How I Became a Citizen of Several Countries

People frequently ask me how I am able to live in the UK. A US or Canadian citizen can live here for six months as a visitor. In most of Europe only 90 days are allowed. Steve and I are both Irish citizens, which gives us the right to live in any of the European Union countries, including the UK.

My father was born in Ireland, lived there until his mid-20s, then moved to England where he married my British-born mother and they emigrated to Canada.

I was born in Canada, so am a Canadian citizen by birth. I lived in Canada until I was 32.

In the 1980s Ireland considered a person an Irish citizen if their father had been born in Ireland. I got my Irish passport from the Irish Embassy in Canada. To get it I had to show proof of my father’s birth in Ireland and of my birth in Canada.

In the late 1980s I won an Immigration Lottery held by the US which gave me a green card allowing me to move to the US. Steve won the same lottery a few months after me. (At that point we had been living together for eight years but were not legally married, so it was good that we both won the lottery.) This happened at a very good point in our lives. We had saved our money, quit our jobs and had been traveling for two years – one year traveling in the US and one year in Europe. We were back in Canada deciding what to do next when I got the notification that I had won. We moved to the US in 1989 and lived there for 20 years. We became US citizens ten years after we moved there.

Steve and I got married in 2000, on the anniversary of living together for 20 years (I have no idea why we waited so long). Steve was able to claim Irish citizenship because he was married to an Irish citizen. He had to be married for three years and no Irish residency was required (this has changed).

Steve and Pauline in Basilicata
Steve and Pauline in Basilicata in 2015

In 2010 we went to England with the idea of staying for a year. Five years later and we are still here. We are allowed to live here because of our Irish citizenship.

The United Kingdom allowed people with a British father to become citizens. Then the law changed to allow you to claim citizenship if your mother was a citizen, but only if you were born after 1975. Finally, around 2009, it changed again to allow a child of a British father or mother to claim British citizenship, so I claimed it in 2010 after we moved here.

Steve will become a British citizen in a ceremony next week. His application was based on being married to a British citizen (me!) and being resident for three years.

Do we have too many citizenships? No. We have citizenship for each country that we lived in – Canada, the US, the UK – plus the extra Irish one. It is not illegal to be a citizen of multiple countries. Each country decides if it allows citizen to have other nationalities. Very few countries do not allow this. The US did not allow this at one time, but the law was changed in the 1970s.

People ask me what I think of myself as. I think of myself as an American even though I don’t live there. It is where I spent the most important part of my life, from my 30s to my 50s. I look like an American and I sound like one. I think like one too. Maybe I will become more British as the years go by, but I don’t think I will ever speak like one. Cheers!

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

7 thoughts on “How I Became a Citizen of Several Countries”

  1. Wow, I’d say you guys have the luck of the Irish. Yes, you do appear more American than anything else. And Pauline, I had no idea you guys hadn’t been married for many decades. At any rate, great article on this topic, thank you.


    1. Americans have to pay tax in the US no matter where they reside. The US is one of the few countries that does this. If you live abroad, you don’t have to pay state income tax since you don’t live in a state, but you have to pay US tax. If you live in the UK you have to pay UK tax, but you don’t double pay – you deduct the taxes already paid in the US. However, it all gets confusing for two reasons. 1) You have to calculate your taxes for both countries, and they may treat different types of income differently. 2) The UK tax year is not the calendar year!! It is from April 5 – so you have to do different accounting to do your UK taxes.

  2. Interesting! I thought that lots of countries forbid dual citizenship, including the USA.

    A number of people I know are citizens of one country but are permanent residents of other countries. I get the feeling that’s more usual than having multiple citizenships.

  3. I’m so happy for the both of you. We have been here in the Cotswolds for almost 4 months now and we will have to head back to the USA (citizens) in July of 2016. On a visitor Visa we are unable to stay longer, very sad. We are trying to find a place back home to reside that will give us the same village feel as we have here, sadly, that is not looking possible. Our options to work here are nil and therefore posses another problem on staying in the Country we have, in a short time, grown to love immensely. What to do, what to do. To throw another twister in we have a son attending school here and is doing extremely well, and loves it as much as we do.

    Enjoying every day. Thanks for your website, very informative and fun to read. Kate

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