British Nationality vs British Citizenship

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice. 25 January 2024

When we assist with naturalisation applications or registration as a British citizen application, people often use the term British ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’ interchangeably. However contrary to what many may think the two are not the same. In fact, British citizenship is one of the six different types of British nationality that a person may have. The other five types of British nationality that a person may be are outlined under the British Nationality Act 1948 and are namely a British Overseas Territories citizen, British overseas citizen, British subject, British Overseas national and British protected person. So, what’s the difference? What exactly is a British citizen and what is a British national?

What is a British citizen?

A British citizen has the right of abode in the UK and may remain in the UK, work, study and have access to the NHS and be free from any immigration controls for the rest of their life. There are various ways that someone may obtain British citizenship, namely:

  1. British Citizenship by Birth
  2. British Citizenship by Descent
  3. British Citizenship by Marriage
  4. Naturalisation

What is a British Overseas Territories citizen?

A British Overseas Territories citizen, previously known as a ‘British Dependent Territories citizen’, is somebody who:

  1. Was born before 1st January 1983 and was a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC); or somebody who was born in a British overseas territory and their parents or grandparent were born, registered and naturalised in the same British overseas territory.
  2. If born after 1st January 1983, was born in a British overseas territory in which one or both of their parents was legally settled or a citizen.

While a British Overseas Territories citizen has the right to apply for a British passport, they will still be subject to immigration controls.

What is a British overseas citizen?

A British overseas citizen, on the other hand, is somebody who was a citizen of a CUKC on 31st December 1982 and did not become a British citizen or a British Overseas Territories citizen on 1st January 1983.

Like a British Overseas Territories citizen, a British overseas citizen may apply for a British passport but will still be subject to immigration controls and will not automatically have the right of abode in the UK.

What is a British subject?

While there are few who are still considered to be British subjects, it is nevertheless an important distinction:Until 1949, anyone who had a close connection to the UK could be considered a British subject.

  1. Up until January 1983, all citizens of Commonwealth countries were referred to as British subjects.
  2. A person became a British subject if up until 1st January 1983 they were a British subject without citizenship, meaning they were a British subject on 31st December 1948 who did not become a citizen of the UK colonies, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan or Ireland.
  3. A person may also have become a British subject if they were an Irish citizen on 31st December 1948 and made a claim to remain as a British subject.

What is a British national (overseas)?

A British national (overseas) is somebody who may have been registered as such before 1st July 1997 due to their connections to Hong Kong.

As a British national (overseas), a person may apply for a British passport, but again, will still be subject to immigration controls and will not automatically have the right of abode in the UK.

What is a British protected person?

Somebody may be considered to be a British protected person if:

  1. As of 1st January 1983 they were a citizen of Brunei or previously held British protected person status.
  2. They were born stateless in the UK or born stateless in an overseas territory and one of their parents was a British protected person.

A British protected person may apply for a British passport but will be subject to immigration controls and will not have the automatic right to abode in the UK.