Citizenship and nationality are widely used, both are closely related, synonymous and widely used next to each other. There exists a slight difference between the two but you should not confuse with each other.

It is true, understanding the subtle differences between citizenship and nationality can be quite difficult to understand, but we will try explain simple and easy.

How many citizenships and nationalities are there?

There are 223 nationalities in the world and some countries have ethnic variants of nationalities.

As with citizenships, there are 195 citizenships given that there are 195 countries in the world. In reality some of those countries do not allow dual or multiple citizenships.

What is the difference between nationality and citizenship?

In general, the best way to understand difference between the two is how you say – For example you would say your nationality as American, Indian, Chinese etc.., while you address your citizenship as US citizen, Chinese citizen etc.

You could become a chinese citizen but you’d never be chinese. Do you see the difference?

Here are some of the important differences.


  •  Citizenship is legally acquired international status acquired through (eg. Birth, marriage, naturalization) on the paper.
  • Citizenship is the most privileged form of nationality.  Citizenship comes with active political rights, full civil rights and social rights unlike nationality.
  • Citizenship is a legal bond between an individual and their State, acquired by birth or naturalisation, whether by declaration, choice, marriage or other means according to national legislation.
  • A citizen of a country is always a national of a country, but not the other way around. For example, you could become a chinese citizen but you’d never be chinese.
  • It is possible one can be dual or multiple citizenships
  • Citizenship is often accompanied or tied with the residence.
  • Dual citizenship holders may have limited diplomatic protection according to the principle set forth by the 1930 Hague Convention that a state may not afford diplomatic protection to one of its nationals against a state whose nationality such person also possesses.


Nationality differs technically and legally from citizenship, which is natural form of relationship between a person and a country. The noun national can include both citizens and non-citizens.

  • Nationality is a territorial concept refers to the origin of person by birth, inheritance or ethnic background.
  • Nationality is not necessarily offers right to participate in the political life of the state, such as by voting or standing for election.
  • Nationality is immutable and cannot be changed (eg. like place of birth in the passport)
  • Passports are issued to nationals of a state, rather than only to citizens. A passport certifies the identity and nationality of the bearer primarily for the purpose of international travel. Nationals may not have the right of abode (the right to live permanently) in the countries that grant them passports.
  • Nationality is not a sufficient condition to exercise full political rights within a state
  • Nationals enjoy diplomatic protection of the state or government.

Nationality is in fact commonly regarded as an inalienable right of every human being and nobody should be stateless. Thus, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality.”

Nationality Variations

Almost all countries today have only one nationality, but there are exceptions see below.

1. United States

United States nationality law defines some persons born in U.S. outlying possessions as U.S. nationals but not citizens.

US has two nationalities

  • US citizen
  • US national

Section 101(a)(22) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states that “the term ‘national of the United States’ means (A) a citizen of the United States, or (B) a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States.” Therefore, U.S. citizens are also U.S. nationals. Non-citizen nationality status refers only individuals who were born either in American Samoa or on Swains Island to parents who are not citizens of the United States.

US passport

Passports are issued to citizens and nationals of the United States of America.

The U.S. passport issued to non-citizen nationals contains the endorsement code 9 which states: “THE BEARER IS A UNITED STATES NATIONAL AND NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN.” on the annotations page

Although all U.S. citizens are also U.S. nationals, the reverse is not true. As specified in 8 U.S.C. § 1408, a person whose only connection to the U.S. is through birth in an outlying possession (which is defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1101 as American Samoa and Swains Island, the latter of which is administered as part of American Samoa), or through descent from a person so born, acquires U.S. nationality but not U.S. citizenship.

2. United Kingdom

The UK currently has 6 variants of nationalities

British citizen (BC)
British overseas territories citizen (BOTC)
British National (Overseas) (BN(O))
British protected person (BPP)
British subject
British Overseas citizen (BOC)

3. Taiwan

In Taiwan (ROC), the status of national without household registration applies to people who have Republic of China nationality, but do not have an automatic entitlement to enter or reside in the Taiwan Area, and do not qualify for civic rights and duties there.

4. Latin America

the nationality laws of Mexico, Colombia, and some other Latin American countries, nationals do not become citizens until they turn 18.

5. Israel

Israeli law distinguishes nationality from citizenship.