Children born outside the UK to British expats: are they British? Prepare to be surprised by the world of “British Nationality law”.

If you are one of the lucky Brits who are living or working in, say, New Zealand or America, what happens if you have a child born while you are there? You may think “Of course they are British because I am British!” Most Brits don’t think too much about it and just apply for their child’s passport to HM Passport Office (via the process for those residing outside the UK). Here we make your life a bit more complicated and explain what nationality law thinks about it.

A child born abroad to a British parent is only British (as ‘born and British at birth’) if one of the parents is ‘British otherwise than by descent’. Examples of 'British otherwise than by descent': born in the UK to a British parent(s), born in the UK before 1983 to parents of any nationality (after this the law stopped automatic acquisition of nationality based on the place of birth, unlike, say, in America). You are also ‘British otherwise than by descent’ if you have naturalised, such as you came from India, worked here for 5 years, acquired permanent residency and at some point applied to naturalise as a British citizen. 

In this case a parent, who was ‘British otherwise than by descent’ when the child was born,  can pass their British nationality to a child born either in the UK or outside the UK. So, if you are a British-born UK citizen, then your child is born in, say, New Zealand, is also British.  

The catch is that your child in this example will be ‘British by descent’. It does not make any difference for your child and you should apply for his/her passport to the Passport Office:

It gets more interesting when it comes to your child’s child  (your grandchild). Your child will only be able to pass his/her British citizenship to your grandchildren born in the UK. If your grandchild is born outside the UK, he/she won’t be British! For example, your child is born in New Zeeland is British because you are a British-born UK citizen (most common scenario) is ‘British by descent’, so your grandchildren will only be British if they are born in the UK.

If you are in a situation where your child is not British at birth, because you are ‘British by descent’ then there is a way of registering a child to become British. A very common scenario we have is a British citizen born in South Africa to a parent who was born in the UK. In this case a Brit born in South Africa is ‘British by descent’. This person now asks us how their children can obtain British passports and we say they are not British citizens but in some cases the child can be registered to become British.  

The main 2 conditions for such registration are:

1)     To do it before the child turns 18years old. After that the child is ‘on his own’.

2)     To prove that a British parent (the one who was born in South Africa in this example) had resided in the UK for continuous 3 years at any point before the child was born.
If the two above, plus some more minor, conditions are met, then you can register your child as British and then apply for a British passport.

What is the difference between ‘born British’ and ‘not British at birth but can be registered’? We have a separate post here:

Another post is on ‘other way around’ situations, when a child is born in the UK to foreign parents:
Furthermore, our most popular ever post Child born in the UK:
And if you didn’t know that before 1983 only British men (but not women) could pass their nationality to the children, you may this post interesting, particularly if you were born before 1983 to a British mother and are still not British. You may be able to register now. This is a testimonial from a client who has done it through us and the post also describes how it works:

For an individual advice or to make your application as successful please contact us: , we reply on the same working day. Or visit

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