This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to become a New Zealand citizen

Four ways of becoming a citizen

There are four main ways in which you can become a New Zealand citizen:

  • Citizenship by birth in New Zealand
    • You are a NZ citizen if you were born here before 1 January 2006.
    • If you are born here on or after 1 January 2006 you are a citizen only if at least one parent is, at the time of the birth, a NZ citizen or permanent resident, or a permanent resident of the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau (unless you would otherwise be stateless).
  • Citizenship by descent
    • You are a NZ citizen if you are born overseas to a mother or father who is a NZ citizen otherwise than by descent (or if a mother or father is a NZ citizen by descent and you would otherwise by stateless).
  • Adoption
    • You are a NZ citizen if you are legally adopted by a NZ citizen.
  • Citizenship by grant
    • You can apply to the NZ government for it to grant you citizenship.

The Act governing citizenship is the CITIZENSHIP ACT 1977.

How do I apply for a grant of citizenship?

You will need to apply to the NZ Citizenship Office of the Department of Internal Affairs.

There is an application fee: to check for the latest fees, visit the NZ Citizenship website.

You will need to provide the following documents in your application:

  • a birth certificate
  • a marriage certificate or a marriage dissolution order if this is applicable
  • evidence of any formal name changes
  • the passport or documents with which you entered New Zealand

You will need to have an interview with a representative from Internal Affairs.

The application will normally take five to eight months to process. You will be sent a letter informing you of the outcome of your application.

What criteria do I have to meet to be granted citizenship?

The criteria you need to meet for a successful application are that you:

  • are at least 16 years old
  • are entitled to be in New Zealand indefinitely under the IMMIGRATION ACT 2009 (in practice, this means you must hold a residence permit)
  • have been in New Zealand, with an entitlement to be here indefinitely, for at least 1,350 days during the five years before your application, and for at least 240 days in each of those five years
  • are of good character
  • have knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of New Zealand citizenship
  • have sufficient knowledge of the English language, and
  • intend to continue to be ordinarily resident in New Zealand if you are granted citizenship (there are some exceptions to this)

The second of these requirements, that you're entitled to be in New Zealand indefinitely, can be waived if you're entitled to live indefinitely in the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau.

The third requirement, specifying minimum periods for having been in NZ over the last five years, can be waived if you meet those requirements in relation to the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau.

Citizenship ceremony

If your application for citizenship is successful, you will need to attend a citizenship ceremony and take an oath or affirmation in English.

Registering your citizenship by descent

If you were born overseas to a New Zealand parent, and are therefore a citizen by descent, you can apply for your citizenship to be registered. You will then receive a certificate of registration. This certificate will provide evidence of your citizenship for purposes such as applying for a passport: see How to obtain a passport.

Under the law before 10 December 2001, your citizenship by descent lapsed if you didn't register your citizenship before your twenty-fourth birthday. That law has now been abolished; the new laws also state that if your citizenship lapsed under this old law, it is reinstated with effect from the date on which it lapsed.

Can I have dual citizenship?

Dual citizenship is available in New Zealand. But whether or not it is applicable in your particular case will depend on the law of the other country concerned.

In rare cases a grant of dual citizenship may be lost if you give false or misleading information or if you concealed important facts when applying for it.

Cautionary notes
  • If your application is declined you may ask Internal Affairs to reconsider. If this is not successful, you should seek legal advice. A lawyer will inform you of your chances for seeking a review of the official decision in the High Court.

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