Greek Citizenship Through My Grandparents

by Christos Iliopoulos, LL.M.

My grandfather came to the US in the first part of the 20th century and married there. I am now interested in working in Europe (the EU) and I need a Greek/European passport to get a job there. Can I get the Greek citizenship now?

Both my grandparents were born in Greece and they emigrated to Australia in 1940. Now I am going to study in Europe and a Greek passport could make things much easier. Can I become Greek without losing the Australian citizenship?

My mother was born in Greece and moved to Canada in 1950. Is it only through my father that I can claim Greek citizenship, or can my mother make me a Greek citizen now?

These are only a few of the questions that thousands of people of Greek heritage are asking. The standard of living in Europe – and, believe it or not, even in Greece! – is getting somewhat better, and the gap between the former rich countries of the west (USA, Canada, Australia etc.) and some of the formerly poor Mediterranean countries of Europe is closing.

If we add to the equation the people of Greek heritage from various countries of the world, the whole of Latin America, some of the former Soviet Union countries, the Middle East etc., we realize that tens of thousands of people today want to obtain the Greek citizenship not only because they love Greece, the country of their ancestors, Greek history and the Greek civilization, but also because Greece can be the medium for a better, or at least a different, life in Europe.

How do we respond to the questions put forward at the beginning of this article? Under what rules Greek law allows someone to obtain the Greek /European citizenship, based on his/her ancestors?

The basic rule is that the present applicant must find an ancestor (parent or grandparent, most likely), who was born in Greece as a Greek citizen**, and he/she is registered at the municipal books. The next step is to find the marriage certificate of that ancestor, and then the birth certificate of the child of that ancestor. Subsequently, we need the marriage certificate of that child, who is the parent of the present applicant. The birth certificate of the present applicant is also required.

It is noteworthy that the public certificates from some countries (USA, Australia, South Africa, but not from Canada), are not valid in Greece, even if they are original or certified copies, unless they have the Apostille, a specific stamp from a government office of those countries, according to the Convention of The Hague of 5 October 1961.

An applicant from the US must ask the state government authorities for the Apostille stamp, while in Australia, the applicant must refer to the Department of Foreign Affaires and Trade in their city.

Those who apply for the Greek citizenship must be prepared to deal with some paperwork, since Greek laws require a detailed description of the applicant’s family history, as well as a unbroken chain between the Greek – born ancestor and the present applicant.

Moreover, even the unbroken link to the Greek ancestor may not prove enough, since there are details in Greek law which make it complicated. For example, if you are basing the Greek citizenship on your Greek – born grandfather, you must also be able to find his marriage certificate to a non-Greek, which must indicate that the marriage was a religious ceremony.

On the other hand, if you are basing your Greek citizenship on your grandmother, you must be able to find her marriage certificate to a non-Greek, which must indicate that her marriage was civil, and not religious!

No need to say that if both of your grandparents were born in Greece and we can find both their registrations from the Greek Municipalities, it makes no difference whether their marriage was religious or not. If they were married in Greece in the old times, their marriage is definitely religious. If they were married in the country where they both emigrated, even a civil marriage of two proven Greek-born grandparents is enough to give you the citizenship.

The two sexes are treated equally by Greek law. This means that a grandmother can “give” the citizenship to a grandchild, just as a grandfather can. However, the old archives (for both men and women) are not valid anymore, so women are more difficult to be found registered too deep in the past. Men’s archives are not valid, either, however, men were also registered with the Army, and the Army archives are valid today, even if they are 100 or 150 years old. This makes it practically easier to claim the citizenship through a grandfather.

When it comes to parents, it makes no difference if your Greek parent is your mother or your father. They can equally help you to claim the Greek citizenship now.

Another common obstacle to the Greek citizenship is the name changes of the grandparents or the parents of the present applicant. If a person was born in Greece and his registration states a certain name, then his marriage certificate from the country where he emigrated state the same name. If it is different, we need an affidavit of two witnesses, who will sign a statement confirming that name A and name B belong to the one and the same person, the ancestor who was named A in Greece and he made it B in the US/Canada/Australia/South Africa/New Zealand/Argentina etc.

Finally, there is hope even for those who, although of proven Greek heritage, can’t find their ancestor at the Greek Municipal archives. This may happen for various reasons. Either the ancestor’s registration existed only in the old books, which have been replaced after 1950 by new ones. Or, the ancestor was undoubtedly Greek, but was born outside Greece, like the Greeks who were born in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, or the former Soviet Union countries, who were never registered in Greece, because they were forced to emigrate directly from their birth country (not Greece) to their host country.

In such a case, where the basic formal link to the Greek state is missing but the applicant is definitely of Greek origin, there is a last chance to obtain the citizenship. This is the naturalization process for a person of Greek heritage, which is governed by article 10 of the Code of Greek Citizenship, a procedure which takes more time and is not 100% guaranteed that will grant the citizenship, but it’s the last resort for an applicant who is unable to put all his documents in order.

** A child born in Greece to Pakistani parents does not claim the Greek citizenship.

(Posted Date 12 September 2008)
Christos Iliopoulos is an attorney at law, LL.M., in Athens, Greece, specializing in International and European Business Law. For more information about him, see his brief biographical sketch under the HCS section for Contributing Authors at He has submitted many articles to HCS; readers can browse these in the archives section bearing his name at the URL He can be contacted by e-mail at or by phone (from the US) 011-30-210-6400282; mobile 011-30-693-2775920, fax 011-30-210-6400282, or by postal mail at the address: 105 Alexandras Ave., Athens, 11475, HELLAS

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