Between 1933 and 1945, many emigrant were deprived of their German citizenship on political, racial, or religious grounds. Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, these former German citizens and their descendants have had the possibility to re-naturalise according to Article 116 II “Grundgesetz” (Basic Law).
Due to political, racial or religious persecution also many Germans emigrated and acquired a foreign citizenship before they could be deprived of the German citizenship. For their descendants, a decree by the Federal Ministry of the Interior offers the opportunity to German citizenship by naturalisation (which already existed until 31.12.1970).
Naturalisation of former German citizens
Did you lose German citizenship because you applied for and acquired a foreign citizenship and did not have a German letter of retention?
When did you acquire the foreign citizenship:
In general, the following applied: Any person –as a German living abroad- who applied for and acquired a foreign citizenship without having obtained a written approval from their competent authority for retention of their citizenship, lost German citizenship according to §25 Nationality Act. There is a possibility of re-naturalization. Usually, only people who are permanently residing in Germany can be naturalized. Naturalizations of people living abroad on the basis of discretion are very rare and have very high requirements. The naturalization needs to be of special interest for the Federal Republic of Germany.
Whoever applied for and acquired a foreign citizenship without having obtained a German letter of retention, lost German citizenship according to §25 Citizenship Law (StAG).
There is a possibility of re-naturalisation according to §13 StAG. Amongst other requirements, you must show that a letter of retention would have been granted if you had applied for it in time and that you continue to have close ties to Germany and speak German fluently. Read here
Acquisition of German citizenship by declaration
The Fourth Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 August 2021, has created a ten-year right of declaration (Section 5 of the Nationality Act), granting children born to a German parent after 23 May 1949 (entry into force of the Basic Law) who, under the version of the Reich and Nationality Act valid at the time of their birth, were excluded in a gender-discriminating manner from acquiring German citizenship by descent at birth have the option of obtaining German citizenship by making a simple declaration to the competent citizenship authority. The option of acquisition by declaration also applies to their descendants.
The group of persons affected includes
- children born after 23 May 1949 to a German parent who did not acquire German nationality by birth (children born in wedlock prior to 1 January 1975 to a German mother and a foreign father or children born out of wedlock prior to 1 July 1993 to a German father and a foreign mother),
- children born after 23 May 1949 to a mother who lost her German citizenship through marriage to a foreigner pursuant to Section 17 (6) of the Reich and Nationality Act (old version) before the birth of the child prior to 1 April 1953,
- children born after 23 May 1949 who lost their German nationality acquired by birth through legitimation effected by a foreigner and valid under German law pursuant to Section 17 (5) of the Reich and Nationality Act (old version) prior to 1 April 1953, and
- descendants of the children in paragraphs 1 to 3.
Persons who are habitually resident abroad can submit the declaration directly to the Federal Office of Administration or to their competent mission abroad. It will take effect upon receipt by the competent nationality authority (i.e. the Federal Office of Administration in the case of persons resident abroad) if all other conditions are fulfilled.
Acquisition of the German citizenship by declaration does not require you to give up your current citizenship. This means, you can retain your present citizenship if that is allowed under the laws of your home country.
IMPORTANT: Whether you can retain your current citizenship solely depends on the laws of the country whose citizenship you presently hold. Please inform yourself well in time by contacting the relevant authorities before lodging a declaration under the a.m. regulation, to find out if acquiring the German citizenship by declaration has any effects on your present citizenship.
The German missions abroad are not in a position to give binding advice on foreign law.
If you hold the South African citizenship, however, please note that Section 6 of the South African Citizenship Act should be applicable. In accordance with its Subsection 1 you automatically lose the South African citizenship if acquiring the German citizenship by declaration under Section 5 (German) Nationality Act, if you are not a minor and at the time of making the declaration do not possess a letter of retention in accordance with Section 6 Subsection 2 of the South African Citizenship Act.
Thus you should only file your application for acquisition by declaration once you hold such a letter of retention in your hands or –if you have the citizenship of another country- have made sure to avoid losing that citizenship.
If you are allowed to retain your present citizenship(s) then you will become dual or multiple citizen by acquiring the German Citizenship.
Detailed information on acquisition by declaration and the relevant forms can be found on the website of the Federal Office of Administration
Naturalisation from abroad with ties to Germany
You may qualify for naturalisation in accordance with Section 14 Nationality Act under certain conditions, requiring a public interest in your naturalisation. Among other criteria you will have to prove that you have strong ties to Germany and speak German.
Find out more here
Read here about the different ways of becoming a German citizen automatically.
You wish to establish the fact that you are German? Or you need to apply for a certificate confirming and proving that you are a German citizen? Read here about what a certificate of Citizenship is and how to apply.
One may lose German citizenship.
Read about the reasons for loss of citizenship and how you can avoid it.
In general, applying for and obtaining a foreign citizenship results in the loss of German citizenship. In order to avoid this, you can apply for a letter of retention before becoming naturalised abroad.