My Second Passport: How I Got Czech Citizenship and Access to the EU in One Year – Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, two of the main attractions in Prague that continue to entrance millions of visitors per year.
An exciting chapter in my life has just come to a close and I’m happy to be able to tell the story in full.
On November 15, 2022, I finally held my Czech Passport in my hands. It’s a process I had begun just over one year prior and even though it required considerable concentration, long weeks of waiting for an answer, mail crossing the Atlantic a few times, several hundred dollars, the help of an attorney, and an in-person appearance in Prague, it’s an invaluable step that can improve the lives of my family members.
The way I received my Czech citizenship may surprise many, but it’s an increasingly common path for people around the world to gain or restore their European passports. I was born in the United States to a third-generation Irish/German-American father and an immigrant Czech-American mother. Since members of my direct family were former Czechoslovak citizens that lost their citizenship, I was able to bypass the traditional naturalization process that would have taken at least 10 years to finish. There are a large number of people in the United States, by some estimates up to 1 million, who may be able to claim the same rights to Czech citizenship that I did. If you have a parent or grandparent that was born in the Czech territory, you may be eligible as well. Read on to find out how I made it happen!
Tanks from the armies of Warsaw Pact states entered St. Wenceslas Square in Prague to squash student protests and bring an end to the so-called “Prague Spring”, August 1968.
An Authoritarian Crackdown: Why My Family Left their Homeland
My mother’s side of the family all hails from the area which is now known today as the Czech Republic and we’ve also been able to find distant relatives in neighboring countries as well. My great-grandmother, who I knew up until she died in 2004, was born in Prague in 1914 during the tail end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s long history. For 20 years after the end of World War I in 1918, Czechoslovakia was an independent democratic republic. My grandfather was born in 1936 in Plzen, known as the birthplace of Pilsener beer. In 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Czechoslovak lands before formally dissolving the independent state. My grandmother was born in 1941 in Prague during the German occupation. During the last days of World War II in 1945, Czechoslovakia was liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army. It regained its independent status in 1948 but was quickly brought under the influence of Soviet communism. My mother was born in 1962 in Prague when the country was known as the Československá socialistická republika, or Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR).
Years of festering mistrust of the Soviet influence on the CSSR led to a short period in 1968 known as the Prague Spring. At the center of that story is Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSČ). Noticing the economic stagnation Czechoslovakia had experienced while tied to the economy of the Soviet Union, Dubček instituted a series of reforms. These were known under the slogan “Socialism with a human face” and began to loosen up free speech and travel for ordinary citizens. As expected, the lessening dependence on the USSR was not well received by the leaders in Moscow.
On August 20, 1968, tanks and infantry of the Warsaw Pact states (USSR, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria) rolled across the border and went straight for Prague. The invasion was met with little resistance from the Czechoslovak military, but it sparked major protests led by students in Prague and other cities. The protests in St. Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague were the final acts of the liberalization of the CSSR, immortalized in stunning images and other artwork from the time. By August 21, 1968, Alexander Dubček was removed from his position and his reforms were formally reversed.
During the chaos, my grandfather was hard at work secretly planning his family’s escape from Czechoslovakia. He had been recruited by the Xerox Corporation due to his background as a physical chemist, ensuring his family’s placement in the United States after leaving their homeland. My grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and mother arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in August 1969 and started fresh in a brand new country without being able to speak English. Eventually, the whole family naturalized as US citizens in 1976. Due to laws at the time that explicitly blocked allegiance to other states, the CSSR government formally and immediately revoked their Czechoslovak citizenship.
In 1989, the CSSR government was ousted after students and other political dissidents again took to the streets, taking advantage of the fall of communism around Europe. This bloodless end to the Soviet influence is known as the Velvet Revolution and the first democratic elections in over 50 years were held in Czechoslovakia in June 1990. On January 1, 1993, the country then amicably divided itself into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the states that remain today. Both countries separately joined the European Union on May 1, 2004, and the Schengen Area on December 21, 2007.
My great grandmother, seen here sometime in 1915 during World War I and the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s rule over future Czechoslovak lands.
Learning My Heritage: My First Steps Toward Czech Citizenship
After I graduated from university in May 2012, I planned to move abroad as soon as possible. This, combined with my desire to learn more about my Czech heritage, led me to apply to Charles University, one of Europe’s oldest universities and my grandfather’s alma mater. I was accepted and traveled to start my studies in Prague in August 2012. I went through the arduous process of acquiring a student visa but didn’t do a lot of things right. The bureaucrats I dealt with were cold and sometimes hostile, obviously annoyed that I couldn’t speak Czech.
This attempt to live there ended up being somewhat of a wash as I couldn’t maintain steady work. As a result, I returned to the US after just a few months, abandoned my student visa as well as my graduate studies, and started another chapter in my life. Of course, continuing these studies would have been much easier if I had the protections of the European Union and the Czech government. I did some research into acquiring Czech citizenship, but at the time it was simply out of the question. The Czech Nationality Law as of 2012 did not recognize multiple citizenships, except in very specific circumstances that didn’t apply to me. If I wanted to get Czech citizenship at that point, I would have had to naturalize over the next 10 years.
Well, as luck would have it, the Czech government enacted the Act on State Citizenship, which came into effect on January 1, 2014. This new law allowed multiple citizenships, the restoration of previous citizenship, as well as a new category, Sections 31 and 32, Citizenship by Declaration. Firstly, it allowed for the restoration of Czech citizenship that had been lost due to previous laws of the CSSR. Secondly, it allowed for direct descendants of former Czech citizens to be able to apply. Lastly, it allowed all of us to keep our US citizenship as well. In essence, my mother and her family as well as myself and my sister would all be eligible to receive Czech citizenship without giving anything up.
The family unit that left Czechoslovakia for America, pictured enjoying a walk at Křivoklát Castle near Prague sometime in 1968.
Back row: My grandfather, aunt, and grandmother
Front row: My mother
Taking Back What Was Ours: How I Made it Happen
During the COVID-19 Pandemic, I found myself in Turkey. My wife and I had some big decisions to make about the future and we spent some serious energy exploring what could be possible. At her suggestion, I began to revisit the prospect of acquiring Czech citizenship. Since Turkey’s economic and political prospects haven’t been ideal, we began to weigh the US and the EU on equal footing. To stay together as we waited for the right opportunity, I acquired permanent residency in Turkey in November 2020. In the meantime, we began to work on my wife’s US Green Card, a process still ongoing over two years later.
As the weeks turned into months in 2021, I gathered as much information as I could about acquiring Czech citizenship. I found out that two straightforward documents would be the key to our entire future as Czech citizens:
- My Mother’s Czech Birth Certificate: She was never given a paper copy of her birth records.
- Confirmation on the Loss of Czechoslovak Citizenship: The letter that each member of the family received in 1976 from the Czechoslovak Embassy in Washington, DC, which declared that their citizenship had been stripped upon receiving US citizenship.
What I needed to do to obtain Czech citizenship myself was to link myself to these two documents. Since the person in question was my mother, I was well within my rights to obtain her birth certificate. The birth certificate and the letter from the Czechoslovak Embassy confirmed the timeline of her Czechoslovak citizenship from 1962 to 1976.
Step 1: Obtaining My Mother’s Documents (October 2021 to December 2021)
I began the process by emailing the Czech Embassy in Ankara in October 2021. I asked for information on the documents required so I could formally request a copy of my mother’s birth records. I quickly got a response detailing that the Office for Vital Records would be processing my request after I applied at the Embassy. Among other requirements, it listed that I must be one of the following:
- The Individual concerned;
- Direct Relatives of the Individual, including spouse, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, or authorized representatives thereof;
- State Authorities for official use only; or
- Other special case exemptions involve church records and others.
Of course, I fall into the category of Direct Relatives, so I moved on to the next section. Here are the documents they required from me to process my request:
- Identity Document, such as an EU Identity Card or non-EU passport;
- Proof of Connection to the Individual, such as a birth certificate or marriage certificate;
- Consular Fees to be paid at the appointment;
- And, optionally, a Power of Attorney, in case I wasn’t able to make the request in person and needed to send a personal representative, though this wasn’t the case.
I had my mother send my original Birth Certificate and a notarized/certified copy of her 1976 letter from the Czechoslovak Embassy. While I waited for those documents to arrive in Ankara from Colorado, I worked hard to plan out the next steps. Within a week, I had those two documents in hand and I reached out to the Czech Embassy in Ankara to schedule an appointment. In early November 2021, I made the official request for my mother’s birth certificate and it arrived about six weeks later.
No matter how much time you have, getting your documents together for an official application always seems like a mad dash. Here, kids run around under the National Theater in Prague.
Step 2: Gathering All My Documents Together (November 2021 to February 2022)
To make my citizenship declaration at the Embassy, I would need to compile a veritable dossier of documents to prove my eligibility. Since the operating language of the Czech government is understandably Czech, I would need to have each of the documents translated by a certified and court-appointed translator. For this, I contacted a Czech and Slovak translator based in Istanbul and verified that she was appointed by a Czech court. Furthermore, each document issued in a country other than the Czech Republic needed to be affixed with an apostille, certifying that it was issued by a government agency.
The consular officials at the Czech Embassy in Ankara once again provided me with an official list of the documents I would need to make my declaration of citizenship, which are as follows:
- My Original US Birth Certificate, which I needed for the previous step and my mother already sent to my home in Turkey. This, of course, lists my mother as well as her birthplace and birth date in Czechoslovakia. I had the translation completed by the translator in Istanbul. I had found conflicting information online that said an apostille was not necessary, but more on that later.
- Our Original Turkish Marriage Certificate, which links my wife to my citizenship and also lists her official information in Turkey. If I wasn’t married, I would have needed verification from the local authorities confirming that fact. I had the apostille issued by the Çankaya Prefecture Office, or Kaymakamlığı, in Ankara, where I live. This translation was also completed by the translator in Istanbul.
- My Mother’s Czech Birth Certificate, which I had ordered previously. Thankfully, it was issued by the Czech government in the Czech language, so no apostille or translation was necessary.
- A Statement of Acquisition of Citizenship, which consolidates all the necessary information and serves as a sort of application form.
- A Personal Data Consent Form, which simply authorizes the Czech government to check my information against their records databases for criminal checks, and so on.
- A Declaration of Non-Acquisition of Slovak Citizenship, which acts as a buffer against someone claiming citizenship in Slovakia as well. This is because both countries have similar nationality laws following the splitting of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
After lots of back and forth with my translator and many trips to a nearby printing office, I got all the documents together in late February 2022. Again, I reached out to the Czech Embassy to schedule an appointment.
The Czech Ministry of the Interior Headquarters, located atop Pražského povstání metro station in Prague-4, is a classic example of the Communist-era Brutalist architecture in the outer areas of the city.
Step 3: Making the Declaration and Waiting for a Response (February 2022-July 2022)
The consular staff at the Czech Embassy in Ankara scheduled my Declaration of Citizenship for February 28, 2022. I was to bring all of my documents, their necessary translations and apostilles, filled-out forms, and the consular fees. The appointment went smoothly and they promised me that an official decision would be granted within 60 days and they would reach out to me.
A consular official emailed me on March 14, 2022, that I had received an official response and that I would need to show up in person to collect and unseal the document. It said that most of my documents were approved, but that I did need an apostille for my US birth certificate. I was hoping this was not the case, but I had trusted an online source. I learned the hard way that when in doubt, it’s better to get apostilles for all of your application documents.
I quickly mailed my birth certificate back to my mother so she could handle the apostille transaction with the Secretary of State of Massachusetts, where I was born. I would have sent it myself, but the official website dictated that they would only accept physical checks as payment for mail service, for a whole whopping $6. Call me foolish, but I didn’t think having physical checks at my home abroad in 2022 would be necessary. She mailed it back to me as soon as she received it two weeks later.
In the meantime, I arranged to have the apostille and birth certificate translated in Prague by another certified translator and notary. I also requested that the translator would forward the certified copy straight to the official responsible for my citizenship case. As soon as I got the birth certificate with an attached apostille back in Ankara, I sent it off to the translator in Prague. She performed the translation and sent it to the official. I got a confirmation of receipt by email on June 10, 2022.
The first great news of the whole journey came on June 16, 2022, when that same official notified me by email that all of my documents were approved and they were beginning to process a document confirming my citizenship. This informal affirmation was a huge relief, though they told me I couldn’t take any further action until I had the official paperwork in hand. On July 15, 2022, the Czech Embassy in Ankara summoned me to collect my Certificate of Citizenship, or Listina. This Certificate simply granted me an additional 12 months to apply for a passport. I was officially deemed a Czech citizen, but there was still more work yet to be done.
Everything was leading to this: the waiting room at the Passport Office of the Ministry of the Interior in Prague. The walled-in boxes are designed to keep personal details private during appointments and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Step 4: Obtaining My Czech Passport (July 2022 to November 2022)
With my Certificate of Citizenship in hand, I still wouldn’t be capable of doing anything except further registering myself in the country and eventually getting a passport. To make that application, I needed four components:
- My Certificate of Citizenship, or Listina, which was delivered to me by the Embassy and would be valid for 12 months from the issuing date, by which point I would need to apply for a passport.
- My Czech Birth Certificate, or Rodný List, which would register me in the Office of Vital Records as a full citizen.
- My Czech Marriage Certificate, or Oddací List, which would register my wife as the spouse of a Czech citizen. I also needed an Agreement on Surnames, or Dohoda o příjmení, which verified that we claimed exemption from the naming conventions of the Czech language. This was important because it would avoid potential future confusion about the difference in our last names: Gormanov for me and Gormanová for my wife. We opted to keep Gorman for both of us.
- My Birth Number, or Rodné číslo, which acts in the same capacity as my US social security number. The birth number is automatically generated with the birth certificate.
Unlike during other steps in the process up to this point, I couldn’t find any reliable information online describing how I would go about obtaining those documents. Similarly, the officials at the Czech Embassy in Ankara seemed to be largely unfamiliar with the last steps of the process and were generally slow at transferring documents. To avoid going to the Czech Republic several times, I retained an immigration lawyer in Prague to file the documents for me. The lawyer submitted all documentation to the relevant authorities on September 8, 2022, letting me know that a response would take another 60 days.
On November 2, 2022, my lawyer contacted me that all paperwork was finished and ready for me to apply for a passport. This led to a decision I would need to make regarding the ease and speed of applying:
- Apply at an Embassy Abroad: This process could take up to 4 months, though it was the cheapest option and it would keep me close to home.
- Apply in Prague: This process could either take 5 business days or 24 hours as long as I could apply in person at the Ministerstvo vnitra, or Ministry of Interior, in Prague.
I decided to go with the fastest, yet most expensive option. It would mark the end of the citizenship process and I’d get to make a quick visit to Prague. So, I planned a quick four-day trip, Sunday to Wednesday, which would give me enough time to collect the documents from my lawyer on Monday morning, go to the passport/identity card appointment Monday afternoon and submit the necessary documents and fees, then hopefully receive my passport and identity card within 24 hours on Tuesday.
My flight leaving Ankara on Sunday morning encountered technical difficulties while in flight and we returned to the airport to board another plane. This caused me to miss my connection in Istanbul and Pegasus Airlines only had one daily flight to Prague. The airline booked me on a flight the next day and put me in a hotel for the night. This would necessitate a rescheduling of my appointment at the Ministry of Interior. Thankfully, all appointments are booked online and I was quickly able to reschedule for a time later in the afternoon. I chose 4:30 pm on Monday, a few hours after I arrived.
My flight arrived in Prague on Monday at 1:00 pm and I went straight to my lawyer’s office to collect my Czech Birth and Marriage Certificates. I was still around an hour ahead of time, so I went to the Ministry of Interior a little early just to make sure I had the right location. Good thing I did, because the Passport Office was several blocks away from the main Ministry of Interior office building. I found the right place, then checked into my hotel, which I had booked specifically because it was a 5-minute walk from my appointments.
I showed up for my appointment at 4:30 pm. It was a small sterile waiting room with several walled-in boxes designed for keeping personal details private and reducing COVID-19 exposure. I took a number and, with no one else in the office, mine was called immediately. I sat down at the official’s desk. I addressed him with a “Hello” instead of “Dobrý den” to indicate that I’m not competent in Czech. He smiled nervously and responded with “Hello,” then explained that he did not speak English well but would still try to help me. He looked over all my documents and saw everything was in order, took photos for my passport and ID, took my fingerprints, and then charged me the government fees. He gave me a receipt to present when I came to pick up my passport and ID card the next day and that an email would notify me when it was ready.
At 7:58 am on Tuesday, just two minutes before the government office opened, I received an email saying my passport and identity card were ready for pickup. I returned to the office as quickly as possible, took a number, waited a few minutes, and sat down in another box. A different official greeted me and we went through the same procedure of understanding each other in simple English. She had me check my documents for errors, then had me sign for them. I was all done! Stepping outside, I took a deep breath of the foggy Prague autumn morning air and smiled.
Looking Ahead: Choosing the Right Path Forward
It’s no secret around the world that there are many important benefits to those that hold a passport from a European Union state. With my Czech passport that I acquired through Citizenship by Declaration, there have been several major benefits that my family and I have been able to enjoy:
- Freedom of Movement: My wife and I can now travel, live, and work anywhere in the European Union and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states. All I need to do is register a home address in a different member state while my wife simply applies for a residence permit as the spouse of an EU citizen.
- Universal Health Care: Unlike the US at present, all EU states provide full public health care for all citizens. Though the quality and availability of healthcare are slightly different across the EU, it’s always affordable and guaranteed as a right.
- Faster Acquisition and No Language Requirement: Residents of the Czech Republic are allowed to naturalize and gain Czech citizenship after 10 continuous years of living in the country. To acquire citizenship, they must also pass a Czech language test. Those requirements are waived for people who acquire Citizenship by Declaration.
I also see my acquisition of Czech citizenship as a kind of generational redemption. My grandparents, aunt, and mother escaped to the US from Czechoslovakia for a better life. Still, they went through the trauma of leaving behind their homeland as well as family members and friends. Their ties to the old country were stripped away due to the politics of an authoritarian government. Over 50 years later, it’s easy to see that they succeeded. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has transitioned into a full democracy with a strong economy and a high quality of life. I’m interested in being able to improve the quality of life for my own family as well as become more connected to our Czech roots. My mother and sister are also currently in the process of obtaining their Czech citizenship from the US.
Learning from Mistakes and Helping Others Achieve Their Goals
At this point in my life, I’ve had plenty of experience navigating the scrutiny of governments in different countries, some hostile and some welcoming. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, including some seemingly obvious ones during my Czech citizenship process. As always, hindsight is 20/20 and I continue to learn things about moving abroad constantly. One thing I know for sure is that I could have sped up the process and saved money by hiring a lawyer sooner. Ultimately, I crossed the finish line with the help of a lawyer, but hiring one earlier in the process could have made the whole experience go much more smoothly.
I want to help others around the world learn about opportunities like this one as well as learn from my mistakes. Expat Empire’s founder, David McNeill, has also learned his fair share during his many years abroad. If you want to get citizenship by descent from the country of your heritage, or just find a way to live abroad, we can help! Our Timeline Planning service can help shed some light on the confusing or intimidating parts of moving abroad. Make sure to check out our other Consulting Services that may provide an essential link to your new life abroad!