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I want to check if I can get a passport for a country I have not lived in since I was two years old.

For context, I had a South African passport, but have since naturalised and gained British citizenship (and therefore passport) which in theory should void my previous citizenship.

My dilemma appears as I don’t want to go directly into the embassy (due to Coronavirus), and the online information about dual nationality gets a bit unclear. The nationality law gets even more unclear when it comes to whether I retain or lose my previous citizenship, as I was below 18 when I naturalised.

So how could I check if I still have citizenship?

  • There's no general answer: for some combinations of countries, the answer is yes; for others, the answer is no. – mlc Sep 23 at 21:44
  • @mlc I’ve removed that little part of my question – Boolean Sep 23 at 21:50
  • Were you naturalised before you were 18? The South African Citizenship Act provides for retention of South African citizenship PRIOR to the acquisition of a foreign citizenship. A condition of attaining dual citizenship for all South African citizens aged 18 years or older is that they must apply and be granted permission to retain their South African citizenship prior to the acquisition of a foreign citizenship. If a South African citizen does not obtain this prior permission they will automatically lose their South African citizenship on voluntary acquisition of a foreign citizenship. – Michael Harvey Sep 23 at 21:56
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    South African citizens under the age of 18 years are exempt and do not require to apply for dual citizenship, as long as they acquire the foreign citizenship before their 18th birthday. They automatically retain their South African citizenship for life unless, once they have reached the age of 18 years and they then wish to acquire a further foreign citizenship – Michael Harvey Sep 23 at 21:56
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    @MichaelHarvey That looks a lot like an answer. – Michael Hampton Sep 23 at 21:57
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You are still a South African citizen.

The South African Citizenship Act 1995 sets out the rules for loss of citizenship in Chapter 3, Section 6:

6.(1) Subject to the provisions of sub-section (2), A South African shall cease to be a South African citizen if --

(a) he or she, whilst not being a minor, by some voluntary and formal act other than marriage, acquires the citizenship or nationality of a country other than the Republic (b) ...

You would have lost your citizenship once you had acquired British citizenship, but as you were a minor this section does not apply.

Note that even as an adult it is possible to retain South African citizenship, but one must apply for permission to do so before acquiring a second nationality.

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    We don't know that the naturalization occurred after 1995, so we don't know whether the South African Citizenship Act 1995 is relevant. – phoog Sep 24 at 3:03
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    @phoog It did happen after 1995 – Boolean Sep 24 at 6:37
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Since your question is, “So how could I check if I still have citizenship?“. My answer is call the embassy. Who ever said that you have to go into the embassy itself.

My South African wife has never set foot in the South African Embassy in Washington D.C.. It is very unlikely that she has ever set foot in the South African Consulate or the Honorary Consul of South Africa in Texas. Yet, she was able to handle all official business through mail and phone. This included renewing of passports. The caveat to this is that dealing with South African bureaucracy takes an overabundance of both time and patience.

However, when it came to expediting a passport renewal, recent changes in the office of home affairs made the wait time for a new passport intolerable. Couple this with the fact that new registration requirements made it necessary for her to obtain a South African Smart Identity Card. Something that is nearly impossible to do if you have never been issued the old green bar-coded identity book. At least with any speed. South Africans who have not lived in South Africa since their 15th birthday are very unlikely to have been isssued the old green bar-coded identity book.

Long story short, it took far less time to travel to South Africa en route to our destination where we would need the South African passport and get a passport and ID card as opposed to six months by mail. It was a matter of spending two weeks (don’t let any website or government official tell you it will be shorter) in South Africa. Luckily, my wife’s expiring passport was still valid for a month or two past our estimated return date.

The lesson learned here was, if you want to retain your South African citizenship, start the process of getting your national ID card and passport a year before you may need it. Otherwise, you may be in for a long plane ride and a que line almost as long.

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