Holy cannoli, I’m officially an Italian citizen!

Last Friday my mom called me, voice pitched with excitement. “Check your email! I GOT MY CITIZENSHIP!!!”

And indeed, after three years of navigating the byzantine bureaucracy of Italy, it was official. I too was now a citizen of Italy and (therefore the European Union) via “jure sanguinis,” my blood right to Italian citizenship. My path was via my great-grandfather Annibale, who emigrated at 19 years old through Ellis Island with $11 in his pocket and zero English words in his vocabulary. (More back story here.)

So now I’m a dual citizen of the U.S. and Italy. Uh… Whoa. What does that even mean.

Out on my favorite local ride right after learning about my citizenship.

At the core of my emotions right now is a deep sense of accomplishment, connection to my family’s past, and satisfaction. There’s also a component of relief (no.freaking.way…it worked out!) plus a palpable excitement about the future potential. It was a gift to my entire family—who knows what Chelsea and I, my mom or my brother and his kids will do with an EU citizenship? 

I’m feeling a sense of pride in myself for sorting this out, but mostly for even starting. After all, before launching into this project in 2020, I read many accounts of how frustrating, time consuming, expensive and frustrating (DID I MENTION FRUSTRATING?!) it could be.

It was like stepping into a boxing ring knowing I was going to take a beating for years without any real clarity on why I was doing so. To escape with only a few grazes to my jaw with an EU citizenship in my sweaty paw feels miraculous, like I pulled a fast one on somebody. “Wait, I can just go live in Europe? Really?!”

Even prior to official recognition a few days ago, this process triggered a deeper connection to family history and Italy for me. For the pure enjoyment of it, I’ve learned to speak the language, read novels in Italian, talked with distant family members, and studied the history of Italy. I’ve visited for a week of bike touring in 2015, but otherwise know it only intellectually. I can’t wait to visit my great-grandfather’s tiny village near Naples and sit down with people to learn more about Sant’Agata di Puglia.

Sant’Agata, the cutest hill town ever.

During the quest, Chelsea and I talked frequently about our ambitions for the citizenship. To answer an FAQ that everyone asks, no, we are not immediately selling all our possessions and moving to Europe. We have zero plans to buy a one Euro property in the south of Italy and remodel it in the spirit of my carpenter great-grandfather.

But long-term, Dakota, what’s your plan?! Airstream life, sure, but THEN what…?

How are we going to use my Italian citizenship?

Short answer: we’re unclear what’s next. We’ve never been “5 year plans” kind of people and prefer some serendipity.

However, a friend asked me an insightful question: what’s the low and upper bounds of how we use my citizenship?

Low end: one trip of ~6-12 months to explore different areas of Europe (not just Italy).

Upper end: we do a trip like the above, love love love living in Europe and end up relocating there to spend our days under the Tuscan sun.

My guess about the reality? Somewhere in the middle. With access to living in 28 European countries and all their benefits, that’s a whole lot of potential. From Ireland to Portugal to Cyprus to Finland, the EU encompasses some territory that I’d love to soak up. Places to see, cultures to experience, languages to learn.

I can imagine studying piano in Vienna and drawing in Florence, hiking with Chelsea in the Swiss alps or biking in the Italian Dolomites, then moving to Spain or Sweden or Slovakia or Slovenia for a different flavor. We could spend a lifetime just in the S’s of Europe!

High above Lake Bohinj in Slovenia during a day off from bike touring.

An Open Door

What citizenship represents to me is an unlocked door. My distant cousin clued me into the existence of a key three years ago  and miraculously I was able to track it down. Now all I need to do is open the door and step through.

Lately I’ve felt a few of those open doors, first with buying an Airstream and the nomadic lifestyle that represents. Then I closed up operations for my business shortly after. Now I’m an Italian citizen! Whoa. An eventful four months and so many potential doorways to step through.

Who knows which one I’ll take?

Venice, 2015, during my only trip to Italy.

Taking a big step toward my Italian citizenship

I’m gonna get an Italian passport someday

In fall of 2020, COVID raged world-wide and forest fires burned on the west coast. Oregon’s air quality hovered between a smoking pack of cigarettes a day and Chernobyling people’s lungs. It was…not awesome.

A breath of fresh air arrived via a second cousin who called my mom and proclaimed, “I found the naturalization certificate for your great-grandpa. We can all become Italian citizens!”

Trigger enthusiasm. Research. Deep-diving into Ancestry.com. Trying to get an appointment at the consulate in San Francisco, a Herculean task in the overtaxed consulate system. After three months of trying, I snagged one in January 2021…for two years out. These days, they are booking five years in the future!

Here’s the original blog post from 2020 with more details. (Fun side note: a cousin from a side of the family I’d never heard of found that blog post, which reconnected us all. Go go internet magic!)

Not gonna lie: it was a solid effort to track down documents ranging from original Italian birth certificates from 1884 to modifying death certificates with incorrect info on them. But I got it done and kicked off the New Year by finally meeting with an consulate officer discuss my citizenship quest. Luckily, the San Francisco consulate was still doing remote appointments, saving me a trip. We simply handled things on the phone.

Prior to that, I nervously mailed all the hard-won documents to the consulate via their requested method, flat rate mail with no signature confirmation. “Oh, it’s cool, just dozens of hours of efforts and a thousand dollars of documents floating around in holiday mail traffic. I’M NOT WORRIED.”

You better believe I ordered two certified copies of everything.

A self-portrait of me before my appointment.

I used the appointment as a final exam of sorts for my Italian language study. I didn’t need to do the appointment in Italian, but since I’ve been studying it since I started this citizenship process, I wanted to. The consulate officer was quite surprised that I could actually speak the language—they always chide people for not being able to, but don’t expect it. Instead, she complimented me on my Italian, which felt validating given how hard I’ve worked.

We dove into the review of all the lineage documents and next steps went swimmingly. All the upfront corrections and fact checking I did apparently worked out because she gave me zero followup homework. My only guidance on timeline is that I’ll need to wait “dei mesi,” aka “some months” or “whenever we dig our way through the mile-high stack of applications.”

So, yeah, I’m not done, but my work and the “did I f this up somewhere?” question that hovered deep in the back of my mind is released. Now I just wait, living my life while the time passes anyway! Call it acceptance training.

Although we might have looked at some long-term rentals in Italy. You know, just checking…

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Shipping two years of hard work off to the consulate!

Say What, I’m (Almost) An Italian Citizen?!

sudtirol bike path
Bike touring magic in Northern Italy in 2015.

I never met him, but I suspect my great-grandfather Annibale Marchitelli was a wily dude. Thanks to that wiliness, I am en route to having my Italian citizenship recognized.

Allow me to explain.

According to a ship manifest on the internets, in 1903 Annibale left the classic hill town of Sant’Agata di Puglia with $11 in his pocket. He landed at Ellis Island, settled in Jersey City, and got down to two jobs: carpentry and having sex raising 11 kids (yegads!).

In 1927, a few months after the final kid was born (my grandma), Annibale naturalized as a U.S. citizen. This means that: a) between work and tending to 11 whippersnappers, he didn’t have time to naturalize before then or b) he realized by having kids first, they could get dual citizenship. (This is all conjecture because he died young and took the secret to the grave.)

This all rocketed into my universe a week ago when a cousin called my mom to say, “hey, I found the original naturalization certificate. It looks like we can all become Italian citizens!”

Cue fanfare and cries of sorprendente! We’re moving to Europe!

Not so fast.

The Long and Winding Road to Italian Citizenship Via Jure Sanguinis

Turns out the Italian government doesn’t simply hand out passport if you text their consulates with a crappy iPhone photo of a naturalization certificate. (“I was told I also get a Tuscan villa?”) Farrrr from it.

The official route for this kind of situation is called “jure sanguinis,” which (for me) means “your great-grandpappy was Italian when your grandma was born, so you can be too!” Or, if we’re technical, “right of blood.” (Check if you do!)

Side note: In many countries with lots of immigration in the past (e.g. the U.S., Australia, Canada), citizenship is often “jus soli,” or “right of soil.” If you’re born there, you’re a citizen. Europe is mostly bloodline, which creates complex quandaries given all the immigration happening there.

Basically, since my grandma was born with unrecognized Italian citizenship, so was my mom, and hence me. BOOM. Given that I’ve signed my emails ciao for years, this makes so much sense.

All we have to do is prove the chain of lineage and I can buy an abandoned castle, acquire a taste for wine (uh oh), learn more Italian than “ciao,” and move to the Old Country!

The Fun and Games of Proving Citizenship

There are services that handle the process for a paltry $8,000-15,000. NEVER. I, Captain DIY, do not pay for such things!

Luckily, generous people have sailed these seas before. They are willing – no, happy! – to help noobies like me navigate the process for free. There’s even a Facebook group with an incredible amount of well-organized information and tales of victory. It’s possible! Just…a bit complicated.

Using the document list from the San Francisco consulate, my list includes certified naturalization records, plus birth, death, and marriage certificates. Cakewalk: I’ve got the internet, free time, and I love spreadsheets. (Yes, I already made one. #engineerdorkalert Here’s a template for you!)

Just 2-4 things for each person. For FOUR generations. From Italy. New Jersey. Florida. Wisconsin. New York. California. Idaho.

Don’t forget this curveball: some U.S. agencies aren’t currently sending hard copies thanks to 2020’s major strikeout pitch, CoronaLameGawdIHateYou.

Uh oh. Why does my brain suddenly feel like a soggy plate of my grandma’s pasta?

OH, and once I receive documents, it’s necessary to mail them BACK to the Secretary of State in the issuing state for an apostille stamp that double-certifies the document is official for international use per the Hague Convention. (Apparently in Italy you CAN triple-stamp a double-stamp?)

Then everything has to be translated into Italian. Yup. Not kidding.

Did I mention it’s currently impossible to book an appointment at the San Francisco consulate? Just a TWO YEAR wait, except you can’t search more than two years out in their system, so only cancellations are available.

This is officially the most bureaucratic process I’ve ever launched into in.my.entire.life.

Update Jan 3, 2020: I GOT AN APPOINTMENT!!! (<–exclamation points necessary.) After three months of us trying every day at 3 pm (along with everyone else on the west coast), I randomly scored an appointment for January 2023. I also got one for my mom on January 31st!

Update July 28, 2021: After six months of frustration Chelsea got an appointment! The new PrenotaMI system had slots open for May 2024 and we snagged one (so did my brother). Yeah, it’s a long way off, but by the time I get my passport, it could be late 2023 anyway. Plus this gives Chelsea time to learn Italian, which is necessary for her citizenship.

Update January 4th, 2023: I had my appointment! (Here’s the blog post summary.) 100% in Italian, woot woot. All that study has paid off. Now to wait “dei mesi” (some months) while my file slooowly trickles through the bureaucracy.

Update October 2023: I GOT MY CITIZENSHIP. I’m officially Italian! Here’s my blog post with reactions and thoughts on the news.

Hmmm. We love Oregon and can already travel to Europe for three months at a time. (Well, before covid.) Is this worth it?

Why I Give a Hoot About Italian Citizenship

Clearly all of this is a pain in the left lobe of my brain as well as time-consuming and costly. Why bother?

  1. Options are never bad.
    Who knows what happens during our lifetimes! We have no desire to leave Bend or the U.S. right now (well, depends on the day), but goals morph, presidents change (please pleeeease), and we do like adventures….
  2. I can help my family get citizenship.
    My mom, my brother/sister, and extended family can piggyback on my efforts. Chelsea and I don’t have kids, but my brother and cousins do. What a gift for their kids! Free college, the ability to live and work in the EU, healthcare that doesn’t bankrupt you. Amazing.
  3. Genealogy research is strangely satisfying.
    This one surprises me since I’ve never investigated my roots. Now I’m engaged in a giant scavenger hunt via FamilySearch.org and Archives.gov. Even if the whole process doesn’t work out, I think it’ll feel worth it.

And so, ONWARD. In two weeks, I’ve already made substantial progress. While this process takes years, at the end is a maroon Italian passport with my name etched inside and access to living anywhere in the European Union.

In the meantime, we shall study Italiano and dream of hill towns. Sto eccitato.


Sant'Agata di Puglia view
Sant’Agata di Puglia, birthplace of my great-grandfather! Can’t wait to visit.
(Photo credit Sant’Agata FB page)