Residency and Citizenship in Bolivia

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Is there a difference between residency and citizenship in Bolivia? is a question that arises frequently amongst foreigners who are considering which option best fits their life plans during the time they are living in Bolivia. It's important to know the difference in terms of the rights and/or obligations each option carries with it. Not everyone can apply for residency and citizenship in the same ways. The following is a brief overview of the differences between residency and citizenship and the ways foreigners may qualify to become a naturalized citizen of Bolivia.

Differences Between Residency and Citizenship

There is a very big difference between being a resident and becoming a citizen of Bolivia. As a resident, you are simply a foreigner who has been granted the right to enter and remain in the country for a specified period of time. Your rights (and also your obligations) under the law are very limited. (For example, you may be allowed to vote in local elections, but not national elections.) Once your residency time period has expired, you must renew for another period. Even once you have been in Bolivia long enough to apply for permanent residency (which means you don’t ever have to renew it again), you are still a foreigner with only certain rights and certain duties under the law.

As a resident, you can lose your residency by staying outside of Bolivia for over 90 days, it can be revoked (taken away) if you commit certain types of crimes, and there are other ways to lose your Bolivian residency. As a resident of Bolivia, you will enter Bolivia on the passport of your country of origin. Once you have obtained residency in Bolivia, you will be issued a Bolivian Identification Card but it will look different than the card nationals carry. Throughout the entire time you live in Bolivia, you will still be considered a foreigner.

As a citizen, you become (or are made) a full Bolivian national in every way under the law, as if you were a natural-born citizen, born in Bolivia. (That’s why people born in a country are called citizens and foreigners who become citizens later in life are called “naturalized” citizens). You then have all of the same rights (but also all of the same obligations) as any other Bolivian native. You are issued a Bolivian passport and birth certificate. You never have to apply for residency again.

As a Bolivian citizen, you can come and go from Bolivia as many times as you please. You can leave Bolivia and return years later and you will still be a citizen. You can't be deported (although for certain crimes you commit overseas you could be extradited), and you cannot lose your citizenship once you have it. In other words, once a citizen of Bolivia, you are a citizen for life. The only way you can 'lose' your citizenship is if you break certain specific laws, or if you request it be revoked, and even then it can take months or years of complicated paperwork and court proceedings to revoke your Bolivian citizenship.


Requirements to Apply for Bolivian Citizenship

Every foreigner who legally enters Bolivia with a Specific Purpose Visa (but not on a tourist visa) may apply for residency in Bolivia, although applying for residency does not guarantee it will be granted. Not everyone qualifies to apply for Bolivian citizenship, at least, not immediately.

There are actually FOUR ways to qualify to apply for Bolivian citizenship (and again, applying does not guarantee it will be granted). The requirements are different for each method, but in all you must live in Bolivia as a foreign resident for a certain amount of time before you can apply to become a full Bolivian citizen.

1) You can apply for Bolivian citizenship as a foreigner who is not married to a Bolivian and has no children born in Bolivia, after you have lived in Bolivia for 3 (three) continuous, uninterrupted years.

2) You can apply for Bolivian citizenship as a foreigner who is married to a Bolivian spouse, but first you have to live in Bolivia continuously for 2 (two) years before you can apply.

3) You can apply for Bolivian citizenship as a foreigner who has a child born in Bolivia (even if your spouse is foreign as well, because children born in Bolivia are automatically Bolivian citizens). But first you must live in Bolivia continuously for 2 (two) years before you can apply.

4) If you have lived in Bolivia for 2 (two) continuous, uninterrupted years and have done military service in Bolivia, then you may also apply for Bolivian citizenship.


Residency and Citizenship: Which is Best?

After studying the differences between residency and citizenship, only you can determine which is the best option for you according to your lifestyle, the plans you have for the future and other personal, family, or business considerations.

The following are a few things you may wish to keep in mind:

a) Be sure your country allows dual citizenship* with Bolivia.
You should ask government officials in your birth country or current passport country. If your country does not allow dual citizenship with Bolivia, you may be forced to relinquish citizenship in your current birth country or passport country first.

b) Be sure Bolivia allows dual citizenship with your country.
Officials of the Bolivian Immigration Service (Migración) or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Cancillería) of Bolivia, can answer that for you.

c) Be sure your country and Bolivia both allow dual citizenship.
Even if your country allows dual citizenship with Bolivia, Bolivia might not allow dual citizenship with yours. Conversely, even if Bolivia does allow dual citizenship with your country, your country might not allow dual citizenship with Bolivia. Be sure that you are informed with no uncertainty if you do not want to lose your citizenship in your own country.

d) Be aware of tax laws in your country and Bolivia.
Even if you become a citizen of Bolivia, if you keep your citizenship in your country of origin, you may be liable to pay taxes in both countries on certain types or amounts of income, even if your income is generated in Bolivia.

e) Be aware of divorce laws.
If you apply for Bolivian citizenship based on your marriage to a Bolivian national, and then divorce, the laws concerning division of property may be very different in Bolivia than what you might assume based on the laws in your country of origin. Inform yourself fully in advance.

f) Be aware of child custody laws.
If you apply for Bolivian citizenship because you are married to a Bolivian national, and you later divorce, you may find yourself unable to leave Bolivia with your children. If you divorce, and you then wish to leave Bolivia but your Bolivian ex-spouse does not, you will need permission from your Bolivian ex-spouse to leave the country with your children. He or she may not be willing to grant you permission to leave. Be forewarned that the above is true even if you are only living in Bolivia as a resident.

g) Be aware of electoral laws, military service laws, and others.
Even if both your country and Bolivia allow dual citizenship, there are circumstances under which you could lose your citizenship in one country or the other. For example, some countries have laws in place that forbid their citizens from voting in elections in any other country. Others forbid their citizens from ever serving in the military of another country. Be careful to inform yourself to be sure your citizenship is not at risk.

h) Always verify, just prior to applying for citizenship, if any of the requirements for qualification have changed. While other countries typically provide "grandfather clauses" when laws change (to enable those who began procedures under the previous law to complete said procedures under the previous law), Bolivia does not typically "grandfather" its laws. Any changes that occur while you are still in the process of applying for citizenship, will affect your application procedure and you will have to make adjustments to comply with the new law that is in place. Bolivian immigration laws, especially, have undergone numerous sudden changes over the past two years. In addition, we often find that different Bolivian authorities interpret and/or apply the laws in different ways, each according to their own understanding of them.

We do our best to keep up with these changes and adjust the information on our pages accordingly, and all of the information we provide is gathered directly from visits to Bolivian authorities and/or the websites of the Bolivian Immigration Service and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, the content on this website should never be considered legal advice by you and we do recommend that you inform yourself fully prior to applying for residency and citizenship.

This page was last updated on 3 July 2015.

*Dual Citizenship means that you are a full citizen of two countries at the same time. As a citizen of two countries, you are simultaneously bound by the laws of each country. This means that you will have all of the rights of a citizen in each country, but you will also be responsible for upholding all of the laws in both countries.



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