I recently applied for Serbian citizenship. If you have Serbian heritage and are considering doing the same, here’s everything I learned in the process.
My mom is Serbian and I had Yugoslav citizenship as a child. But I wasn’t raised Serbian. I never learned the language or spent any time in the country. And since Serbian citizenship used to require compulsory military service for men, I wasn’t rushing to apply. But recently I’ve become much more interested in the country and have enjoyed spending summers there. So when I found out the military switched to an all-volunteer force in 2011, I was very interested. Both Serbia and the USA have no problem with dual citizenship.
If you have Serbian heritage, you can gain citizenship by admission without permanent residence there (in fact if you go through a law firm you can do it without setting foot in the country) so long as you are at least 18 years old, have not been “deprived of business capacity,” and submit a written statement that you consider Serbia to be your country.
Benefits of Serbian Citizenship
- Although American citizens are granted a 90-day tourist visa on arrival, I want to have more flexibility to work within the country and stay for more than 90 days at a time. The tourist visa they grant is for 90 days within a 180-day period, so you can’t just cross the border after 90 days and reenter with a new visa.
- Serbia has a low cost of living, low income taxes, and universal healthcare.
- A Serbian passport used to be very limiting but recently it’s been rapidly rising in visa-free access to other countries. As of early 2022, a Serbian passport is ranked 36th in the world by the Henley Passport Index (compared to the USA’s #6 ranking) with visa-free access to 135 countries—including places like Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, Turkey, and some others that are harder for US citizens to gain access to.
- Serbia is in negotiations for membership in the EU, which could be completed by 2025. That would turn Serbian citizenship into an even more valuable EU citizenship. The biggest hurdle for Serbia’s membership is its strained relationship with Kosovo since the EU wants to see a more normalized relationship beforehand.
The Process for Citizenship
I’d originally planned to submit the paperwork myself. I got new copies of my Japanese birth certificate issued (Serbia requires documents to be issued within the last six months) and an apostille for my birth certificate. I needed the document and apostille to be translated into Serbian, so I first contacted the Japanese embassy in Belgrade, and although they couldn’t do the translation for me, they connected me with a court-appointed Japanese-to-Serbian translator in Belgrade. I also got newly issued copies of my mom’s Serbian citizenship and birth certificate which I would use to prove my Serbian connection.
Going to the downtown City Hall (gradska opština Stari grad), they weren’t able to locate records of my childhood Yugoslav passports. So I decided to use a law firm to apply for citizenship since I started to suspect the process would be a hassle and knew it would likely take longer than I would be able to stay in Belgrade on a tourist visa. The local police station that deals with passport records (policijska stanica Stari grad) recommended the law firm Petrović Mojsić & Partners (PMP) since they’re experienced with citizenship applications. Reaching out to them, they replied with a personalized email that included a reasonable flat fee and lots of helpful details. Just to be sure, I reached out to a half dozen additional lawyers and law firms in the city, but none of the others seemed as good (inconvenient locations, wanting me to pay high rates for an initial meeting, much higher overall prices, or not being able to quote a flat price). PMP charges USD $1,200 all-up, but they took $100 off that price since I’d already had my birth certificate translated and I was able to provide my mom’s paperwork.
It turned out this law firm had done about 2,000 such citizenship applications in the prior year, so I felt like I was in very good hands.
Here’s what I needed to bring:
- Officially translated birth certificate (reissued within the last six months) with apostille. The law firm was able to handle the official translation if needed.
- Notarized photocopy of my USA passport.
- Signed and notarized power of attorney document allowing the law firm to gather and submit the necessary paperwork on my behalf.
- I brought my mother’s Serbian birth certificate and citizenship papers (both reissued within the last six months), but I believe the law firm would have been able to procure those on their own given the power of attorney I granted them.
The notary company Javni beležnik – Jasna Vasiljević was conveniently located downtown near where I was staying, but they weren’t willing to notarize my Serbian power of attorney document without a court-appointed English translator present (since my Serbian is very basic) even though I’d gone over it with the law firm and understood it. I was able to go to another notary (Zoran Nedin, office at Šumadijski Trg 6a) to get it done without that.
Make sure to get a White Card from your hotel or Airbnb if you’ll be visiting police offices on your own. The law firm doesn’t need it though since you give them power of attorney.
So that’s it. My citizenship application is now in process and I expect to have it approved within 3–6 months of when it was submitted. I’ll update this post when it’s completed, and you can be sure I’ll be celebrating with plenty of rakija, delicious Serbian food, and a return visit to Belgrade to enjoy its lovely people, sights, and nightlife.
Edit: I am now officially a Serbian citizen. It took about 6 months to get an official decision, so at least that part was within the expected time range. However, after that, I spent about another 6 months waiting for the registration of my citizenship at the civil registry office to be completed. Only after that was I provided an official Serbian birth certificate and citizenship certificate, which I needed before I could apply for a passport.