Citizenship in South Africa: Everything You Need to Know

Citizenship A South African Immigration Expert's Guide

Today I want to talk about South African citizenship. How can you obtain it? Who gets it? How can you lose it? And what can you do? Answers to all these questions will be provided in the following video and article. Please bear with me, it’s a complex topic and I will try to make it as simple as possible and as structured as possible.

How to obtain a South African citizenship

There’s three ways, and that’s by birth, naturalisation, and by descent. Birth is the obvious one, and I think the golden rule is how to remember it: one parent, only one parent has to be a South African citizen. If one of your parents is a South African citizen, then you’re most likely a citizen by birth.

If you’re born in South Africa, then you also need to register your birth. Additionally, if you’re born outside South Africa, you need to register the birth of the child within 30 days after the birth, with the South African mission in your country of citizenship. Then your child becomes a citizen by birth.

Citizenship by Descent

Descent is when a minor gets adopted in terms of the Adoption Act, and then the birth gets registered with the Birth and Death Registration Act, then you might become a South African citizen by descent.

Citizenship by Naturalisation

This is, for most of our foreign clients, the applicable category. That’s the category if you have permanent residence as a foreigner, you might qualify for naturalisation, okay? You need to be a permanent residence holder for more than five years.

That’s in the current act, and that’s the Act of 1995 With the amendments of 2010 and it came into effect in 2013. It still say it’s five years: the regulations actually says 10 years, but forget that, the regulations cannot overrule the act.

What is needed for Citizenship by Naturalisation?

The usual requirements are as follows: the permanent resident certificate, the verification of the permanent residence certificate, ID, birth certificate, and then you need to obtain a letter from your country of citizenship allowing you to apply for dual citizenship.

Some countries which are quite strict around dual citizenship and don’t allow it per se, like Germany, the Netherlands, and most Scandinavian countries. On the other hand, a couple of countries which are quite lax with their dual citizenship, the UK, Italy, France, the US; they will easily grant dual citizenship.

Citizenship for a child born in South Africa

Jumping back slightly, just imagine you and your partner are permanent residence holders and you have a child in South Africa. This child is born in South Africa, two parents, both parents permanent residence holders, then when this child when it becomes major (when they turn 18), they can apply for South African citizenship by birth. By birth, not naturalisation.

A lot of citizenships, like the German one, allow dual citizenship by birth, but not by another voluntary act. Another voluntary act, like the South African citizenship, might endanger your German citizenship. Birth is always the exception to that potential danger.

If you are born in South Africa to parents who are on temporary residence visas, and you live your whole life legally in South Africa at the age of 18, you might qualify for citizenship based on naturalisation.

You also need to spend your whole life here. You can’t just leave for two or three years; you need to be in South Africa for the 18 years.

Leaving South Africa

There is a second test beside the five years that is very important. It’s kind of a travel ban. In the five years preceding your application to naturalisation you should not have left South Africa for more than 90 days per calendar year. Extended travel will endanger your naturalisation application.

Application process

When you apply, it usually takes six months. You then obtain a Declaration of Allegiance. It has a validity of six months. You then need to go to Home Affairs and usually there is a swearing in ceremony. In my own case, for instance, it didn’t happen. I just went to Paarl, they spoke to me in English to see if I could speak it, and I had to confirm that I agree with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, and then I was handed over a naturalisation certificate.

Subsequently you apply for a new ID book, which then says citizen, and then you can vote.

How do we lose citizenship?

You can lose citizenship if you actively take up the citizenship of another country. Let’s say you’re a South African citizen, you turn 20, go to working holiday to the UK that turns into 5 years, and you apply for UK citizenship. This might endanger your South African citizenship.

If you have a dual citizenship, I use again the UK as an example, and you serve in the armed forces of the UK, then you will lose your South African citizenship.

Being deprived of your citizenship

This can only happen to naturalised citizens, not to born South Africans, so not by birth, only to naturalised citizens like me. How and when? One of the most practical examples is if I would be imprisoned for more than 12 months anywhere in the world for a crime which is also a crime in South Africa, then I could lose my citizenship.

You can also lose citizenship if it’s in the public interest. I often criticise Home Affairs in my articles and videos, and if the Minister of Home Affairs actually watches them and then says, “Andreas is really annoying me,” he can say it’s in the public’s interest to maybe take my citizenship away.

Determination of citizenship status

Who would apply for determination of citizenship? Traditionally, people who were born in South Africa, but hold a foreign citizenship, or anybody who was born to a South African citizen and might have lost the citizenship.

You ask Home Affairs, “What’s my status?” and then within six to eight months, they come back and say, “You’re a born South African” so they confirm your citizenship, or they say, “You were born but you lost it, but therefore you retained your right for permanent residence.”

They can also offer that you apply for resumption of citizenship. You had it, you lost it, and you can apply for a resumption.

When can you apply for resumption?

This process is usually for South African who lost their citizenship, and then came back to South Africa and live here permanently again. Then after 12 months of being permanently back in South Africa, they can apply for resumption.

How IBN Immigration Solutions can help you

IBN Immigration Solutions has assisted numerous clients in successfully receiving their citizenship in South Africa and would love to assist you too! You can find more information on citizenship, and South Africa in general, across our website.

We are familiar with all the requirements for applications, possible red-flags, and hold-ups in South African immigration, meaning that you’ll be in safe hands.

Written by Andreas Krensel, Managing Owner

Edited by Simon Carletti, PR and Creative Supervisor

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