You can apply to become a UK citizen either by registration or by naturalisation. Registration is only relevant for children under 18, and depends on their parents’ status. Naturalisation is the only way you can apply for UK citizenship in your own right.

In order to apply to become a British citizen by naturalisation, you’ll need to satisfy the following criteria:

  • you are over 18 and have full mental capacity;
  • you are of good character;
  • you intend to keep living in the UK;
  • you meet the knowledge of English requirements;
  • you satisfy the ‘life in the UK’ test;
  • you meet the residency requirements; and
  • for EEA applicants, you meet the permanent residence status requirement.

Below, we set out what each of these requirements means for you.

What does it mean that you are ‘of good character’?

In considering your application for citizenship, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that you are of good character. The decision is made ‘on balance of probabilities’, which means that, considering all the relevant circumstances, you’ll be considered of good character if there is no stronger evidence supporting the opposite.

During the course of your application process, you should disclose any relevant information in full when asked to do so.

You wouldn’t normally be considered to be ‘of good character’ if you:

  • have committed a crime or there are reasonable grounds to suspect you have committed a crime;
  • have been involved or associated with war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorism or acts against public security;
  • have failed to pay taxes, have gone bankrupt or your financial affairs haven’t been in appropriate order;
  • have avoided immigration controls or have previously been deprived of your citizenship;
  • have made yourself notorious in your local community due to persistent bad behaviour; or
  • have acted dishonestly in dealing with the government.

For more information on any of these requirements, see Annex D, Chapter 18 of the GOV.UK guidance on naturalisation. This can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/406368/Chapter_18_Annex_D_v02.pdf.

Future intention to remain in the UK

If you wish to become a British citizen, you should intend to keep living in the UK after being granted UK citizenship. As it is impossible to assess future intentions, authorities will look at the applicant’s past behaviour in considering this requirement.

In particular, authorities will consider:

  • whether you have an established home (owned or rented) in the UK; and
  • whether you meet the relevant residence criteria (see below).

You are likely to be rejected if:

  • it can be proved that you are planning to move abroad;
  • if your principal home appears not to be in the UK, for example if you change address after each visit abroad. In this case, authorities may investigate further (considering if your family/partner owns property abroad) to prove whether your principal residence is in another country; or
  • you are about to leave the UK for a period of more than six months. However, some exceptions will be accepted, such as voluntary work, studies, etc.

For more information on any of these requirements, see Annex F, Chapter 18 of the GOV.UK guidance on naturalisation. This can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/262355/ch18annexf.pdf.

Knowledge of English and life in the UK test

Every applicant must meet these requirements by:

  • passing the LIFE IN THE UK test: this is a 45-minute computer-based test. Applicants can access the ‘Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents’ handbook to prepare for the test.
  • having a speaking and listening qualification in English at B1 level or above of the CEFR or, alternatively, having a degree that was taught in English or, finally, being a national of an English speaking country.

The only relevant exceptions are for applicants who:

  • suffer from physical or mental conditions (for example where you are suffering from a long-term illness, disability or mental condition that severely restricts your ability to learn English or to speak English); or
  • are over the age of 65 (although applicants aged 60-64 may also be excluded).

For more information on any of these requirements, see Annex E, Chapter 18 of the GOV.UK guidance on naturalisation. This can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/262349/ch18annexe.pdf.

Residency requirements

Please note that there are different requirements if your spouse or civil partner is a British citizen.

In order for an application to be successful, you must have:

  • lived in the UK for at least 5 years before the date of the application;
  • spent no more than 450 days outside the UK during the 5 years;
  • spent no more than 90 days outside the UK during the last 12 months; and
  • not broken any immigration laws while in the UK.

If you are from the European Economic Area, you must have had permanent residence status in the UK for the last 12 months. To evidence this, you must provide a permanent residence document.

For more information on any of these requirements, see Annex B, Chapter 18 of the GOV.UK guidance on naturalisation. This can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/444593/Chapter_18_B.pdf.

For EEA applicants – permanent residence requirement

This can be met if you have been living in the UK for at least 5 years as a QUALIFIED PERSON, namely:

  • A worker, in full-time or part-time employment. In some circumstances, you might retain the status even if you stopped working (for example as a result of illness, maternity, or if you were involuntarily unemployed but actively looking for a job by being registered at Jobcentre Plus).
  • A self-employed person. You will need to show your business accounts to prove that you are self-employed. This status may be retained only if you stop working due to illness, accident or maternity.
  • A student. You will need to show that you have sufficient resources, sickness insurance and enrolment in a recognised institution.
  • A self-sufficient individual. You will need to prove that you have enough resources, sickness insurance and you must not have claimed income-related benefits.
  • You will need to show you’re actively looking for work and have a genuine chance to find employment. This status can’t generally be retained for more than 3 months.

Once you’ve gained permanent residence status, you won’t lose it unless you’re absent from the UK for more than two years, you’re convicted of a serious crime or you become a threat to national security.

Updated in September 2016.