1 January 1983, it has only been possible to pass citizenship down one generation born abroad. However prior to 1 January 1983 citizenship by ‘double descent’ was possible in certain circumstances under the British Nationality Act 1948. This was permitted where:

  1. The person or his father was born within the British Empire;
  2. The person was born in “a foreign country” outside the British Empire or Commonwealth and his or her birth was registered at a United Kingdom consulate within one year the birth;
  3. The person’s father was, at the time of the birth, in Crown service; or
  4. The person was born in a Commonwealth country and did not become a citizen of that country at birth.

These provisions must now be read as if they had also applied to women. This means that, in some circumstances, it is possible to apply for registration as a British citizen even when your mother was also born abroad and therefore only British by descent. It was not generally possible to register a birth with the UK consulate where citizenship was claimed through the mother as, at the time, there was little point in doing so as only men could pass on their citizenship. However, following the Supreme Court decision in Romein handed down in 2018, the registration requirement must be waived where citizenship is claimed through the maternal line. This means that anyone with a UK born in a country outside of the British Empire or Commonwealth whose maternal grandfather is British “otherwise than by descent” can register as a British citizen.


This is a truncated outline of the nationality laws, simplified for the purpose of a blog. If you would like more information tailed to your situation, we offer consultations and a full application service to provide advice and assistance on the best course of action to take to secure your position the UK, please fill out our online enquiry form.

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