A few years ago it occurred to me that if I was going to spend a good chunk of my life half the globe away from America, then maybe – just maybe – I should get a citizenship from the side of the globe I was actually on. While I do love being dual taxed on my global income (BTW, that’s a bit hypocritical of you America, did you already forget the reason behind the whole American Revolutionary War?), the fact is that it is simply inconvenient to have one’s only land so far away. God forbid if I have to go to my country of nationality in order to send a visa application to visit somewhere else (an oddly common requirement). Can you imagine the carbon footprint I would leave behind traveling all the way across the Atlantic (or Pacific)? Never mind the expense or the fact that I always end up with a cold after 8 hour flights (travel is not always glamorous).
So, I decided to get a second citizenship based on my heritage. Easy, right? Bwahahahahahaaaaa. Firstly, for those of us with a colonial American ancestry, there really is no recent heritage to link to a nationality. Trying to follow (and prove) one’s lineage going back through about ten generations is an impossible nightmare – I know, I’ve tried. Part of my family is English – I think – all I know is that they’ve been in North Carolina since the beginning of time and North Carolina is not a European country. Thankfully, in my case there is a good chunk of my family that are much more recent immigrants with a verifiable country of ancestry and birth certificates that don’t date back to the Mayflower, so I chose them.
Citizenship by ancestry
They just happened to be Italian. I did my best with multiple websites to figure out what documents were needed and if I was actually qualified. The Italians have this thing where if you’re mother’s mother’s father was a citizen and waited until a certain date to give up citizenship, then you qualify; but if your mother’s father’s mother waited until that date – then you don’t qualify. It goes something like that. Do not use what I just described to determine if you qualify. I’m pretty sure I just made it up to describe how arbitrary a process it seems to be.
Step by step by step by …zzzzz…. step
I got the documents together – my ancestors’ birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, citizenship papers, etc. Then I got them an apostille (very expensive and usually gold-colored overly fancy authentication by the state) on all of the documents that needed one. This took nearly a year and a lot of international postage. By then I had already blown over $1,200 on the project. I hadn’t even been to the consulate yet.
I went to the consulate’s webpage – the majority of it in Italian since not every part of the page actually translates when you click “English” – and found the system for booking an appointment. There were no appointments available. It took a month of checking before one finally showed up. It was for roughly three months later. I took it.
Three months later I arrived at the consulate to find out that they had two buildings and I was in the wrong one in the wrong part of town. I have never flagged down a cab with such assurance or haste in my life. I got to my appointment about half an hour late and ended up waiting another two hours. When I finally got in, a few things became glaringly obvious – I didn’t have enough paperwork, I was actually eligible, the internet never gets anything 100% right, and I was woefully non-Italian compared to these people. I felt like a bug under a microscope and so incredibly out of place. I was happy to escape and go on with my never ending document collection. I needed a few more papers, apostilles, and everything still needed to be translated. Another $800 or so later, I was done.
They had told me I could now come by the office without an appointment since I was part way into the process, so I did. I traveled several hours to go visit them – only to find out it was an Italian holiday. The next time I went, I think there was something I was still missing, or someone that wasn’t in that day. The entire thing is a blur in my memory. I went home still clinging to my giant pile of documents.
The next time I went after that, I emailed in advance to make sure they would actually be in the office. By then the office had relocated. I got a hotel nearby for the night before so that I could be one of the first people in the door in the morning. The new street address they gave was not recognized by GPS and did not conform to that whole numbers-going-in-order thing. I still ended up being half an hour late.
As it turned out, the right person was not in the office. But the woman that was there took pity on me and she was willing to muddle through this time, so we got my paperwork processed in. She assured me that I was already Italian because it was my ancestral right and all of this was just a formality. I was starting to feel a little bit better about it. I think that was last autumn or winter. I left the building about $700-800 poorer due to fees for the official consulate certification of the translation of my documents.
A few months later I got a call because one of the documents wasn’t sufficient. I got a corrected one from the US, sent it back to the US again to get an apostille for it, had it translated, and brought it in to the consulate (emailing to make sure they would be open). That took another two months and $200.
Total cost so far:
- Hotel and travel expenses
- International phone bill and postage
- Many lattes
- My sanity
On my way down the street after exiting the building with family in tow (I never did figure out if they absolutely had to be present for those appointments, but I wasn’t risking it in case they were required to be), I saw a “mission accomplished” sticker attached to the back of a stop sign. In that moment, everything in life seemed to fit, although I probably just jinxed it by saying that.
I haven’t heard from the consulate since. I’m hoping silence is a good thing. In the meantime, it’s making me nervous about travel because I want to stay close to the consulate I applied through (the application process is not something that can normally be transferred between consulates as far as I know. Each Italian consulate in each country has different rules – it would just end up being a nightmare).
I so want to travel. Maybe I’ll take a day trip to Wales in the meantime.