What’s the Difference Between British Nationality and British Citizenship?

What’s the Difference Between British Nationality and British Citizenship?
Legally reviewed by: Nisha Leel Updated: In: Immigration

Although it’s common for British nationality and British citizenship to be used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two terms.

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What is the Difference Between British Nationality and British Citizenship?

A Difference in Rights…

The difference between British nationality and British citizenship comes down to your rights of abode. A person with a right to abode is completely free from immigration control and can live and work in the UK without the requirement of official permission from the home office.

All British citizens have the right to abode within the UK, however, not all British nationals hold the same right.

Defining British Nationality and British Citizenship

Nationality is defined as being about one’s international identity and how the individual belongs to “a sovereign state”.  For example, a passport provided by the state can evidence that an individual belongs to the state. Alternatively, a British citizen is defined as relating to the “various rights, duties and opportunities that define one’s place and conduct in society, such as voting, standing for election, jury service, state financial assistance, and health care and state sponsored education.” Therefore, British citizenship looks at an individual’s position within the state whilst nationality looks at the individual and state’s relationship on the international level.

What Are the Six Types of British Nationality?

There are six different types of British nationality that someone can hold. Each of these nationality types reflects the various rights, duties, and opportunities that the holder has. The six types of British nationality are:

British Citizenship

A person with a British citizenship is free from any immigration control. You have the full right to abode. This means that you can live and work in the UK free from restrictions. Furthermore, as a British citizen, you can apply for a British passport. British citizenship is defined by your birth location and date and of your parents’ circumstances at the time of your birth.

British Overseas Territories Citizen

This refers to individuals who have migrated to the UK from a British Overseas territory. Additionally, a British Overseas Territories citizen also refers to people born in the UK as decedents of these citizens. British Overseas Territories citizens can hold a British passport.

British Overseas Citizen

Although a British overseas citizen is a British national, they do not hold the right to abode. These are citizens that retained their British nationality post-independence.

British Subject

Up until 1949, a British subject was someone who had a close connection to the UK. Commonwealth citizens were referred to as British subjects until 1983. Today, British subjects are not commonly used.

British National (overseas)

British national (overseas) refers to people with relation to Hong Kong prior to 1997. These individuals became British national (overseas) citizens from this date.

British Protected Person

If you were either a citizen or national of Brunei or were already of this status in 1983, you may have become a British protected person.

British Citizenship

Do I Automatically Qualify?

British citizenship is the most significant types of nationality, allowing the holder to live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions or controls. However, understanding if you qualify for British citizenship can be a complicated process, depending on factors such as where you’re born and the circumstances at the time of your birth.

The three most common ways to automatically qualify for British citizenship are outlined in the Automatic Acquisition identification here. Automatic Acquisition requires an individual to be able to proof that they are a British citizen by operation of law. This requires that you are:

  1. Born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and when you were born either your mother or father was a British citizen or settled in the UK.
  2. Born outside the UK on or after 1 January 1983 and when you were born either your mother or father was a British citizen otherwise than by decent.
  3. Finally, you are born before 1 January 2083 and immediately before that date you were a Citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) with a right to abode in the UK.

1 January 1983 is a significant date due to this being when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force. This still stands as the current primary Act in governing nationality law in the UK.

If you do not automatically qualify as a British citizen, you may be able to apply to become a British Citizen.

How to Go from a Being a British National to Becoming a British Citizen?

We use the term naturalisation to refer to the process of changing from a British national to a British citizen. The process can vary depending on personal circumstances and British nationality status. Before you start your application, you will need to check if you are eligible.

If you meet all the criteria for naturalisation, you must also have permission to remain in the UK during the application process. This permission will need to be verified until the date of your ceremony or citizenship. If you have indefinite leave to remain you may use this as permission during the naturalisation process.

To apply for naturalisation, the home office usually require that you must have lived in the UK for at least 5 years. Additionally, you must have:

Can I Acquire British Citizenship Through a Marriage Licence?

If you are married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, you need to apply as the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen. Additionally, you must have:

Once you have these one of the above criteria in place you can apply to become a British citizen yourself and put in an application for a British passport afterwards.

Starting Your Application for British Citizenship with Cartwright King

We understand that there’s a lot at stake when it comes to applying for British Citizenship. Becoming a British Citizen means that you can truly call the UK your home, allowing you to live and work throughout the UK without any immigration controls.

Cartwright King’s specialist immigration solicitors can guide you through the process of British naturalisation. There are multiple routes to becoming a British citizen, and our immigration team can ensure you get the right advice to give your application the best chance of success.

Get in touch with our dedicated UK Immigration Team now for help.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.