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British Citizenship Requirements

  • 9 minute read
  • Last updated: 11th October 2019


One of the routes to become a British citizen is through the process of naturalisation. Naturalisation is not an automatic entitlement. If you believe you are eligible, you have to submit an application to the Home Office to prove you meet the British citizenship requirements.


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The following guide looks at the British citizenship requirements you will need to prove when making your application to be naturalised as a British citizen.

While some of the naturalisation criteria are mandatory, others are discretionary and it will be for the caseworker to determine from your evidence, the information in your application and other data sources such as your HMRC records, whether you qualify for citizenship.

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What are the British citizenship requirements for naturalisation?

Under the British Nationality Act 1981, to be eligible to naturalise you must:

  • Be aged 18 or over
  • Be of full mental capacity
  • Hold UK indefinite leave to remain, permanent residence or settled status for at least 12 months (unless married to a British citizen or settled person)
  • Have lived in the UK for a minimum of 5 years, or three years if married to a British citizen or person with settled status in the UK
  • Have been in the UK on the day five years exactly before the date you submit your application
  • Have not been absent from the UK for more than 90 days during the previous 12 month period
  • Have not been absent from the UK for more than 450 days during the previous five year period
  • Be of good character
  • Have not breached any UK immigration rules during the previous five year period
  • Be able to communicate in English and have sufficient knowledge about life in the UK (KoLL requirement)
  • Intend to have your main home in the UK


Age requirement

You have to be 18 years of age or over to apply to naturalise.

Minors are not permitted to naturalise as British citizens, but they may be eligible to register as British.

ILR, PR or EUSS requirement

It is a mandatory requirement on applicants to not be subject to any immigration restriction or limit on their time in the UK during the 12 month period immediately preceding the application.

This means you must have held UK indefinite leave to remain, a UK permanent residence card or EU settled status for a year before you become eligible for naturalisation. If you are married to a British citizen or a person with UK settled status, you do not have to wait 12 months if you have a permanent residence card or ILR – you can apply as soon as your status becomes indefinite.

Residency requirements

You have to have been lawfully present in the UK five years before the application date. This is a mandatory requirement and cannot be waived.

You must have been in the UK on the day at the beginning of the period of 5 years ending with the date of the application, unless you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, in which case this period is reduced to 3 years.

Further, you must not have been absent from the UK for more than 450 days in the last 5 years, or 270 days in the last 3 years where you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.

In addition, you cannot have been absent from the UK for more than 90 days in the period of 12 months ending with the date of application, although this a discretionary requirement that may be waived on the basis of compelling grounds, factors such as where the applicant (and their family) lives and works, and provided the applicant is otherwise eligible under all other requirements.

Excessive absences can be an area of concern for applicants. The Home Office can rely on a number of sources to assess time away from the UK, such as its own immigration records and any evidence you are able to provide, such as your passport, travel documents and bank statements.

Only full days spent out of the country will count towards absence; days spent travelling into and out of the UK will not be included as absence.

You must also not have been in breach of any immigration laws throughout the relevant timeframe for your particular application.


KoLL requirement

The KoLL requirement refers to “knowledge of language and life in the UK”. The ability to communicate in English and show an understanding of life in the UK forms an integral part of the commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK.

KoLL may be waived on a discretionary basis where an applicant is exempt because of their age, physical or mental condition. Otherwise, all those applying for naturalisation must meet both parts of the KoLL requirement, namely:

• Knowledge of language
• Knowledge of life in the UK

To satisfy the knowledge of English language requirement, a person must either:

• Have a speaking and listening qualification in English at B1 level or above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
• Have a degree that was taught or researched in English
• Be a national of a majority English-speaking country.

You can satisfy the knowledge of life in the UK requirement by passing the “Life in the UK” test at an approved test centre booked through GOV.UK. This is a computer-based test, with 24 multiple-choice questions, and lasts 45 minutes. Applicants may take the test as many times as is necessary to pass.


Good character requirement 

The good character requirement is mandatory on all applicants, although caseworkers can exercise discretion when determining whether the applicant satisfies the test or not. While there is no definition of ‘good character’ within the Nationality Act, the Home Office published guidance in 2019 to help caseworkers apply the test.

To prove you satisfy the good character requirement for British citizenship, you must have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observed its laws and fulfilled your obligations as a UK resident.

Areas of scrutiny include immigration history, dishonesty, financial ‘soundness’ and criminality.

For example, a recent or serious criminal conviction could impact on your eligibility for naturalisation as a British citizen, whereby the Home Office will apply a sentence-based threshold for any criminal convictions. An application for British citizenship would normally be refused for any custodial sentence of more than 4 years, regardless of when the conviction occurred, or for any non-custodial sentence where the conviction occurred within the last 3 years.

Concealment or failure to disclose information relevant to the good character requirement may be deemed in itself to reflect poorly on your character. If you are concerned about an issue that may impact your eligibility under the good character requirement, take professional advice.

Many applicants are concerned about the effect of past periods of overstay on their eligibility. In some circumstances, the Home Office may be able to exercise discretion in determining that overstaying would not go against an applicant’s good character. For discretion to be applied, there must be no other indication of ‘poor’ character aside from the period of overstay, and where the period was before 24th November 2016 and lasted 28 days or less, or an application was made after 24 November 2016 and did not fail on the grounds of overstaying because an exception under paragraph 39E of the Immigration Rules, or the overstay was not the individual’s fault.

Making your application for British citizenship 

To apply to naturalise as a British citizen, you will need to complete Form AN.

In addition to completing the form, you will also need to compile and submit extensive documentary evidence proving your eligibility by either uploading copies into the online service or having them scanned at your UKVCAS appointment.

During your UKVCAS appointment, you provide your biometric information before your application and documentation are submitted to UK Visas & Immigration for processing.

You also need to pay the current application fee. Home Office fees are subject to frequent change and you should check before sending in your application.

Also note, if you make a mistake and fail to submit a relevant document, your application will be automatically refused and you will lose the fees.

Your application will not be processed without supporting evidence from you as to your eligibility. The specific documents you need to provide will depend on your circumstances and the basis of your eligibility, and will include your identification, such as your Biometric Residence Permit as well as either:

  • Your passport
  • Your national identity card
  • Home Office travel document
  • Home Office entitlement card
  • Home Office ARC letter
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your photo driving licence, or
  • A bank, building society or credit card statement issued to you within the last 6 months 

If you used one of these documents when you took the Knowledge of Life in the UK test you will be expected to use it again with your naturalisation application.

Evidence of knowledge of language and of life in the UK

To prove you meet the language requirement, you have to provide a letter stating you have passed the Life in the UK Test and either proof of a Home Office approved qualification in English at B1 CEFR or higher from the Secure English Language Test list, or proof you hold a degree taught or researched in English, or your passport showing that you are a national of a majority English speaking country.

If you have a B1 level qualification that was accepted for the purposes of a settlement application, then you do not need to pass another English language test for your citizenship application. You may be able to apply for an exemption on medical or capacity grounds, or if you are over 65 when you apply.

Evidence of lawful residence during the 5 years or, if the applicant is married to or in a civil partnership to a British citizen, 3 years, before the date of the application.

This is likely to be the most document-intensive part your application. Your evidence should be as comprehensive and consistent as possible to cover the full 5-year qualifying period, including your passport(s), payslips, bank statements, rent agreements or mortgage statements, P60s.

Evidence of freedom from immigration time restrictions

You will need to provide your passport and relevant Home Office correspondence as evidence of your nationality and permission to remain indefinitely in the UK.


Do you have a question about requirements for British citizenship? 

Becoming a British citizen is a significant life event. As a British citizen, you can live and work in the UK free of immigration controls. British citizenship will also allow you to participate more fully in UK life, including the right to vote.

The rules relating to British citizenship requirements can often be extremely difficult to interpret, especially since the Home Office is able to exercise some discretion when dealing with applications for naturalisation. Even where you appear on the face of it to have satisfied all the British citizenship requirements as set out above, the successful grant of an application is not always straightforward and clear cut.

At DavidsonMorris, our immigration lawyers can help you maximise your prospects of a successful outcome. We will explain your individual circumstances, from excess absences from the UK to the positive aspects of your character that may weigh against any negative aspects under the good character requirement. For professional support with your application, contact us.

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