India is a country packed with opportunities - so if you live or work there, and plan to stay for the long term, then seeking Indian citizenship makes a lot of sense. Being a citizen could give you more rights, and you’ll be free to travel in and out of the country without having to worry about visas. But what if you don’t want to give up your original nationality to become an Indian citizen?
Immigration law in India is complex. While some people with Indian heritage could benefit from enhanced rights through the Overseas Citizen of India programme, most foreigners can’t get dual nationality - or any equivalent - with India. That means you’ll have to give up your original nationality to become an Indian citizen.
You'll need to take individual professional advice if you're considering taking Indian citizenship. But to get you started, here’s a beginners guide to the laws concerning dual citizenship in India.
India doesn’t recognise dual citizenship, which means that for most people, if you want to become an Indian national, you’ll be forced to give up your original citizenship. That’s a big decision for anyone, and should only be done after proper consideration.
The Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) programme isn't a replacement for dual citizenship but does afford some extra rights to some people with Indian heritage who are now citizens of different countries. More on that later.
India doesn't allow dual citizenship although some politicians have spoken out in favour of it, leading to speculation that the rules may ultimately change. The OCI scheme - outlined below - is one concession in this respect.
Traditionally, though, dual citizenship has not been allowed because citizenship is considered to be a commitment to the state. As it was deemed that you can't be truly loyal to 2 countries at once, dual citizenship was not approved.
The Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) programme is an option if either your parents, grandparents or great grandparents were from India but you subsequently were raised elsewhere.
You can register and get a card which offers you some of the benefits extended to natural born Indians. In some cases, the spouse of an OCI card holder can also register, and receive benefits.
OCI isn't a substitute for dual citizenship and doesn't offer all the benefits other citizens of India have. However, with this, you can get life long visa free entry to India and exemption from having to report your stay and movements to police when you're in the country.
One major downside is that there are limitations to who is eligible. Not only must you fulfil the family eligibility described above, you can be barred from the scheme if you or a family member live or have ever lived in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
When you become an Indian citizen you will be obliged to give up your previous nationality. The process for renouncing your previous citizenship will depend on where you're from - there may be fees to pay and it's likely to take some time, because checks will be made - for example - to ensure you don't owe any taxes.
For children the rules are slightly different. If a child who is eligible for Indian citizenship is granted citizenship of another country - for example because they are born in a country which automatically gives citizenship to anybody born there - they can sometimes put off the decision about which citizenship to accept until they’re 18.
At 18, they’ll be asked to choose between the citizenships, and accept one or the other.
There are some conditions here, which depend on the exact circumstances. For example, a child might only be able to obtain a passport for one country. Indian embassies around the world will be able to advise on the options depending on your individual situation.
If you're an Indian citizen through naturalisation then you lose citizenship automatically if you take citizenship of another country. You can also voluntarily renounce your citizenship if you wish to do so.
Giving up your Indian citizenship means you’ll no longer be entitled to support from the Indian Embassy if you're abroad. The laws, rights and responsibilities of your new state will apply. That means that you might be obliged to do military service, vote, serve on a jury, and so on - the same as any other citizen.
When you return to India, the same rules will apply for you as for any other citizen of your adopted country. That means that you could need a visa for your visit.
What sort of penalties or repercussions can you expect to face when you go back to India but no longer have citizenship?
The are no penalties as such, but the rules of your new country of citizenship will apply. You might need a visa to enter the country or other permits to live and work there in the longer term.
If you give up Indian citizenship you can apply instead for an OCI card which you can hold alongside your foreign nationality. This grants many of the rights of Indian citizenship although it's not exactly the same. However, many Indian people who have subsequently given up their citizenship choose to use the OCI programme if they return to India, instead of seeking to reclaim citizenship.
If you want to reclaim your Indian citizenship after renouncing it, you can do so by fulfilling a residency requirement and applying.
You can find the forms and details you need to apply for Indian citizenship, online. Exactly what you need to prepare will depend on your circumstances, but the basic steps you'll need to take include:
- Check you're eligible for citizenship
- Complete the application including all required documentation
- Pay your fee and complete any follow up checks needed
- Receive documentary proof of your citizenship and apply for a passport
To become an Indian citizen by naturalisation you have to have lived in India for 12 of the 14 years preceding your application - including the full calendar year prior to applying.
Once you've sent in all your documents you can expect another wait - likely to be of 6 months or so if the case is straightforward.
If I’m giving up one of my citizenships, do I need to inform both countries that I have terminated my rights as a citizen? Or do the countries themselves do that?
Check with your local embassy to understand your obligations. Most likely you'll be responsible for renouncing your original citizenship as part of the process to get Indian citizenship - therefore you should inform your home country of your intentions then.
If you're thinking of getting Indian citizenship, or taking advantage of the OCI programme, then you might already live and work abroad. If that sounds like you, and you split your life between India and your country of origin, you’ll know that juggling life between different countries can cause some practical headaches. One of the challenges you'll have to navigate is the cost incurred if you have to move your money between bank accounts held in different countries and currencies.
A good way to make your life easier, and avoid unfair fees and charges, is to use a specialist international transfer service like TransferWise. With TransferWise you’ll always get the same exchange rate that banks use when they trade currencies between themselves. That’s the rate you’d find on Google, and the only fair rate.
However, it's not the rate offered by all exchange services. In fact, banks and money transfer services which claim that they’ll exchange your money for free typically offer pretty poor exchange rates. Their business model relies on marking up the rate, and keeping the difference as profit. With TransferWise, you just pay a transparent upfront charge, for a transfer using the real exchange rate, and no nasty surprises.
If you travel frequently or live and work abroad, you’ll know how important it is to find practical solutions to make your money work for you. If not, you could end up paying over the odds unnecessarily for day to day banking. Traditional banks aren’t set up to serve international people. But TransferWise knows the importance of fair exchange rates and transparent fees - so you can just get on with enjoying life.