What Does Citizenship Mean?
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 30, 2021
Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.
Types of Citizenship
Citizenship is most frequently mentioned when referring to one's nation of origin or current residence, but the term can also apply to situations in which someone is a member of another type of community.
Some people consider themselves to be "citizens" of cities, states, schools, and more. Often, being a citizen of any type of group or community comes with certain obligations and the expectation that one will undertake these in order to give back to the community.
Rights and Duties of a Citizen
Being a citizen is accompanied by additional rights and responsibilities that are not granted to noncitizen residents of a nation. In the United States, these include:
- Voting in elections
- Participating in jury duty
- Holding public office
- A passport issued in the country's name
In addition, citizens are expected to follow the laws of their countries and to recognize the authority of the government. In the U.S., citizens are specifically expected to uphold and defend the Constitution, the basis for many of the most essential laws and principles of the nation.
Male citizens of the U.S. are required to register for the Selective Service System upon turning 18. Until the age of 26, the government can then draft them for mandatory military service. Those who do not register before the age of 26 can lose access to federal and state benefits. The practice was used regularly between 1948-1973, though the government has not enforced a draft since then, instead relying mainly on volunteers for the army.
More Than a Legal Status
For many people across the world, citizenship is much more than a simple legal status —it is a social contract that obligates citizens to participate in civil duties that help the country run smoothly. These are often the same rights that come along with being a citizen, such as voting and serving on a jury. Without citizens who take up these responsibilities, it is difficult to keep a country — particularly one that is a republic or democracy — running smoothly.
In some nations, voting is compulsory, while in the United States it is merely an option available to citizens over the age of 18. However, registering to vote also means that a citizen is obligated to participate in jury duty if summoned.
Despite the fact that civil participation as a civilian is optional for many across the world, plenty of people consider their duties as a citizen to be an important expression of their patriotism or pride for the country. Citizenship often means interacting with the community and volunteering time or effort in order to ensure that the nation thrives.
Who Is a Citizen?
Some countries, like the United States, operate under birthright citizenship laws, in which all people born on the nation's soil are automatically granted citizenship. This is often referred to in legal terms as jus soli, which translates to "right of soil." Other ways of becoming a citizen include being born to a parent who is a U.S. citizen (jus sanguinis, meaning "right of blood"), or becoming naturalized, a process which requires long-term residency in the nation, an oath of allegiance, and passing an exam, among other things. In some nations, such as France and Thailand, automatic citizenship is not guaranteed by birth in the country, and instead can depend on the citizenship statuses of one's parents as well. Additionally, between 10-15 million people globally are considered stateless, meaning they are not recognized as citizens of any nation. This often creates complications in accessing healthcare, travel, education, and more.
Sole Allegiance and Dual Citizenship
Some nations permit individuals to hold dual citizenship— essentially, retaining full citizen privileges of two nations at once. Other countries require sole allegiance, and becoming a citizen means relinquishing citizenship from one's country of origin.
The United States does not formally recognize dual citizenship, but it generally does not restrict the practice. U.S. citizens can even vote in foreign elections, though the Oath of Allegiance to the United States is administered to all Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) intending to become citizens. By undertaking the oath, LPRs swear that their first allegiance is to the United States, and thereby relinquish such loyalties to their former nation.