5 of the Hardest Countries for Obtaining Citizenship

Reviewed by Michael J BoyleFact checked by Suzanne KvilhaugReviewed by Michael J BoyleFact checked by Suzanne Kvilhaug

Obtaining permanent residency status or citizenship in a foreign county can seem like a good idea. For a variety of reasons, many people no longer want to live in the country where they were born or whose passport they hold. However, it’s not always easy to do so.

Because immigration procedures are complex, it’s impossible to definitively rank countries by difficulty of obtaining residency or citizenship. That being said, Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States are among those nations that make it especially difficult for foreigners to become permanent residents or citizens.

Key Takeaways

  • For those individuals who no longer want to live in the country where they were born, obtaining permanent residency status or gaining citizenship in a foreign county may be a desirable option.
  • Typically, permanent residency and citizenship are granted through marriage- and ancestry-based paths.
  • Countries with high barriers to attaining citizenship may have special tracks for certain individuals, especially highly skilled professionals or investors.
  • Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States are five nations that make it especially difficult for foreigners to establish permanent residency or obtain citizenship.


Many countries in the European Union have tough immigration laws. However, Austria has one of the longest processes to become a citizen. Anyone who is not a citizen of a European Union country, and is staying longer than six months, must have a residence permit before entering Austria.

People who plan to stay longer than 24 months must also sign an Integration Agreement, a process designed to enhance their German-language skills and ability “to participate in the social, economic, and cultural life in Austria.”

Permanent residents must live in the country continuously for a period of 10 years before being eligible to apply for citizenship. If approved, applicants must renounce any other citizenship.


Obtaining permanent residency in Germany is difficult unless you are a citizen of another European Union country. Foreign nationals living in Germany must demonstrate competency in the German language and knowledge of the political system and society in order to gain German citizenship. Applicants must also demonstrate that they have the ability to earn a living and have contributed to the national pension plan. They must also have proof of suitable accommodation.

To become a citizen, applicants must have lived in the country at least eight years—the number is seven if applicants have passed the competency test—and renounce citizenship in any other country.


It takes longer to be granted a permanent resident visa in Japan than to become a citizen. Those who want to become a citizen of Japan must have lived in the country for five years, receive permission from the Justice Minister, and complete a large amount of paperwork, much of which includes questions related to the personal lives of applicants.

The process can take between six to 12 months, although those who have gone through it have reported that it can take years. If approved, applicants must be ready to renounce citizenship in other countries.


To obtain a settlement or a permanent residence visa, you must have lived in the country for at least five years, sometimes more depending on the circumstances. If you qualify for permanent residency by the length of time you have lived in the country, you also qualify to apply for citizenship. However, this is not guaranteed; applicants for citizenship must also prove they have been assimilated into Swiss society and do not pose a threat to security.

What’s more, all cantons and municipalities have their own rules about granting citizenship. Switzerland permits dual citizenship.

United States

While the United States was founded mostly by immigrants, the process for achieving permanent residency and citizenship has become increasingly more complicated since the early 2000s and the so-called “war on terrorism.” Unless a person is coming to the U.S. through a family member or an approved job, it is very difficult to establish permanent residency, colloquially known as receiving a green card. There are special categories for those seeking refugee or asylum status and a lottery for others who wish to apply.

Those who have had permanent residency status for five years can begin the process of applying for citizenship by filling out the application and taking a test, which includes knowledge of the U.S. history, civics, and the English language. Before becoming a citizen, people must swear an oath to the Constitution. The United States permits dual citizenship.

How Many Permanent Residents Are There in the U.S.?

As of January 1, 2023, there are approximately 12.7 million legal permanent residents living in the United States, per latest data from the Department of Homeland Security.

What Country Has the Most Emigrants?

Emigrants are people who leave one country to live permanently in another. India has the highest number of emigrants, with 17.9 million natives living overseas; other countries with a high number of emigrants are Mexico, Russia, and China.

How Many Citizenships Can a Person Hold?

There is no limit on the number of citizenships a person can theoretically obtain, assuming that each country allows the posession of multiple citizenships. Moreover, the individual would have to conform to each country’s residency rules, if any, to maintain their various citizenships.

The Bottom Line

Moving from a temporary visa to permanent resident status or citizen is particularly difficult in some countries.

Because each country has its own immigration processes, it’s impossible to definitively rank countries based on the difficulty of obtaining citizenship. Many countries offer a variety of pathways, for which not all individuals are eligible.

Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the United States are five examples of countries, for which obtaining citizenship is relatively challenging.

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