British Citizenship Requirements

british citizenship requirements


There are several British citizenship requirements that must be met under the British Nationality Act (BNA) 1981 to prove your eligibility to naturalise as a British citizen.

The following guide for applicants looks at each of the statutory requirements that must be met for a successful application for British citizenship. We also look at the qualifying requirements for referees needed to endorse your citizenship application.


How to become a British citizen

Naturalising as a British citizen is a significant life event. It will not only allow you to hold a British passport to travel freely in and out of the UK, this will give you the opportunity to participate fully in the life of your local community, including the right to vote.

There are different ways to apply to naturalise as a British citizen based on your set of circumstances. You may be able to apply for British citizenship, for example, if you are either married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, so long as you have lived in the UK for the last 3 years and have been granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). In either of these circumstances, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship immediately on the grant of ILR or settled status.

You may also be eligible to apply for British citizenship by way of naturalisation, even if you do not have a British spouse or civil partner, so long as you have lived in the UK with ILR or settled status under the EUSS for a period of 12 months before submitting your application.

If you are eligible in more than one way, you may be able to choose which way to apply, although it is always best to seek specialist advice to explore your available options. You may even be able to ‘register’ for British citizenship in certain circumstances, for example, where you are UK-born but are not automatically classed as a British citizen.


British citizenship requirements for naturalisation

The British citizenship requirements that must be met for naturalisation are set out under Schedule 1 to the BNA 1981, where these are divided into two different categories based on whether or not an applicant is married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.


When NOT applying as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen

If you are applying other than as the spouse or civil partner of someone British, you will need to meet the following British citizenship requirements under section 6(1) of the BNA:

  • be aged 18 or over when you apply
  • be of sound mind, so that you understand the step you are taking (although there is some discretion here, where someone else can apply on your behalf)
  • be of good character, where any criminality, fraudulent behaviour, or other behaviour to suggest that you are unfit to be naturalised, may result in a refusal
  • have sufficient knowledge of English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic)
  • have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK
  • intend to continue living in the UK as your principal home
  • have lived in the UK for at least 5 years
  • prove you were in the UK exactly 5 years before the date your application is received
  • be free from any immigration time restrictions when you apply and have been free from such restrictions for the 12-month period prior to applying
    meet the other residence requirements.


Applying for British citizenship as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen

If you are applying to naturalise as either the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, under section 6(2) of the BNA, you will need to meet the following British citizenship requirements:

  • be aged 18 or over when you apply
  • be of sound mind, with the capacity to fully understand the implications of your decision to naturalise as a British citizen (although there is again some discretion here)
  • be of good character, where again you must have observed UK laws, and have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of its citizens
  • have sufficient knowledge of English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic)
  • have sufficient knowledge of life in the UK
  • have lived in the UK for at least 3 years
  • be free from any immigration time restrictions on the date that you apply
  • prove you were in the UK exactly 3 years before the date your application is received
  • meet the other residence requirements.


Settled status when applying for British citizenship

One fundamental requirement for applicants seeking British citizenship is that they must be free from any immigration time restrictions on the date of their application. This means that at the time of applying for citizenship, an applicant should not have any limitations or restrictions on their stay in the United Kingdom, such as time-limited visas or immigration statuses.

The reasoning behind this requirement is to ensure that individuals who are granted British citizenship are making a permanent commitment to the country. By being free from immigration time restrictions, applicants demonstrate their intent to settle in the UK without the risk of being required to leave due to visa expiration or immigration status changes. This requirement underscores the idea that British citizens should be full and active participants in the social, economic, and cultural life of the UK.

To meet this requirement, applicants should ensure that their immigration status is secure and that they have the legal right to reside in the UK indefinitely. This is typically achieved through obtaining settled status, indefinite leave to remain, or another immigration status that allows for permanent residence in the UK.

It’s important for applicants to carefully review their immigration status and ensure that they meet this requirement before applying for British citizenship, as failing to do so may result in the application being rejected or delayed. By demonstrating that they are free from immigration time restrictions at the time of application, individuals can provide assurance of their long-term commitment to the United Kingdom and their eligibility for British citizenship.


Residence requirements for British citizenship

There are a number of aspects to the residence requirements in the context of British citizenship, including a lawful residence requirement, although recent amendments made to the provisions of the BNA by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 mean that the requirements for lawful residence are now far easier to demonstrate than ever before.

To meet the lawful residence requirement under the amended rules, you must have been in the UK lawfully during the 5 years (or 3 years, if applying as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen) before making your citizenship application ‘and’ have indefinite leave. If you are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen you can apply immediately on the grant of indefinite leave, otherwise you will need to wait 12 months before applying.

You should also not have broken any UK immigration laws, and must have been physically present in the UK exactly 5 years (or 3 years) before your application is received.


Absence rules when applying for British citizenship

When it comes to time spent overseas, you should not usually have spent any more than 450 days outside of the UK during the 5 years before applying (or more than 270 days during the 3 years before), or no more than 90 days outside of the UK in the last 12 months.

Applicants who have been absent from the UK for more than 90 days in any 12-month period during the qualifying period may be considered to have excessive absence. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule, including:

  • Absences for work or study: Absences for work or study are generally not counted towards excessive absence.
  • Absences for medical reasons: Absences for medical reasons may not be counted towards excessive absence, if the applicant provides evidence to support their claim.
  • Absences for compassionate reasons: Absences for compassionate reasons, such as to care for a sick relative, may not be counted towards excessive absence, if the applicant provides evidence to support their claim.

The Home Office will consider all of the relevant factors when assessing whether an applicant has excessive absence. These factors include the nature and reason for the absences, the length of the absences, and the impact of the absences on the applicant’s ties to the UK.

If an applicant is found to have excessive absence, they may be refused naturalisation. However, the Home Office may also grant the application, if they are satisfied that the applicant is otherwise of good character and fit to become a British citizen.

In special circumstances, some discretion may be exercised over presence in the UK on the first day of the qualifying period, as well as absences and immigration time restrictions in the last 12 months prior to applying, including due to health reasons or travel restrictions. You should explain any special circumstances when you apply based on the official online guidance as to how these might be considered. Take specialist advice if you are concerned about your eligibility under the residence and absence rules.

However, where it is unclear whether or not you meet the British citizenship requirements, where some discretion may need to be exercised by the caseworker handling your application, seeking advice from an immigration specialist is strongly recommended.


Good character requirements for British citizenship

The “good character requirement” is a fundamental component of the process for naturalisation as a British citizen. It serves as a crucial criterion to assess an applicant’s suitability for becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom. The requirement is set out in section 3(2)(c) of the British Nationality Act 1981, which states that a person is not eligible for naturalisation if they “have been convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment, corrective training or detention for a period of twelve months or more, or to any such punishment imposed by a court outside the United Kingdom.” While the concept of good character is subjective and subject to interpretation, the UK government has outlined specific guidelines and standards to determine whether an applicant meets this requirement.

The good character requirement applies to all applicants for British citizenship aged 10 or over on the date the naturalisation application is made.

To meet the UK good character requirement for naturalisation as a British citizen, applicants must demonstrate that they are of good character and fit to become a British citizen. It is worth noting that the evaluation of good character is a multifaceted assessment that examines an applicant’s criminal history, immigration history, financial conduct, and adherence to the law and order in the UK. As such, it is addable to take professional guidance on your circumstances if you have any concerns which may impact your ability to prove that you are of ‘good character’ within your application.

One of the primary aspects that the Home Office scrutinizes in assessing an applicant’s character is their criminal record. Applicants are required to disclose any past criminal convictions, cautions, warnings, or pending charges, both in the UK and abroad. This information is crucial in determining an applicant’s propensity for engaging in criminal behavior and whether they pose a risk to the security and safety of the UK and its citizens. While minor offenses may not necessarily disqualify an applicant, serious criminal convictions, such as those related to violence, sexual offenses, or terrorism, can be a significant hurdle in demonstrating good character.

Immigration history is another critical factor in evaluating an applicant’s character. This includes a review of an applicant’s compliance with immigration laws and regulations while residing in the UK. Overstaying visas, illegal entry, and other immigration violations can negatively impact an applicant’s character assessment. Demonstrating that an applicant has complied with immigration rules and laws, including obtaining the necessary visas and permissions, is essential to establishing good character.

Financial conduct is yet another dimension that the good character requirement examines. The applicant’s financial history is assessed to determine whether they have paid their taxes and have not been involved in fraudulent or dishonest financial activities. Tax evasion, fraudulent bankruptcies, or evidence of engaging in illegal financial activities may be seen as inconsistent with the values of honesty and integrity expected of British citizens.

In addition to the specific factors outlined above, general behavior, adherence to the law, and respect for the principles of British society are also considered when assessing an applicant’s character. Instances of anti-social behavior, domestic violence, or involvement in activities that promote hatred or discrimination can be indicative of a failure to meet the good character requirement. Furthermore, an applicant’s participation in community and voluntary work, as well as their engagement in activities that contribute positively to society, can enhance their character assessment.

The assessment of good character is not solely based on an applicant’s past actions but also considers their future intentions. Applicants must pledge their allegiance to the United Kingdom and its democratic values. Expressing a commitment to abide by British laws, uphold the principles of democracy, and contribute positively to the welfare of the UK and its citizens is a crucial aspect of the character assessment.

Applicants for British citizenship should be prepared to provide full and accurate information about their criminal, immigration, and financial history and demonstrate a genuine commitment to the values and expectations of the United Kingdom.


Financial requirement for British citizenship

The financial requirement for British citizenship applicants is a critical component of the naturalisation process, intended to assess an individual’s financial stability and their ability to support themselves and their dependents while living in the United Kingdom. Understanding and meeting this requirement is essential for those seeking British citizenship.

The financial requirement typically applies to individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 who are applying for British citizenship. It demands that applicants demonstrate that they have the financial means to sustain themselves without recourse to public funds. The rationale behind this requirement is to ensure that new citizens can support themselves and avoid becoming a burden on the UK’s welfare system.

The specific financial thresholds and criteria can vary based on the immigration route through which an applicant is seeking citizenship. Commonly, the financial requirement involves proving a stable and lawful source of income or financial resources. This can include earnings from employment, self-employment, property rental income, or investments. The source of income should be legal and verifiable.

Applicants are typically required to provide financial documentation, such as bank statements, payslips, or tax returns, to substantiate their financial stability. The Home Office, responsible for immigration and citizenship matters in the UK, will review these documents to ensure that an applicant meets the financial requirement.

One key aspect of the financial requirement is the income level an applicant must meet. Income thresholds can vary and may depend on factors such as family size, marital status, and the presence of dependent children. Meeting the income threshold is vital for demonstrating financial stability.

In some cases, if an applicant does not have sufficient income from employment or other sources, they may rely on financial resources, savings, or investments to meet the financial requirement. These financial resources should be readily accessible and available for supporting the applicant and their family without the need for public assistance.

In addition to the financial requirement, applicants should be free from any outstanding debts to the Home Office, such as repayment of previously received public funds or loans.

In situations where an applicant is unable to meet the financial requirement through their own income or resources, they may have a sponsor who can provide financial support. Sponsors should be either a British citizen or settled person and should meet the financial criteria. Sponsors play a significant role in assisting the applicant in meeting the financial requirement.

The assessment of the financial requirement is a detailed and crucial part of the citizenship application process. Failure to meet this requirement can result in the rejection of the application, and in some cases, applicants may need to reapply after addressing the financial deficiencies.

Applicants should carefully review the specific financial requirements applicable to their situation and provide comprehensive and accurate financial documentation. Seeking professional guidance or consulting with an immigration advisor can be beneficial, especially if an applicant has complex financial circumstances or is unsure about their ability to meet the requirement.


KoLL requirements for British citizenship

The knowledge of language and life in the UK (KoLL) requirements can be broken down into two separate parts: being able to communicate in English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic) to an acceptable level, as well as passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test. If granted citizenship, you will be agreeing to accept the responsibilities which go with being British, not least to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK. You must therefore understand what it means to be British and be able to adequately communicate with the wider community.

You must demonstrate both knowledge of language and life in the UK, unless you are 65 years or over, or have a long-term physical and/or mental health condition preventing you from doing so, where you would need a completed exemption form from a medical professional confirming your condition.


English language proficiency

You will not need to prove your knowledge of English (or Welsh or Scottish) if you are a national of a majority English-speaking country, although there are no other exemptions for citizenship, where you must show a relevant English language qualification, even if you were exempt when granted indefinite leave.

If you are not exempt from meeting the language requirement, you can take a secure English language test (SELT) with an approved test provider, or prove your knowledge by having a degree taught or researched in English. If you already have a certificate to at least B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, used as part of your application for indefinite leave, you can use this for your citizenship application, so long as this is still valid. You will need a certificate to prove your qualification or be able to view your results online, although test results are only valid for a period of two years.


Life in the UK test

You will have to satisfy the knowledge of life in the UK requirement by passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test, again with an approved provider, where you will need the pass reference number from your test certificate. This is a multiple-choice test about British traditions and customs, comprising 24 questions to be answered in 45 minutes, although you may need to spend several weeks preparing for this test.


Application requirements for British citizenship

An application for British citizenship made on the basis of either section 6(1) or 6(2) of the BNA must be made to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). UKVI is the department of the Home Office responsible both for dealing with visas and British citizenship applications. You can apply yourself, or have an agent or legal representative apply on your behalf.

When applying for citizenship, you will need to provide a recent passport-size photograph of yourself and upload this (where applying online) or affix this to Form AN (where applying by post), together with a number of supporting documents to show that you meet each of the British citizenship requirements. You will need to include on your form endorsements from two referees to prove your identity. You may also need to re-enrol your biometric information (fingerprints and a photo), although there is no separate fee for this.

Having submitted your application and paperwork in support, paid the application fee (currently set at £1,500) and re-enrolled any biometrics, the matter will be referred to an UKVI caseworker. At this stage, a number of checks will be carried out against the information provided in your application and supporting documents. Checks will also be conducted to ensure that both named referees are suitably qualified to act in this capacity. UKVI may contact each referee as part of their enquiries, ensuring that these individuals do not know of any reason why you should not be naturalised as a British citizen.

If your application is successful, where you should get a decision within 6 months, you will be required to attend a citizenship ceremony within 3 months of receiving your invitation. You will be required to pledge an oath of allegiance at this ceremony, promising to respect the rights, freedoms and laws of the UK. You will also receive your naturalisation certificate.

There will be an additional cost to attend the ceremony of £80 (where the application and ceremony fee are in addition to any test fees to meet the KoLL requirements). Importantly, you must send your biometric residence permit back to UKVI within 5 working days of getting your British citizenship certificate, otherwise risk a fine of up to £1,000.


British citizenship referees

When applying for British citizenship, you must provide two referees to prove your identity, regardless of the basis upon which you are applying. They must complete the relevant section of the application form, declaring that your photograph is a true likeness of you.

A referee must be someone who has known you on a personal basis for at least 3 years. Additionally, at least one referee must be a person with professional standing, while the other must be the holder of a British passport, and either a professional person or over 25. A professional person could be a civil servant or a member of a professional body, such as a solicitor or an accountant, provided they are not representing you in the context of your citizenship application. A list of acceptable professionals can be found on UKVI’s website.

Neither referee can be related to you or each other. They must also not have been convicted of an imprisonable offence in the last 10 years, or be employed by the Home Office.


How long do British citizenship applications take?

The Home Office advises it typically takes up to 6 months to hear a decision on a British citizenship application, although it may take longer if there are issues with your application or if you need to submit further documentation.


Can you pay for fast-tracked British citizenship processing?

Premium, priority or fast-tracked processing is not available for naturalisation applications. The best way to avoid delays in processing is to ensure your application is complete, comprehensive and without errors.


British citizenship ceremony

The Citizenship Ceremony is the final step in the process of becoming a British citizen, and it plays a significant role in welcoming new citizens into the community and instilling a sense of belonging and commitment to the United Kingdom. It is a mandatory and symbolic event that signifies an individual’s successful journey towards British citizenship.

Once an applicant’s citizenship application is approved, they will receive an invitation from their local council to attend a Citizenship Ceremony. The ceremony is usually held at a local council office, town hall, or other designated venues.

During the ceremony, applicants are required to take an oath of allegiance or make an affirmation of allegiance to the United Kingdom. This pledge emphasizes an individual’s commitment to uphold the values, laws, and principles of the UK. Following the oath, applicants often pledge their loyalty to the British monarchy.

The ceremony is a celebratory occasion that typically involves the presentation of a Certificate of Naturalisation, which officially confirms an individual’s British citizenship. It is also an opportunity for new citizens to learn more about British history, culture, and society.

After the ceremony, new citizens have the chance to interact with fellow citizens, local officials, and council representatives. The sense of community and belonging is reinforced as they celebrate their new status and identity as British citizens.

The Citizenship Ceremony is an important and inclusive part of the naturalisation process, emphasizing the values of democracy, respect, and integration. It marks the culmination of the journey to becoming a British citizen, fostering a sense of pride and commitment among new citizens as they contribute to the multicultural and diverse fabric of the United Kingdom.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration and citizenship specialists. We have an extensive track record in supporting and guiding applicants through the British citizenship requirements and application process.

For expert advice, and to avpid errors and issues with your British citizenship application, contact us.


British citizenship requirements FAQs

How do I prove my 5 year residency for UK citizenship?

You will normally meet the 5-year lawful residence requirement where you have been granted indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK. This means, in most cases, you will only need to demonstrate that you hold valid indefinite leave.

What are the 6 types of British citizenship?

The types of British nationality include British citizenship, British overseas territories citizens, British overseas citizens, British subjects, British nationals (overseas) and British protected persons.

How much does UK citizenship cost?

The cost to apply for British citizenship through naturalisation is £1,500. There is also an additional ceremony fee of £80, together with a £50 fee to take the ‘Life in the UK’ test.

What documents do I need to apply for British passport?

To apply for a British passport you will need the passport you used to come to the UK, together with your British citizenship ‘naturalisation’ certificate, plus two passport photos, although you can also apply online using a digital photo.

Last updated: 27 September 2023


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

Contact DavidsonMorris
Get in touch with DavidsonMorris for general enquiries, feedback and requests for information.
Sign up to our award winning newsletters!
Find us on: