|Spanish Citizenship Act|
|Parliament of Spain|
|Enacted by||Government of Spain|
|Status: Current legislation|
Spanish nationality law refers to all the laws of Spain concerning nationality. Article 11 of the First Title of the Spanish Constitution refers to Spanish nationality and establishes that a separate law is to regulate how it is acquired and lost. This separate law is the Spanish Civil Code. Spanish nationality is generally acquired on the principle of jus sanguinis (descent), with limited additional provision for its acquisition per jus soli (place of birth).
Traditionally, considerations about the Spanish nationality had been (successively) regulated by constitutional articles: the 5th article of the 1812 Cádiz Constitution, 1st article of the 1837 Constitution, 1st Article of the 1845 Constitution, 2nd article of the unpromulgated 1856 Constitution, 1st article of the 1869 Constitution and 1st article of the 1876 Constitution.
Lacking an overarching unifying legal body, the current regulation about nationality in Spain is contained in 17-28th articles of the Civil Code, 63-68th articles of the Civil Registry Law, 220-237th articles of the Civil Registry Regulations and in a number of instructions and resolutions from the Directorate General for Registers and Notaries.
The original text of the 1889 Civil Code was partially or wholly amended by the 23th and 24th articles of the 1931 Constitution (which opened a way for exploring double citizenship agreements with Ibero-American countries), and the 1954, 1975, 1982, 1990, and 2002 laws. The current constitution of 1978 is the first that does not define Spanish nationality. Rather, article 11 establishes that Spanish nationality is acquired, preserved and lost in accordance with the provisions of the law (Spanish: "la nacionalidad española se adquiere, se conserva y se pierde de acuerdo con lo establecido por la ley"). It is also the first constitution that emphasises that a español de origen ("Spaniard by origin") cannot be deprived of their nationality. On 13 July 1982, and in accordance to what had been established in the constitution, the first law regarding nationality was approved, which was in fact an amendment to the Spanish Civil Code in effect. This law has been reformed on 17 December 1990, 23 December 1993, 2 November 1995, and most recently 2 October 2002.
Spanish legislation regarding nationality establishes two types of nationality: "Spanish nationality by origin" (nacionalidad española de origen)--that is, a "natural-born Spaniard"--and the "Spanish nationality not by origin" (nacionalidad española no de origen).
Foreign minors under the age of 18 acquire Spanish nationality by origin upon being adopted by a Spanish national. An adoptee over the age of 18 can apply for Spanish nationality by origin up to two years after the adoption.
Since the 1889 Civil Code came into effect, there have been various regulations requiring registration of births of Spaniards abroad, and limiting citizenship by descent to a specified number of generations. These rules have changed over time; the rules in force at the time of birth usually apply.
Under Article 24.1, persons born outside Spain, other than in specified Spanish-speaking countries, to a Spanish citizen born in Spain will lose Spanish nationality if they exclusively use a foreign nationality acquired before adulthood. That loss can be avoided by registering the desire to preserve Spanish nationality in the civil registry at a Spanish consulate.
Until a 9 January 2003 change in the law, Spanish citizens born in an Ibero-American country or specific former Spanish territories to a Spanish citizen parent, also born outside of Spain, and who held that other country's citizenship, preserved Spanish citizenship with no retention declaration required. After that date, second generation born abroad Spaniards from the Iberosphere who were not already 18 or in legal majority (adulthood) by that date, and who held the other country's citizenship, are required to declare their intention to retain Spanish nationality to Spanish authorities within three years of majority (until age 21).
The range of Ibero-American countries in which Spanish jus sanguinis will apply to a person of Spanish descent has also changed over time as Spain has signed agreements and treaties with countries.
All other people who acquire Spanish nationality are "Spaniards not by origin".
Spanish nationality by option must be claimed within two years after their 18th birthday or after their "emancipation", regardless of age, except for those individuals whose father or mother had been originally Spanish and born in Spain, for which there is no age limit. Spanish nationality by option does not confer "nationality by origin" unless otherwise specified (i.e. those mentioned in article 17, and those who obtained it through the Law of Historical Memory).
Spanish nationality can be acquired by naturalisation, which is only granted at the discretion of the government through a Royal Decree, and under exceptional circumstances, for example to notable individuals.
Also, any individual can request Spanish nationality after a period of continuous legal residence in Spain, as long as he or she is 18 years or older, or through a legal representative if he or she is younger. Under Article 22, to apply for nationality through residence it is necessary for the individual to have legally resided in Spain for:
In addition to meeting the residence requirement, applicants must pass the DELE and a cultural and historical knowledge exam called the CCSE (Conocimientos Constitucionales y Socioculturales de España).
In 2015 the Government of Spain passed Law 12/2015 of 24 June, whereby Sephardi Jews with a connection to Spain could obtain Spanish nationality by naturalisation, without the residency requirement as explained above. The law required applicants to apply within three years from 1 October 2015, provide evidence of their Sephardi origin and some connection with Spain, and pass examinations on the Spanish language and Spanish culture. The law provided for a possible one-year extension of the deadline to 1 October 2019; it was indeed extended in March 2018. The deadline for completing the requirements was extended until September 2021 due to delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but only for those who had made a preliminary application by 1 October 2019. This path to citizenship is in restitution for the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
The Law establishes the right to Spanish nationality of Sephardi Jews with a connection to Spain. An Instruction of 29 September 2015 removes a provision whereby those acquiring Spanish nationality by law 12/2015 must renounce any other nationality held. Most applicants must pass tests of knowledge of the Spanish language and Spanish culture, but those who are under 18, or handicapped, are exempted. A Resolution in May 2017 also exempted those aged over 70.
By July 2017 the government of Spain had registered about 4,300 applications who had begun the proceedings. 1,000 had signed before a notary and filed officially. A hundred, from various countries, had been granted citizenship, with another 400 expected within weeks. The Spanish government was taking 8-10 months to decide on each case. By March 2018 over 6,200 people had been granted Spanish citizenship under this law.
The Civil Code regulations on loss of citizenship, and the reasons for it--including lack of registration with Spanish consular authorities overseas--and the practical application of those regulations, has varied over time.
Spanish nationality is not lost as described above if Spain is at war.
People who lose Spanish nationality can recover it if they become legal residents in Spain. Emigrants and their children are not required to return to Spain to recover their Spanish nationality. (Since the nationality law automatically grants Spanish nationality to people born of a Spanish parent, a person born outside Spain to a parent of Spanish birth and nationality who uses the citizenship of the other country exclusively since birth is said to "recover" their Spanish nationality should they apply for it).
In 2007, the Congress of Deputies, under the government of prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, approved the Law of Historical Memory with the aim of recognising the rights of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and the dictatorial regime that followed (1939-1975). In recognition of the "injustice produced by the exile" of thousands of Spaniards, the law allowed their descendants to obtain Spanish nationality by origin, specifically for:
The law also granted Spanish nationality by origin to those foreign individual members of the International Brigades who had defended the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War. (In 1996, they were granted Spanish nationality "not by origin", which implied that they had to renounce their previous nationality--Spanish nationals "by origin" cannot be deprived of their nationality, and therefore, these individuals can also retain their original nationality).
By virtue of this law, if an individual, whose father or mother had been originally Spanish and born in Spain, and who had previously acquired Spanish nationality "not by origin" by option (art. 20) could request his or her nationality be changed to nationality "by origin", if he or she chose to do so.
The period wherein the Spanish nationality could be acquired by the Law of Historical memory started on 27 December 2008, and was concluded on 26 December 2011. Even though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet released the final count, and it is still reviewing applications, 446,277 individuals had applied for Spanish nationality through this law by 30 November 2011. Around 95% were Latin American, half of them from Cuba and Argentina. To the surprise of government officials, 92.5% of all applications were made by sons or daughters of Spaniards by origin regardless of their place of birth, and only 6.1% by grandchildren of refugees. More than five centuries after Jews were banished from the kingdom of Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish lawmakers approved, on 10 June 2015, a law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 to seek Spanish nationality without giving up their current citizenship.
Dual citizenship is permitted for all Spaniards by origin, as long as they declare their will to retain Spanish nationality within three years of the acquisition of another nationality. This requirement is waived for the acquisition of the nationality of a Latin American country, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea, Portugal or France and any other country that Spain may sign a bilateral agreement with.
Foreign nationals who acquire Spanish nationality must renounce their previous nationality, unless they are natural-born citizens of an Latin American country, Andorra, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea or France.
Since October 2002, dual citizens of Spain and another country who are born outside Spain to a Spanish citizen parent born outside Spain must declare to conserve their Spanish nationality between ages 18 and 21.
Because Spain forms part of the European Union, Spanish citizens are also citizens of the European Union under European Union law and thus enjoy rights of free movement and have the right to vote in elections for the European Parliament. When in a non-EU country where there is no Spanish embassy, Spanish citizens have the right to get consular protection from the embassy of any other EU country present in that country. Spanish citizens can live and work in any country within the EU as a result of the right of free movement and residence granted in Article 21 of the EU Treaty.
According to the 2020 Visa Restrictions Index, holders of a Spanish passport can visit 190 countries visa-free or with visa on arrival. In the index, Spain is in the 4th rank in terms of travel freedom.
The Spanish nationality is ranked eleventh in Nationality Index (QNI). This index differs from the Visa Restrictions Index, which focuses on external factors including travel freedom. The QNI considers, in addition, to travel freedom on internal factors such as peace & stability, economic strength, and human development as well.