British Children Born Abroad

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Many people assume that just because a parent is a British citizen, then a child born outside the United Kingdom is also a British citizen. Although this is usually the case, there are some exceptions:

  • If the British parent is a British citizen by descent then the child may not be a British citizen. The child may or may not be eligible for registration as a British citizen; or

  • If the only claim to British citizenship is through an unmarried father and the child was born before 1 July 2006, the child is usually not a British citizen automatically. However, child can normally be registered as a British citizen, provided that application is made before age 18.; or

  • Prior to 1983, British nationality did not usually pass through the mother. So anyone born before 1983 with only a British mother is not a British citizen but may be eligible for registration as a British citizen (UKM process) or for Right of Abode in the United Kingdom, depending on exact circumstances; or

  • Adoption of a child overseas does not usually confer British citizenship upon a child (except in specific Hague Convention compliant adoptions), however, registration of the child as a British citizen may be possible if application is made before child turns 18.

Evidence of British citizenship

The only ways to prove your child is British are:

  • a British citizen passport; or
  • a Right of Abode stamp in a foreign passport (proof of British citizenship for anyone born in 1983 or later, however can no longer be held alongside a British citizen passport).
  • a Nationality Status Certificate issued by the Home Office.

British passports

  • If you are moving back to the UK with your child who was born abroad but who is a British citizen by descent from you, it is strongly recommended that you bring your child into the UK with a British passport.

  • If you travel to the UK on holiday, it's okay for your child to travel on a foreign passport, provided that the passport does not require a tourist visa. For example, an Australian, American or Canadian passport is acceptable, while a South African passport is not. British consular officials will not (or at least, should not) issue a visa to a child who appears to be a British citizen.
  • But, if you enter the UK with the intention of resuming residence in the country, you may run into problems at your port of entry if your child is not entering the UK on a British passport.
  • If travelling to the UK on a one way ticket - some airlines will be ok with the child on a foreign passport, but others may not be. If you encounter a problem here, you don't even get to plead your case to British Immigration.
  • A forum member reported that she and her husband were given a difficult time at the airport when they brought their foreign-born child into the UK on a foreign passport. Immigration officials eventually relented and gave them temporary authorisation to bring their child into the UK. This is probably a more extreme case, but illustrates the risk.
  • If you must do this, make sure you have all relevant civil documentation to prove your child is a British citizen. This includes parent's birth certificates - British passports alone won't do.
  • Whether or not you have problems at the port of entry, there is then a need to approach the Passport Office in the United Kingdom to get a British passport for the child. This will take time, meanwhile you may have to pay for healthcare for the child, there may be problems with benefits or schooling, and it will be difficult to leave the United Kingdom and re-enter.
  • If there is a good reason why you do not wish the child to have a British passport, an acceptable alternative is a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode in the United Kingdom stamped in a foreign passport.
  • A citizen passport issued by an EEA member state or Switzerland is also ok.