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Expat 101: Let’s talk about automatic loss of South African citizenship

By January 18, 2023October 5th, 2023FinGlobal

Expat 101: Let’s talk about automatic loss of South African citizenship

January 18, 2023


If you’re a South African citizen living abroad and you’re considering applying for citizenship in another country, there are some things you need to know beforehand to ensure you’re fully prepared for what comes next. South African law does make provision for dual citizenship, however, you will need to apply to retain your South African citizenship before going through the process of acquiring citizenship in a second country.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most frequent questions around South African citizenship for expats.

What is an automatic loss of South African citizenship?

South African citizenship is not something you keep forever automatically without question. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

When you acquire citizenship in another country (in other words, you choose to formally become a citizen elsewhere) without first seeking consent from the South African government, you will automatically lose South African citizenship. As such, this means you must apply for and be granted retention of South African citizenship before starting the process to become a citizen in another country.

How do you retain your South African citizenship?

You will need to apply for retention of South African citizenship, which is an exemption issued in terms of section 6(2) of the South African Citizenship Act of 1995.

  • This is issued to a South African citizen intending to hold onto their citizenship.
  • Takes 4 – 6 weeks to be issued, and must be sought by application before a second foreign citizenship is sought.
  • Please ensure your exemption certificate is issued before accepting an additional foreign citizenship.

What documents must you submit with your application to retain South African citizenship?

  1. Completed BI-529E.
  2. Completed BI-1664.
  3. Valid passport copy.
  4. Original or notarised copy of your proof of South African citizenship such as birth certificate or ID book/card.
  5. Notarised letter confirming you have not yet taken up foreign citizenship, along with proof of your current status in the foreign country in which you plan to take up citizenship.

Can you check your South African citizenship status?

You can apply to have your South African citizenship status confirmed. These applications are sent to the South African Department of Home Affairs where they will be checked against the records contained in the National Population Register. This application takes approximately 6 – 12 months to be processed.

What documents must you submit when you apply to have your South African citizenship status confirmed?

  • Completed forms BI-829 and BI-529
  • Certified copies of:
  1. Birth Certificate
  2. South African Identity Document/Passport
  3. Foreign citizenship certificate/letter of retention of South African citizenship.

What do you need to know about renouncing your South African citizenship?

You may renounce your South African citizenship if you intend to acquire citizenship in another country. Before giving up your South African citizenship, you will need to apply for a determination of your current South African citizenship status. Once this is done, you will need to then complete a DHA-246 form (Renunciation of South African Citizenship Application) and provide proof that you have obtained (or are in the process of obtaining) a foreign citizenship.

What reasons are there for wanting to retain South African citizenship?

You might not think your South African citizenship is important, but don’t be too hasty to throw it away. There are, in fact, a number of good reasons to retain your South African citizenship through dual citizenship. You never know when you might need to return to your roots, so think of the bigger picture.

  1. Voters’ rights – only South African citizens can participate in the democratic elections process, which gives you a say in the future of your home country.
  2. Exit plan – if things don’t work out in the country you’ve moved to, it’s a good idea to be able to return to South Africa should the need arise.
  3. Intra-African travel – while there are many drawbacks to your Green Mamba passport, it does have some perks. It gives you secure visa-free travel to certain countries that other passports do not, such as most of Africa’s countries.
  4. Your future generations – your children or grandchildren might wish to return to South Africa at some point down the line, and keeping your citizenship is the easiest way to ensure they have this access point available to them.

What is resumption of South African citizenship?

If you have lost your South African citizenship automatically by becoming a citizen in another country, you can apply to have your South African citizenship reinstated, as long as you are a former citizen by birth or descent, and you have returned to South Africa permanently.

FinGlobal: cross-border financial specialists for South Africans

If you’re planning on becoming a dual citizen, you’ll need a cross-border financial specialist to make it easier for you to handle your finances across two countries. That’s where FinGlobal comes in. We are ideally positioned to advise you on all exchange control matters as well as provide assistance on tax-related matters, and foreign exchange. To see how we can make your life easier, simply leave your contact details in the form below and we’ll be in touch soon to discuss your requirements.

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