How I Got an Italian Passport
Growing up, my Sunday looked like many other Italian-American’s. From pasta and fresh bread to dinners ending with espresso, Sunday’s were about famiglia. At the time, I took this for granted, not understanding how special these occasions were. When I lost my grandfather and then shortly after my father to cancer, I realized our Italian family traditions might not be around forever.
My nonna (grandmother) was still with us at that time. To keep her spirits high and reconnect us to our heritage, she spent many evenings sharing stories about her old life in Sicily, before she’d immigrated to the U.S. These evenings became so meaningful that they inspired me to begin my ancestral research and take my first trip to Italy. That adventure changed my life. When I arrived back in New York, I craved the simple Italian lifestyle and the connection to my roots. Here is where my journey to become officially Italian began.
After an internet search, I decided I would go through the dual citizenship process on my own. The first step was to head to the website of my local Italian consulate. Here it states who qualifies for citizenship and what documents you will need for the application. After reviewing the information, I understood I could apply through my ties to either my grandmother or grandfather, so I went ahead and confirmed an appointment.
If you are serious about applying, I recommend booking an appointment as soon as possible, even if you are currently missing some paperwork. It can take months or even years before you receive an appointment.
The next step was to start gathering documents. I spent many months visiting New York City’s Vital Records department and the City Clerk’s Office requesting the proper documentation. You need the original, long-form versions of documentation. If you are unsure about the format of your current documents, contact your local Vital Records office.
Once all the paperwork was collected, it then had to be translated into Italian. At the time, you had to source a translator through the consulate. Today, they are a bit more flexible. However, I would suggest hiring a certified translator. Otherwise, you risk mistakes that could hold up the process. Also, my translator was able to notarize all the documentation, which saved me time and money.
When I went to my first appointment at the consulate, I quickly learned the process would take more time. In total, my application lasted seven years. The holdup was mostly due to misspellings on my grandparent’s birth certificates, submitted when they arrived from Italy. However, have no fear; this is not the average turnaround time. The typical estimated wait is 24 to 48 months. Nevertheless, it’s best to be prepared for some unexpected roadblocks along the way. Also, I recommend diligently checking all documents (spellings, format, etc.) in advance of your appointment with the consulate or embassy.
Although it took me seven years, I do not have any regrets. The feeling of having a second passport is wonderful. Having been through the process, I now help others. I’ve partnered with genealogists and ancestry research experts to assist people with their applications through my travel company, Travel Italian Style.
Now more than ever, I am grateful to have both an Italian and U.S. passport. I can travel and live freely throughout Italy and Europe (even during the pandemic). And I am proud to maintain the Italian heritage in my family.
So often we go through life forgetting where we came from. My Italian passport is a permanent reminder that Italy is and always will be part of who I am.
By Cassandra Santoro