Born overseas but automatically British – a guide to getting your first British passport
Date posted: 12 August 2020
Rebecca Morris, a solicitor in our Immigration Law team writes about the potential pitfalls of obtaining a British passport overseas.
Nationality law has a reputation for being complex and expensive.
And not without good reason: it is complicated and it can be expensive!
Those naturalising or registering as British citizens face:
- Ever-changing rules
- Strenuous “good behaviour” requirements
- Eye-wateringly costly fees.
You would be forgiven for assuming that those born ‘British’ are spared such struggles.
Unfortunately, the hostile environment is not confined to our borders.
What should be a simple application for a first British passport can turn out to be far harder work.
With a few pointers in the right direction, we can help you avoid the major pitfalls.
- When is someone born overseas British?
Under s.2(1)(a) of the British Nationality Act 1981, if your child is born outside the UK and at the time of birth you or their other parent is British “otherwise than by descent” your child automatically acquires British citizenship.
“Otherwise than by descent” broadly speaking means that you didn’t “inherit” the citizenship – i.e your citizenship isn’t based on s.2(1)(a) of the British Nationality Act 1981! As an example, if you were born in the UK and one of your parents at the time of your birth was British or Settled, you are (with some antiquated exceptions) British otherwise than by descent. Likewise, if you have naturalised as a British citizen, you are British otherwise than by descent. There are other routes for the children of British citizens by descent that we won’t cover in this piece.
- How do you get a British passport if you aren’t in the UK?
Applying for a passport depends on the country you are applying from, and the country you were born in.
The UK government have an online tool to help you navigate the right route and application fees.
You might have the option to complete the process online but there are still some countries where HMPO requires you to download, complete and submit a paper form by post.
The application should be relatively straight forward.
Step 1: complete the form in full.
Step 2: provide the usual passport photographs.
Step 3: get your application signed off by referees.
Step 4: pay the fee.
Step 5: upload or send in your supporting evidence.
- How much does it cost?
This depends on where you are applying from and what kind of passport you need.
For a child’s first passport, fees currently range from £56 to £65.50 plus a courier fee of £19-25.
For an adult, the fees range from £86 to £105.50, plus courier fee.
- What supporting documents do you need?
This is often the trickiest part of an application.
It sounds easy enough, but HMPO has different requirements for different countries and even then, the guidance isn’t always clear and they sometimes want more.
It is important to read the specific supporting document guide that relates to your application and you need to find that via the online tool.
As a general rule, any documents you submit must be originals and, unless they are officially laminated by the issuing authority, they should not be laminated.
If they are not in English or Welsh, they must have an official translation bearing a stamp to show it was carried out by a translator who is a member of a recognised professional organisation.
If you are not able to provide something (for example, a birth certificate for a parent because they’ve never had one) you will need to explain why.
We can’t cover every possible scenario because each application is so individual but these are some helpful insights we have gathered over time.
- Expect there to be requests for more evidence.
No matter how many times we have thought we met every single bit of the guidance, we were often asked for more documents.
Some of the requests seemed unnecessary (for example evidence of money transfers between the parent here in the UK and abroad) but it is worth complying unless you really can’t.
- Don’t assume a translation is enough for foreign documents
HMPO does not expressly require that all foreign documents have to be notarised in order for them to be accepted as genuine. But they do need to be original and they do need to be official.
That said, the system of governance in the country of birth may not be as well established as in the UK and so it may be worthwhile getting the documents notarised to add legitimacy.
Or it may be that the country where your child was born requires documents to be authenticated and validated for use abroad. If you do not do this, you risk being accused of submitting false documents.
- Keep really good records before and after your child is born
Keep your old passport or booking confirmations, and you might not realise that those records from the hospital are important. But they might be, so keep them safe!
Birth certificate: make sure that you register your child’s birth straight away, especially if you had a home birth. If your child’s birth was not registered within the first 12 months, the Birth Certificate will not be accepted as definitive proof of their date and circumstances of birth.
This can be a problem if your child was born shortly after you naturalised because HMPO may take the view that you have not proven that they are British. In these cases, it is really important to put together as much other supporting evidence of when the child was born as possible.
Old passports: Even though it is not a requirement that a parent was British at the time of conception, HMPO requires you to provide both parents’ passports or travel documents held at the time of conception.
If your passport will expire between your child being conceived and you applying for their British passport, either take a full colour copy before applying for the replacement or request to keep the old document when the new one is issued.
Having the documents will save you time and money because you can avoid a DNA test.
Hospital records: keep as much information as you can about the pregnancy, birth and any post-natal appointments. HMPO has high standards of evidence and this can be a problem if you live in a country where the health and social system are more informal.
General life records: depending on how long it takes for you to get round to applying for a British passport, make sure that in the intervening time you keep records that can help document your child’s life: school records, vaccinations, family photographs etc.
Having these things at hand will make it a lot easier when HMPO comes asking for them!
Our immigration team has a wealth of experience in dealing with complex British citizenship applications, from naturalisation and registration applications to lodging British passport applications from abroad.
If you are affected by any of the issues discussed above please contact us for advice. Our Immigration Law team is available on 020-8808 7535 or firstname.lastname@example.org