What is a citizen?

What is a citizen? And what does citizenship mean? It is a fundamental and multifaceted concept that lies at the very heart of human society.


Defining citizenship

At its core, citizenship is a legal and social status. It defines an individual’s membership within a particular nation or state. It entails both rights and responsibilities, and it often goes beyond mere legal obligations, shaping a person’s identity and sense of belonging. Citizenship bestows upon individuals the rights to live and work in a specific country. Additionally it allows them to participate in its political processes. Furthermore, they get to enjoy the benefits of that nation’s legal and social systems. We answer the question: ‘What is a citizen?’ in detail below.

What is a citizen?

A citizen is a legally recognised subject or national of a state or commonwealth…

The concept of citizenship represents more than just a legal status; it defines the relationship between individuals and the nation they belong to. Understanding citizenship is not only about legalities; it is about belonging, identity, and the shared commitment to building a better future.

Different Types of Citizenship

From birthright, citizenship by descent, naturalisation to dual citizenship and Citizenship by Investment, there are distinct paths individuals take to become citizens. 

These forms of citizenship can vary across nations, and the rights and responsibilities they bestow upon those who hold them. 

Each different type of citizenship reflects the rich tapestry of the global community and the complexities of the legal, cultural, and societal ties that bind us together as citizens of the world. 

Birthright Citizenship

This type of citizenship is also referred to as ‘jus soli ‘ and is granted to individuals simply because they are born within the territorial boundaries of a nation. 

It is commonly practiced in countries like the United States, Canada, and many others. Birthright citizenship, or jus soli, is a significant aspect of many nations’ immigration policies. 

What are the advantages of birthright citizenship?

  • Inclusivity: Birthright citizenship is often seen as an inclusive policy that recognises the diversity of a nation’s population. It ensures that children born in the country, regardless of their parents’ background, have equal rights and opportunities. 
  • Integration: Birthright citizenship promotes the integration of diverse populations within a nation, as it facilitates the process and encourages a sense of belonging among individuals of different backgrounds. 
  • Territorial Principle: The principle of birthright citizenship is based on the geographical location of birth. If a person is born on the soil of a country that practices jus soli, they are considered a citizen of that country. 

Citizenship by Decent

Descent or blood citizenship, also known as jus sanguinis, is a legal principle that grants citizenship to individuals based on their family or ancestral ties to a specific country.

If one or both parents are citizens of that country, their children often become citizens by descent. Germany, for example, practices this form of citizenship.

Key Aspects of Citizenship by Descent

  • Jus Sanguinis: This term is Latin for “right of blood,” and it reflects the essence of descent or blood citizenship. It is the legal basis upon which many countries grant citizenship to individuals with recognised ancestral or familial ties.
  • Preserving Cultural and Ancestral Ties: Descent citizenship can help individuals maintain a connection to their cultural and ancestral heritage, even if they were born in a different country. It simplifies the process of reuniting families with members living in different countries, as children born to citizens abroad can often claim citizenship through their parents. 
  • Multiple Generations: Some countries allow individuals to claim citizenship through their grandparents or even more distant ancestors, depending on the specific legal provisions in place.
  • Documentation and Proof: Applicants for descent or blood citizenship typically need to provide documented evidence of their familial connection, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other relevant records. The specific requirements and documentation can vary from one country to another.


Naturalised citizenship is acquired by individuals who were not born in the country but have gone through a legal process to become citizens.  

This process typically involves residing in the country for a specific period. It most likely will also require passing language and civics tests, and meeting other requirements.  

Naturalised citizens enjoy most of the same rights and responsibilities as birthright citizens. 

Naturalisation is an essential aspect of immigration and a pathway to full integration into a new country. 

It allows individuals to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, while also reinforcing the social and cultural fabric of the host nation. 

Dual Citizenship

what is a citizen

Some nations permit individuals to hold citizenship in more than one country simultaneously.

Dual citizenship can be obtained in various ways, such as through birthright, investment or naturalisation.

The rules surrounding dual citizenship can vary widely from one country to another. This is a legal status that allows an individual to be a citizen of two or more countries at the same time.

Key Aspects of Dual Citizenship

  • Global Mobility: Dual citizens can enjoy more flexible travel options. This can be particularly beneficial for businesspeople and frequent travellers. 
  • Rights and Privileges: Dual citizens typically enjoy the same legal rights and privileges as any other citizen in each of their respective countries. This includes the same obligations and responsibilities as any other citizen in their respective countries. Such as the right to live and work in those countries, access to social services, and voting rights.

Citizenship by Investment

Also known as economic citizenship, a growing trend in the world, some countries offer citizenship or residency in exchange for significant investments in their economy.  

This is a growing concept in the realm of citizenship. It allows individuals to acquire citizenship or residency in a foreign country by making a substantial financial investment in that country’s economy. 

The specific requirements and benefits vary from one nation to another. 

Citizenship by Investment programmes have gained popularity among countries seeking to attract foreign capital and stimulate economic growth. 

Investment Requirements 

Economic citizenship programmes typically require applicants to make significant investments in the host country.

These investments can take various forms, including purchasing real estate, investing in job creation, contributing to a national development fund, or supporting specific industries.

The required investment amount varies widely, with some programmes demanding several hundred thousand dollars, while others may require millions.

Many countries around the world have adopted economic citizenship programs, including nations in the Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere.

For instance, countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Malta, Saint Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Türkiye offer such programmes.

Honorary Citizenship

In some rare cases, countries may grant honorary citizenship to individuals who have made exceptional contributions to their nation.

Unlike regular citizenship, honorary citizenship does not confer the legal rights and privileges associated with full citizenship. For example; the right to vote or reside in the country.

Instead, it is a symbolic honour. It’s a way for a nation or community to express gratitude and respect for an individual’s remarkable achievements or contributions.

Criteria for Honorary Citizenship

The criteria for granting honorary citizenship vary from place to place.

It can be awarded for a wide range of reasons, including extraordinary acts of philanthropy, notable cultural or artistic contributions, sports, or heroic acts in times of crisis.

It is often conferred upon individuals who have made a lasting and positive impact on the local or global community.

Honorary citizenship is largely symbolic.

It serves as a public acknowledgment of an individual’s outstanding contributions. It is also a token of appreciation from the granting authority, whether that’s a nation, a city, or another administrative entity.

Diplomatic and Cultural Relations 

Honorary citizenship can be a means of strengthening diplomatic and cultural ties between countries or regions.

It may serve to foster goodwill and encourage continued cooperation in various fields.

Global Citizenship

This concept extends beyond national borders. It emphasises the idea of being a responsible and active member of the global community.

While it does not have the same legal standing as national citizenship.

It does emphasise the idea that individuals have responsibilities and loyalties to a broader global community.

Global citizenship promotes a sense of interconnectedness and shared responsibility.

Education for Global Citizenship

Educational institutions worldwide play a crucial role in promoting global citizenship. Many schools and universities have incorporated global citizenship education into their curricula.

This includes teaching students about global issues, fostering cross-cultural understanding, and encouraging critical thinking about the world’s challenges.

Role in Addressing Global Challenges

Global citizens often work collectively to address pressing global challenges.  

They may support and participate in international organisations and therefore, the collective effort can influence policies, drive change, and raise awareness about global issues.