In general, German citizenship is not established through birth on German territory but by descent from a German legal mother and/or a German legal father.
German citizenship may have been obtained through the following:
German citizenship by being born in wedlock
Children born in wedlock between Jan. 1, 1914 and Dec. 31, 1974, acquired German citizenship only if the father was a German citizen at the time of their birth.
Children born to a German mother in wedlock between Jan. 1, 1964 and Dec. 31, 1974 only acquired German citizenship if they would have become stateless otherwise.
Children born in wedlock after Jan. 1, 1975, acquired German citizenship if one of the parents was a German citizen at the time of their birth.
Children born in wedlock between April 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1974 to a German mother and a non-German father did not become German citizens by birth. However, during the years 1975, 1976 and 1977, their parents could claim German citizenship for them. The deadline for this procedure irrevocably ended on Dec. 31, 1977.
German citizenship by being born out of wedlock
Children born out of wedlock to a German mother after Jan. 1, 1914 acquired German citizenship.
Children born out of wedlock to a German father after July 1, 1993 acquired German citizenship if (among other requirements) paternity had been established according to German law.
Children born out of wedlock to a German father before July 1, 1993 may acquire German citizenship by declaration before their 23rd birthday, if paternity has been established and if they have resided in Germany for at least three years. The declaration can only be made in Germany at the child's residence.
German citizenship by adoption
If you were adopted as a minor by at least one German citizen on or after January 1, 1977, you are a German citizen. If the adoption happened outside Germany it has to meet certain requirements.
Children who had been adopted by a German parent between Jan. 1, 1959 and Dec. 31, 1976 could have become a German citizen by declaration until Dec. 31, 1977.
German citizenship by legitimization
The marriage of the parents of a child born out of wedlock was called “legitimization”. Children born out of wedlock between Jan. 1, 1914 and June 30, 1998 could have acquired German citizenship through the marriage of their parents.
German citizenship by marriage
Foreign women who married a German citizen between April 1, 1914 and Mar. 31, 1953 acquired German citizenship automatically.
Foreign women who married a German citizen between April 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1969 could have acquired German citizenship under certain conditions, esp. by declaration at time of marriage.
Since Jan. 1, 1970 the acquisition of German citizenship by marriage does not exist anymore. A foreign spouse can only naturalize if certain requirements are met.
German citizenship by other reasons
Children born in Germany after Dec. 31, 1999 to foreign parents who were legal residents of Germany for at least eight years, acquire German citizenship too. However, between the age of 18 and 23 they will have to decide whether to keep German citizenship or the citizenship of their parents.
There are rare possibilities for naturalization especially for former German citizens.
Applicants have to meet a host of requirements; you typically have to give up your present citizenship(s) in order to become a German citizen, fluency in the German language is another precondition (please call the competent German Mission in the U.S. for further information).
New: Expanded Opportunities for Descendants of Victims of Nazi Persecution for acquiring citizenship under Section 14 of the Nationality Act
On August 30, 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building, and Community issued two comprehensive decrees to create more generous options for acquiring citizenship under Section 14 of the Nationality Act for the benefit of descendants of the victims of National Socialism whose forebears lost their German citizenship amid the National Socialist persecution and were not entitled to have it restored under Art. 116 (2) of the Basic Law (Press Release of the Federal Ministry of the Interior).
Those who stand to benefit from the decrees include:
- Children born in wedlock before April 1, 1953, to German mothers whose citizenship had been revoked and foreign fathers;
- Children born out of wedlock before July 1, 1993, to German fathers whose citizenship had been revoked and foreign mothers;
- Children, irrespective of the date of birth, whose German parent acquired foreign citizenship prior to February 26, 1955, and lost their German citizenship amid the National Socialist persecution occurring between January 30, 1933, and May 8, 1945. This includes:
- A father or mother who had lost German citizenship amid National Socialist persecution by obtaining foreign citizenship (naturalization) before February 26, 1955
- A mother who had lost German citizenship before April 1, 1953 (Section 17, No. 7 of the former Imperial and State Nationality Law) through marriage to a foreign or stateless man
This path to citizenship is also open to descendants of these children up to a generational cut-off date pursuant to Section 4 (4) of the Nationality Act.
Please observe this cut-off date. Accordingly, the first generation born abroad after December 31, 1999, will be the last to be able to acquire citizenship more easily. Their minor children who are born before the transitional deadline on December 31, 2020, can acquire citizenship along with their parents if the application for citizenship is filed before January 1, 2021.
For this group of people, easier requirements for citizenship apply. Only basic German language skills and basic knowledge of the legal and social order and the prevailing living standards in Germany are necessary.
For further information, visit the website of the Central Service Agency of the Federal Government at: Webseite des Bundesverwaltungsamtes, where you find the application and additional forms at the following link.
If you have any questions, please contact the German foreign mission responsible for your district.
New: Eligibility expanded to children born in wedlock to German mothers and foreign fathers before May 24, 1949.
The ministerial decree of August 30, 2019, expands the group of persons eligible for citizenship to include the children born in wedlock to German mothers and foreign fathers before the Basic Law entered into force on May 24, 1949, and the children born out of wedlock to German fathers and foreign mothers who did not acquire German citizenship owing to the citizenship law prevailing at the time of their birth as well as their descendants. The required language ability was lowered to level B1 GER. Please bear in mind that this path to citizenship is available only until the generational cut-off date under Section 4 (4) of the Nationality Act. This means that the first generation born abroad after December 31, 1999, will be the last to be able to take advantage of this option to acquire citizenship.