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Citizenship by Descent in Belgium

Citizenship by Descent in Belgium

Belgian citizenship through ancestry is awarded when the applicant has clearly established parentage linked to a Belgian national. There are three possible categories (depending on the applicant’s birth year) which are described in more detail below by our Belgium immigration lawyer. Regardless of the manner in which a foreign national who has been lawfully staying in Belgium wishes to apply for citizenship, asking for specialized legal assistance is recommended in order to understand and follow through with all the needed procedures.

Please keep in mind that this is one way of acquiring citizenship by descent in Belgium that is reserved for a particular category. All other citizenship applicants are invited to read our other articles on acquiring this status through other routes, including marriage or naturalization.

Our Belgium immigration lawyer can help those interested in applying for citizenship and we can also assist foreign nationals who are only just arriving in the country and need more details on temporary or permanent residence.

Please read below more on citizenship by descent and reach out to us if you have any questions.

What are the conditions for applying for citizenship by descent?

A child born abroad to Belgian parents can apply for Belgian citizenship through heritage. When neither the mother nor the father were born in Belgium (but are Belgian nationals themselves), the parent(s) must have made a declaration claiming Belgian nationality for the child, within 5 years from his or her birth. When one of the parents was born in Belgium, the child also has Belgian nationality and in this case, there is no need to complete other formalities.

There are several situations in which an applicant, usually before the age of 18, can claim Belgian citizenship by origin, meaning that he or she will be granted Belgian nationality based on the nationality of one or both parents. The following applies:

  1. Being born before 1 January 1967: when the applicant was born out of wedlock and the first parent to make the acknowledgment was a Belgian citizen;
  2. Born between 1 January 1967 and 31 December 1984: an individual is a Belgian citizen if he meets the conditions presented above before 01.01.1985 or the ones presented below since 01.01.1985;
  3. Born after 1 January 1985: an individual is a Belgian citizen if he/she was born in the country to a Belgian parent or he/she is born abroad and the Belgian parent satisfies certain conditions, such as making a declaration through which he or she requests that you, as a child, are to be given Belgian nationality.
  4. Others: if none of the situations apply, then the applicant will be included in a different category for acquiring nationality, namely the one for obtaining it by naturalization after the age of 18.

What is the general citizenship application process?

The application process for obtaining Belgian citizenship through ancestry depends heavily on establishing parentage. This means that the applicant must be able to show beyond any reasonable doubt that he or she was born to a Belgian citizen.

When the third option presented above is used for obtaining Belgian citizenship through heritage, category C as it is often referred to, (the applicant was born abroad) an important part of the process is the declaration submitted by the parent who was also born abroad.

The parent is required to make the said statement within five years following the birth of the child, asking that he or she is to be granted Belgian nationality. The declaration is submitted at a Belgian consular office where the parent is also registered. When the parent lives in Belgium, he or she is to contact the registrar in the municipality.

Our Belgium immigration lawyer can give you more details on these situations as well as the general rules imposed by the Nationality Department belonging to the Federal Public Service for Foreign Affairs.

Citizenship by descent application documents

Like for all other types of Belgian nationality applications, the authorities request adequate proof, demonstrated through accurate documents that attest to one’s parentage. The following list of documents is mandatory for those who make an application for Belgian citizenship through heritage:

  • a copy of the applicant’s birth certificate: this needs to be a recent one, and the names of the parents need to be included;
  • a copy of the applicant’s identification document (such as the passport);
  • a copy of the document that proves the nationality of one or both parents; accepted documents in this category include a Belgian passport or a Belgian identity card; for the purpose of establishing the parent’s Belgian nationality a Belgian birth certificate may not suffice (as it needs to be clear that the parents were Belgian citizens at the time of the applicant’s birth).

Other documents may be requested by the authorities in addition to these, once they have had the chance to make a preliminary evaluation of the case. Original documents are sent and/or translated as instructed by the Embassy or Consulate.

The application form for citizenship by ancestry will include the individual’s personal information such as the name (including the maiden name, for married women), date and place of birth, current address and telephone number, contact details (such as the email), the names and the parents’ names and places of birth, as well as their wedding date and place (if applicable).

Our team can give you more details about the manner in which you can send the needed documents to the Belgian consulate in your country. Submitting a complete and correct set of documents is essential for a favorable response to your application for Belgian citizenship through origin.

Our Belgian immigration lawyer will assist you throughout the process if you know or if you believe that you are of Belgian maternal or paternal descent.

Belgian citizenship by descent processing time

Each application is carefully evaluated by the Belgian authorities and lineage (parentage) will be analyzed so that the claim for obtaining Belgian citizenship through ancestry is valid. This means that the processing time varies between applicants and it can be approximated to one year in some cases.

The processing time is calculated starting with the date on which all the needed documents are submitted (the filled information, together with the complete list of supporting documents).

Our Belgium immigration specialists can make sure that your documents are properly submitted, however, other factors such as the volume of applications received by the competent authorities will also influence the processing period.

What are other routes for acquiring Belgian citizenship?

Acquiring Belgian citizenship is also possible for adopted individuals. This takes place once the date of adoption is official if the person is younger than eighteen years. The following conditions apply:

  • the individual applying for Belgian citizenship through origin was born in Belgium and adopted by a Belgian citizen; or
  • he/she was born abroad and was adopted by a Belgian citizen who was born in Belgium or in Belgian Congo (under certain conditions); or
  • he/she was born abroad and adopted by a Belgian citizen who was also born abroad but who submitted, within five years of the adoption, a declaration requesting Belgian nationality for the adopted.

Starting with 2013, individuals who have their main place of residence in Belgium and whose parents or adoptive parents have acquired nationality will automatically be granted nationality on the same date as the parents if they are still under eighteen years of age.

The acquisition of Belgian nationality

Obtaining citizenship in Belgium is also possible through other routes. Understandably so, many foreign nationals will not have Belgian relatives and, therefore will be illegible for this application. Regardless of the route through which you seek citizenship, you will first need to spend five successive years in the country, have a residence permit for Belgium, and meet other criteria.

For those who choose to apply for the acquisition of Belgian nationality, our Belgium immigration lawyer summarizes the most important conditions below:

  • be at least 18 years of age or older;
  • have a permanent/unlimited residence permit when submitting the application;
  • have lived in Belgium for at least 5 years, uninterruptedly;
  • provide proof of sufficient language knowledge (one of the three official languages);
  • prove that he/she is integrated into the community (social integration);
  • show that he/she contributes to the economy (though being employed, or owning a business).

Foreigners who are not applying for citizenship by descent in Belgium, but are instead married to a Belgian citizen must observe the following:

  • have lived in the country legally and uninterruptedly for at least 5 years before the date of the application;
  • be legally married to a Belgian citizen and have lived together with the spouse for at least three years;
  • provide proof of sufficient knowledge of one of the three languages, along with proof of social integration.

If you can apply not for citizenship by descent in Belgium, but for citizenship by acquisition, our team can give you details.

Belgium’s population

Belgium is a populous country and one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. Our team specializing in Belgium immigration highlights a set of statistical data about the most popular (and populous) cities in the country:

  • Brussels is, unsurprisingly so, the most populous city in the country, with 1,019,022 inhabitants;
  • The following popular city is Antwerpen, with a population of 459,805 individuals;
  • At the same time, 231,493 people were living in Gent in 2023;
  • The estimated total population of the country at the beginning of 2024 was 11,703,249;
  • 98.7% of the population lives in urban areas.

When moving to Belgium, we advise foreigners to seek the assistance offered by one of our immigration lawyers, particularly if you will be relocating to a region in which the spoken language is not one you are accustomed to. While Belgium is ethnically diverse, and one of the top English-speaking countries in Europe, having the assistance of a local team of specialists is still helpful during the application process and when communicating to the local authorities.

If you wish to know more about Belgium immigration, how to move to the country, or how to acquire citizenship, please contact our lawyers for more details.