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Difference Between Nationality and Citizenship

flagsNationality vs Citizenship

Nationality and citizenship are two terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. Some people even use the two words ‘“ citizenship and nationality — as synonyms. But this is not true and they differ in many aspects.

First of all let’s see what nationality means. In simple words, nationality can be applied to the country where an individual was born. Then what does citizenship stands for? It is a legal status, which means that an individual has been registered with the government in some country.

An individual is a national of a particular country by birth. Nationality is got through inheritance from his parents or it be called a natural phenomenon. On the other hand an individual becomes a citizen of a country only when he is accepted into that country’s political framework through legal terms.

Elaborating the two words, an individual born in India, will be having Indian Nationality. But he may have an American citizenship once he has registered with that country.

Well, No one will be able to change his nationality but one can have different citizenship. An Indian can have an American or Canadian citizenship but he cannot change his nationality. Another example is that people of the European Union may have European Union Citizenship but that person’s nationality does not change.

Coming to citizenship, some nations also confer honorary citizenship to individuals. But no country can confer honorary nationality on any one as his birthplace cannot be changed.

Nationality can be described as a term that refers to belonging to a group having same culture, traditions history, language and other general similarities. On the other hand, citizenship may not refer to people of the same group. For example, an Indian and may be having a US citizenship but he will not be belonging to the same group as that of the American nationals.


1. Nationality can be applied to the country where an individual has been born. Citizenship is a legal status, which means that an individual has been registered with the government in some country.

2. Nationality is got through inheritance from his parents or it be called a natural phenomenon. On the other hand an individual becomes a citizen of a country only when he is accepted into that country’s political framework through legal terms.

3. No one will be able to change his nationality but one can have different citizenship.

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  1. What is then the status if a person born in a country if his parents are citizens and nationals of another country? For example, what is the nationality of a person born in Uganda but both parents are born in India and both parents have British citizenship, the child also has British citizenship?

    • In this case, Uganda requires at least one parent to be a Ugandan citizen in order to transfer Ugandan citizenship. India does the same, and as such, you can apply for British citizenship based on a transfer from the British parents to the child.

      • If parents are Indian by the nationality, the child also become a Indian with UK citizenship.

        • This is really confusing. If the parents are Indian National with British Passport residing in Uganda, and the child was born in Uganda, then as per the information, he should be Ugandian national based on the place of birth, isn’t it? The nationality should be just one, either by place of birth or by inheritance. How can it be both. If both, then even nationality can vary.
          Regarding Citizenship, the post is really good. At one instance, it makes everything clear.

    • Place of born (P.O.B) is not equivalent of nationality. I can be born in U.S but if my parents are Japanese – I am Japanese regardless of my place of born

  2. Well, I was born in India, immigrated to USA and recently became US Citizen. In the
    OCI card issued by Indian Government, my nationality is listed as USA.

  3. What would you say of a child that was born in the Colombia. His father is German and his mother is Italian. He would get the Colombian nationality, according to the Colombian laws. But he would also be a German and an Italian national because of his parents.

    • This is kind of “euro-Métis”. Usually the nationality comes with surname from father. But person could select the nationality depend on his mentality or language he talk .

      So he has German “nationality” with Columbia citizenship. But again in Colombia passport there is no such column as “citizenship”.

  4. what nationality would i be if i was born and grew up here in the US with parents both originally from thailand and i didn’t grow to with thai culture or traditions because i was adopted? can i be called a US national?

    • Theoretically No. You are still Tai by nationality. But practically In countries with liberal-democratic model the terms – citizenship and ethnic were been eliminated due to racist aspect.

      • In fact the US is unique country. There is No such nationality as “American” except native Americans. All nationalities were mixed and in order to unite all people in a into one nation without any exception and conflict, the term American “nationality” was implemented.

    • You are American! Simple as!

  5. what about having some one from Europe or Amerca born in one of the Golf contries such as Suadi Arabia, it is impossible to have their nationality or citizenship even if you grew up and worked there for so many years..!

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  7. I just want to know, what will be the citizen of a Filipina if she is married to a stateless man?. and what will be the citizen of their children?

  8. my birth place is bangladesh. my nationality is bangladeshi. But am I bangladeshi citizen?

  9. Nice post outlining the differences between the two. However I would wish it would touch on the aspects where parents aren’t the same nationality or don’t live in their country of origin.

    E.G. I’m a British National however I’m a British Citizen (overseas) as I work in Europe (in Luxembourg). I have no volition to become a Lux Citizen (due to the language requirements). My partner is Dutch, also living and working in Luxembourg.

    Me: British National. British Citizen (overseas)
    Wife: Dutch National, Dutch Citizen (overseas)

    If we had a child (born and raised in Luxembourg) which Nationality would it take? Based on what you mentioned in your post would it take Luxembourgish Nationality as that’s where it was born? Or would it have a choice?

    Child: Luxembourgish National, Luxembourgish Citzen
    : British National, Luxembourgish Citizen
    : Polish National, Luxembourgish Citizen
    : British-Polish National, Luxembourgish Citizen
    : British-Polish-Luxembourgish National, Lux. Citizen?

    or some other combination thereof?

  10. this piece is fundamentally wrong insofar as in the USA once you acquire American citizenship you are also recognized as an American national. I know this personally as I became an American citizen and my certificate of naturalization has a space indicating the country of FORMER nationality. Place of birth does not equal nationality, but it may indicate national origin. My country of birth may recognize me as a national of that country (I don’t know the laws there) but the US clearly designated me an American national through the acquisition of citizenship.

  11. It is not correct that nationality is given by birth.

    If you are born in countries like Germany and none of your parents is either german national or >8 years legally living in Germany, you will not receive German nationality.

  12. If nationality cannot be changed then how does the concept of dual nationality, as provided by the British national law, fits into the 3rd statement of summary

    • under international law, there exists two principles of nationality. the jus sanguinis and jussoli principles. jus sanguinis opines that a person becomes a nationality of a state by virtue of the nationality of his parents. Then, jussoli opines that a person becomes a nationality of a state by virtue of being born there. on the issue of citizenship, this is governed by domestic law. Here I mean a country governs how a person will acquire or lose his citizenship. see the case concerning the nationality decree in Morocco and Tunis

  13. When a person is born in india and he hold a new zealand passport means? Is he a nationality of india or new zealand? And how can this person change his passport back to indian when he wanted to

  14. what is the nationality of a person born of a mother and father both of different nationality. Does it take the nationality of one of the two?

  15. I was born in the UK and have never lived or worked in the US.

    I have dual nationality (US and British), due to my mother being a US Citizen. I hold both UK and US Passports.

    I’ve been asked by my bank to complete W-9 IRS forms and I also need to indicate whether or not I am a ‘US Citizen’ for work benefits (the company I work for was recently acquired by a US business).

    **Would I be considered a US Citizen?**

    N.B.1. My US passport has expired, but I don’t think this makes a difference to the question.

    N.B.2. My mother is no longer a US Citizen, but was at the time of my birth. Again, I don’t think this will impact the question.

    • No you’re NOT a US citizen. I know you posted this in 2016…but here is your answer.

    • YES. You’re US and UK citizen. That explains the originality of the word Dual-nationality but then you don’t assume your US statehood citizenship yet not until you willingly/ voluntarily decide to get that by following the legal procedure reason being that your Mother has half claim to your nationality, and could loose that at any point after marriage to any other national. So YES you’re a full British and Neutral America. It’s a choice for you to accept or not your US nationality.

  16. Article 16 of the declaration of human rights says that we have the right to change our nationality.

    • This comment is 100% correct/accurate.

      Regardless of birth or other factors, any nation that grants permanent citizenship to an individual will allow naturalization. Allowing the individual to gain the status (nationality) of belonging to that particular nation.

      I was born in Poland and immigrated to England, after years of living there I was granted citizenship later allowing me to legally change my nationality to British.

      • I have lived in The Netherlands many years. Iam British, because of Brexit I was considering taking Dutch nationality ( naturalisation ), same as citizenship here. In order to do that, no matter how long you have been here you have to pass a difficult Dutch as second language exam and pay 800 euro plus you have to give up your British nationality. This is because the UK say that another country may take away the persons nationality. My ex husband came here from Morocco, he took Dutch nationality and was allowed to keep Moroccan nationality, because Moroccan law says no other country may take a Moroccans nationality away.

  17. Hello,

    I was born in Iraq to 2 Iraqi parents. I moved to the states when I was 2 though and currently have a US citizenship along with my 5 siblings and 2 parents. I’m not an Iraqi “citizen” am I? I am just an Iraqi national

  18. My father is myanmar and my mom is korean. But i also korean now because my father is change to korean. But i want to change and live in myanmar. Waht should i do?

  19. So if I was born in Mauritius in 1963 before Mauritian independence in 1968, my parents are South African and were resident in Mauritius for a few years after my birth but returned to South Africa where I became a citizen and have a South African passport. I do not have a South African birth certificate only a Mauritian(British Territory) birth certificate, I am a Mauritian national by birth, the question is am I a British national/citizen by birth??

  20. I was born in the phillipines to my us military father but he is a filipino and to a filipina mother. I live in the US for 15 years, and i am a naturalize anerican citizen. I fill up my marriage certificate here in the philippines what shoul i put in the citizenship portion is it american or filipino? I really got confuse on this because the clerk told me i am still filipino because i was born here in the philippines. But i told her my citizenship was USA.

  21. What if the child was born in Australia but had to be registered in South Africa due to the fact parents were not Permanent Residents nor citizens of Australia at the time of birth, the mother was born in South African so she has south African nationality , the father was born in South Africa but was registered in the UK thus has duel UK and South African nationality. What would be the nationality of the child?

  22. I’m born by an accident in Serbia to Austrian father and Croatian mother while my parents had been on a business trip. We live in Croatia and have Croatian citizenship and Austrian nationality since I was born. One cannot be something only because of the place he was born if no any other relation with that country. I cannot be a Serbian only because I was accidentally born there without any connection to their religion, culture or family roots.

  23. I think, the legal sense matters only. If you see the ‘Nationality’ line in a someone’s passport, it legally means his/her citizenship, not ethnicity. The citizenship granted by the law of the country where the passport was issued. This word can be understood as adjective as well. For example, you see the line in a passport issued in India: Nationality: Indian. It means the Citizenship of India.

  24. Of course, misunderstanding is clearly present. The laws must have exact wording with no doubts

  25. Well, in our days but unfortunately I should add, the terms “nationality” and “citizenship” are used interchangeably.
    So, what you refer to with the word “nationality” is more correctly attributed to the word “ethnicity”, that is with the (Greek by the way) word that also indicates one’s genetic origin.

  26. In our days, in my opinion unfortunately I may add, the terms “nationality” and “citizenship” are used interchangeably.
    So, what you refer to with the word “nationality”above is more correctly attributed to the word “ethnicity”, that is with the (Greek by the way) word that also indicates one’s genetic origin.

  27. Nationality: The status of belonging to a specific nation (May be more than one nation).

    Example: I was born in Russia and moved to the UK 15 years ago, regardless of my birthplace or ethnic origin I was legally able to change my nationality to British. After I was granted British Citizenship of course. I also denaturalized and renounced Russian citizenship and Russian nationality. Due to this I am no longer Russian, but British and consider myself to be from the UK.

    This is an example to allow me to explain my overall point that you can indeed change nationality, after you have gained citizenship within that particular nation.

    • Very same here: I was born in USSR (Ukrainian Soviet Republic) and both of my parents are from RSFSR (Russian Soviet Republic). Hence, I have never felt Ukrainian, and felt a little bit Russian. Then I immigrated to France 14 years ago and was granted French nationality. I consider myself a French national of Soviet-Russian ancestry and not even a little bit Ukrainian, despite being born there.

    • I say it’s all BS. There is an absolutely objective notion of the Nationality, which is basically your juridical adherence to a country: it can be given by birth, it can be given by ancestry, it can be given by naturalization and it can be revoked. Hence, and according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: No one can forbid a person to change one’s nationality. And there is a notion of the ethnic origin. This one is a private matter: it can be inherited from one or both parents, a person can have more than one ethnic origins, refuse to consider oneself as having an ethnic origin, or change it, like for example a person who converts to Judaism must consider oneself as a son/daughter of Israel.

  28. I always thought Nationality could be legally changed after you have been granted citizenship ship by a nation, regardless of birth or other irrelevant factors that have nothing to do with one’s nationality.

    Through the processes of denaturalization and naturalization you can change both citizenship and nationality.

    Example: Austrian born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now Austrian-American, being a dual national of these two nations.

    Birthplace is only one factor that determines an individuals nationality although there are other factors as well, by law any nation that is willing to grant you permanent citizenship will also allow you to naturalize and gain the nationality/status of that particular nation.

  29. I am born in india, but my parent was born in w.Pakistan(now Bangladesh ).
    We are permanently settled in india by migration. Then now what is my nationality and citizenship.

  30. Tomorrow is my law paper and this topic is include in our course I have tried in book but I can’t understand it then I search it in Google and read your article then I understand it 100% thanks it

  31. This is somewhat wrong because the reality is more complicated than these schemas. You said that the nationality comes from parents or by birth, but what if my parents were both born in Germany and I was born in Belgium? Am I Belgian or German? I can be: German, Belgian, both, or nor one nor another because I’m neither like Belgians from Belgium nor like Germans from Germany. I’m an oddity.

  32. Ok so heres a good question. Why is it that people are labeled black or white in the United States as nationality but is considered as legal status terms? Doesn’t that make people question African American’s being called black and Endo-European decendents called White if the questions of Nationality are reverted to 5 different terms when the subject of Nationality comes up

    I am a Moorish Hebrew Israelite born in America but I’m labeled as black automatically from birth instead of my Natural, God Given ,Solomon Decendent Nationality which can be proven from facts throughout my Family tree. So ask yourself what does the united Stated not America because they are 2 different entities america is the land United States is the Government.

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