How to become a citizen of Scotland

For those born overseas, claiming Scottish citizenship can be a complex but rewarding process.

Many people desire to become citizens of this country, and specifically become Scots for many relevant purposes - whether due to family ties and ancestral heritage, through to more complex reasons such as immigration and asylum.

Understanding Scottish citizenship

Firstly, it's important to clarify that Scottish citizenship, as distinct from British citizenship, does not currently exist. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom (UK), so citizenship laws are governed by UK legislation. So, when we talk about claiming Scottish citizenship, we are essentially discussing how to be Scottish residentially. 

However, Scottish residence can be crucial for some legal purposes. These include when it comes to making a will, and also the administration of an estate when someone with Scottish domicile dies.

There are several ways for people born overseas to obtain British citizenship, particularly for those with Scottish ancestry or connections. These include citizenship by descent, naturalisation, and registration.

Citizenship by descent

Citizenship by descent is one of the most common ways for people born overseas to claim British citizenship. This method applies if you have at least one parent who is a British citizen.

If your mother or father was born in the UK (including Scotland), you may automatically be a British citizen by descent. This means you do not need to apply for citizenship, although you will have to apply for a British passport to prove your citizenship status.

On the other hand, if your parent was a British citizen at the time of your birth, but was not born in the UK, you might still be eligible for citizenship by descent. However, this is typically limited to the first generation born outside the UK.

Citizenship by registration

If you are not automatically a British citizen, you may still be able to register as one. Registration is a discretionary process, with children and adults able to apply in certain circumstances.

For instance, children born abroad to a parent who is a British citizen may be eligible to register as British themselves. This usually requires proof of your parent’s citizenship and your connection to the UK.

Children of Scottish descent - i.e. those with a parent or grandparent born in Scotland - might also be able to register as British citizens. This process involves demonstrating an ancestral connection, and may require you to meet residency or other requirements.

Adults who have a grandparent born in the UK may also be able to register as British citizens. However, this pathway is less common and often requires additional criteria to be met, such as residing in the UK for a certain period of time.


Naturalisation is the process enabling a non-British adult to become a British citizen. This pathway typically requires residency in the UK for a specified period, demonstrating good character, and passing a citizenship test.

Generally, you must have lived in the UK for at least five years before applying for naturalisation. You must also not have spent more than 450 days outside the UK during the five years, and no more than 90 days in the last 12 months.

Applicants must demonstrate their knowledge of English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic and pass the Life in the UK test, which assesses knowledge of British customs, traditions, and history. When it comes to demonstrating good character, this generally means having no serious or recent criminal record, no involvement in immigration offences, and being honest in any dealings with the UK government.

The application process

The process of claiming British citizenship with a Scottish connection involves several steps. Firstly, you’ll need to gather essential documents, including your birth certificate, parents' or grandparents' birth certificates, proof of your parents' British citizenship (if applicable), and any relevant marriage certificates. For naturalisation, you’ll also need proof of residency and other supporting documents.

You’ll then need to complete the relevant application forms, which can then be submitted online or by post. Ensure all required documents and fees are included to avoid delays. It’s also advisable to make copies of all documents before submission.

As part of the application process, you’ll also need to provide biometric information, including fingerprints and a photo. This is typically done using UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS).

Following your application, expect a decision within six months. Then, if you are successful, you can apply for a British passport and should attend a citizenship ceremony. If refused, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed via a special form sent to the Home Office. However, there isn’t a dedicated right of appeal to the court against that refusal or review – although, as with most state acts, you may be able to take a Judicial review to court to challenge it.

Navigating the complexities of citizenship applications can be challenging. It may be beneficial to seek legal advice from a solicitor or a citizenship specialist, especially if your case involves unusual circumstances, or if there is uncertainty about the eligibility criteria.

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