Nationality and Citizenship: Are they different or the same?

by Pilar Dujan | August 8, 2023
Flags of different countries

What is Nationality?

If you talk about nationality, you’re referring to your belonging to one state, the country you’re a legal citizen of

It affects the rights you have to vote, work, travel, pay taxes and serve in the military in that specific nation. 

It’s usually marked by your place of birth, by naturalization or ancestry.

What is Citizenship?

Citizenship is a narrower term that establishes the country in which you have full rights, for example, to vote or work in.

You can become a citizen by:

  • Being born in a country
  • Having a parent that is a citizen
  • Marrying a citizen
  • Naturalization

The difference between Nationality and Citizenship

Although they are similar in meaning, they are not the same. While nationality establishes a legal relationship of belonging with a particular country, citizenship marks the country where you have rights and responsibilities

For example, if you trace back the origins of citizenship, you can find that in Ancient Greece, while everybody shared nationality (of a particular city-state), not everyone had citizenship: that was the case for women, slaves and the poorer farmers. They weren’t allowed to vote and they couldn’t take part in military activities. 

Immigration and citizenship in the US

What is Dual Citizenship?

There are two ways to determine citizenship at the time of birth:

  • Jus soli: you get citizenship by having been born inside a country, no matter if your parents are citizens too or not.
  • Jus sanguinis: a person is a citizen of a country if, at the time of birth, one or both of the parents is one. It doesn’t matter where the person was actually born. 

These two can combine to grant dual citizenship, meaning that a person is a legal citizen of two different countries.

It’s extremely important to check if your country of origin allows for dual citizenship. Otherwise, you could be asked to forfeit your citizenship. 

Benefits and Difficulties of Having Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship has several benefits. You can live and work legally in more than one country, you are protected and you can vote in both countries. You can also access the health and education systems in both countries.

To travel internationally, since a person with dual citizenship has two passports, it can also come in handy: you could be exempt from having to apply for a visa with one of the two, so it would help you choose which passport to travel with.

However, dual citizenship also has some difficulties attached. It’s a difficult, long and expensive process, and you get twice the legal responsibilities. You could also be obligated to pay taxes in two countries instead of one. 

Does the US allow dual citizenship?

Yes, it’s possible and common to have US dual citizenship. For example, any child born to parents who are not citizens of the US but reside there, automatically becomes a citizen of the United States and of their parents’ home country. Marriage is another common cause of US dual citizenship.

However, as we mentioned before, if you have dual citizenship you could be asked to pay taxes in both countries. That is the case of those who have US dual citizenship: if you are a dual citizen and you don’t live within the USA, you still have to pay taxes to the government, although they have specific provisions for these cases.