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So I have two citizenships/passports - South Africa and New Zealand.

My understanding is if I wanted a British passport, I'd have to give up one of the others.

However, SA, NZ and Australia allow multiple (more than two) so in theory I could get three.

What's the highest number of citizenships you could legally have?

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    Check how many countries don't limit competing citizenships. – littleadv Apr 6 '15 at 3:38
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    Why would you have to give up one of the others if you took on British citizenship? (I know at least one person who holds 3 citizenships of which one is British and one of which is Kiwi, so I'm interested to know why you think it's a problem) – Gagravarr Apr 6 '15 at 8:43
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    To be clear, you're not asking how many citizenships a person could legally obtain, correct? Just how many they could magically have and would not be legally required to lose any of them? Do you mean to also include situations where by lying by omission one might avoid legal trouble and keep more citizenships than they would if they showed all their passports to each country? – Dan Getz Apr 6 '15 at 9:33
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    @MarkMayo, No. your circumstances would permit you get British nationality and retain your NZ and SA nationalities. – Gayot Fow Apr 6 '15 at 18:19
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    In practice the limiting factor is going to be residency requirements--you'll die of old age before running out of places you can get citizenship. – Loren Pechtel Apr 6 '15 at 19:47
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Very few countries (if any) limit the number of citizenships you can hold per se and there are certainly no international norm that would do so.

What prevents you from getting many are rules like “if you apply for another citizenship, you lose citizenship X” or “to be naturalized, you need to prove you gave up your previous citizenship(s)”. And these rules can have exceptions depending on personal circumstances (e.g. whether you grew up in the country), international treaties (e.g. the Strasbourg convention), whether your other nationality can be renounced at all or for for specific citizenships (e.g. Germany ‘tolerates’ dual citizenship when the other citizenship is that of another EU country, even in cases in which the general rules would strip you of your German citizenship).

Spain also has a rather original concept of “dormant nationality”. You don't lose your citizenship by naturalising to an iberoamerican country but you cannot enjoy its effects until you come back to reside in Spain. Would it count in your tally?

Furthermore, even countries that have restrictive rules for naturalisations often do not mind multiple or dual citizenships acquired by birth (although even that isn't a rule: you can be effectively forced to choose between citizenships at a certain age, lest you lose one of them).

All this matters because it means you can't just cite a number, it also depends on how you acquire the citizenships in question and in what order. For example, there must be thousands of people who hold both the Turkish and the German citizenships and German law has recently been changed to allow it in even more cases but if you are an adult and you do not presently have them, there is no legal way for you to gain and hold both at the same time.

At most, we could put a ceiling on the maximum number of concurrent citizenships that one can hold. If we start with the number of countries in the world, and discount those that explicitly reject dual citizenship like the DR Congo and perhaps those that make it extremely difficult like Japan or Austria, we might still end up with dozens of potentially ‘compatible’ nationalities.

Looking at the question from the other end, I personally know people who have three citizenships by birth, have heard about people with four or five and can think of plausible ways to have a few more. Beyond that, there are two main issues that will limit how many you can really have in practice.

For citizenships acquired at birth, the main issue are registration or residency requirements. In many cases, parents who have never resided in a country cannot pass that country's citizenship to their children or need to register them fairly quickly (cf. notions like British citizenship “otherwise than by descent”). So if your parents have several citizenships (by naturalisation or otherwise) at the time of your birth, you might very well be born with three or more citizenships but you won't always have all of your grandparents' citizenships and you might not be able to transmit all of yours to your own children.

If you aren't born with multiple citizenships, the main way you could acquire others is through naturalisation. This brings some additional complications as the law sometimes explicitly specify that naturalisation is contingent on a willingness to integrate and make a life in the country. In a country like that, if it looks like you always intended to live elsewhere, your naturalisation could theoretically be reversed.

Most countries also only offer naturalisation after 5-10 years of residence, require some knowledge of the local language and take a long time to process applications (and even then it's rarely automatic, naturalisation might very well be denied). While there is nothing preventing you from doing that in several places, as a practical matter you won't be able to get more than a few citizenships that way in your lifetime.

If we are cynical and look at the most convoluted scenarios, we might still add countries from which you can effectively “buy” a citizenship (e.g. through a large investment in a local company) and also “use” several marriages to gain a few more while waiting on naturalisation elsewhere but even that might take some time and it seems difficult to get anywhere near the “maximum”.

One useful resource if you want to dig deeper in all this is the UNHCR Refworld database, which includes an extensive collection of documents on citizenship / nationality law (but unfortunately you will have to read and understand them yourself to figure out the rules in each country, they don't provide a neat table or summary).

Finally, since you mentioned ease of travel in a comment, note that having several citizenships can help you benefit from visa waivers or allow you to take up residency in different places but if you are a citizen somewhere, it also means that this country does not have to give you access to consular assistance from your “other countries”.

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    @MarkMayo you're clearly forgetting about grandparents :) – Dan Getz Apr 6 '15 at 12:39
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    @MarkMayo There are people in my family with three citizenships by birth (both parents took each other's nationality and then got naturalised elsewhere later on), without even depending on jus soli. If they had been born in the US, it would make a fourth one. Conceivably, having even more is also possible but at some point you might also get in trouble with rules on registration for families who have lived abroad for several generations. – Gala Apr 6 '15 at 13:29
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    Marrying is another way to gain citizenship, possibly without residency requirement. I also know someone who became French after marrying a man who himself became French by marrying a French woman. It takes a few years each time but neither have ever lived in France. – Gala Apr 6 '15 at 13:31
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    +1. The double edge to dual nationals being consular support, hijackings, disaster evacuations, and related events. – Gayot Fow Apr 6 '15 at 18:21
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    @MarkMayo: If a child's parents are themselves dual citizens, a child could certainly have up to 5 different citizenships at birth (two from each parent, one from jus soli). With parents potentially holding three or more citizenships, you could certainly go beyond that. However, many countries have restrictions around passing on citizenship to a child if the parent wasn't actually born in the country of that citizenship. – Greg Hewgill Apr 6 '15 at 19:48
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There is no limit, in theory or practice. This thread on Flyertalk mentions several people with five citizenships, posits a case where a child born to a couple with three citizenships each would easily get 7, and goes on to speculate that with the right sets of parents it would be possible to acquire more than 9 at birth plus any more you'd care to accumulate during your lifetime. There are still quite a few countries where you can become a citizen in less than 5 years, or even buy citizenship outright if you throw enough money at them. The answers to the same question on Quora have a case of a person who actually has 8 citizenships (and got rid of a 9th for tax reasons), and sketches out how you could end up with 10, 12 or 14!

Once past the age of 20 or so, simply maintaining a citizenship generally requires zero effort, once the bit is toggled it stays toggled short of (say) actively waging war against a country you're a citizen of.

However, citizenship does often incur obligations like tax, military service etc, which can make it a pain to stay in the good books of all your countries. As a simple example, if I'm a male Finnish citizen over 18 who hasn't completed their national service, I'll stay a citizen if I stay overseas, but I'll be arrested as a draft dodger if I return to the country.

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    What about the number of countries in the world as a limit? – Gala Apr 7 '15 at 7:38
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    That's what I came here to answer - there's give or take 190ish countries (depending on how you count), so that's got to be a limit already. Then the US won't let you share with certain other ones, and presumably North Korea, so the number must reduce... – Mark Mayo Apr 7 '15 at 10:30
  • @MarkMayo Do you have a source for that? I've done a lot of reading on US dual nationality, and I've never seen anything restricting the other countries whose citizenship a US citizen might hold. – phoog Nov 27 '15 at 17:56
  • @phoog well, a search shows stuff like this, but I'm not a lawyer: legallanguage.com/legal-articles/dual-citizenship-united-states - "The renouncing of one’s previous citizenship is part of the oath that new US citizens must take, and failing to honor that oath could result in the loss of citizenship in the United States." – Mark Mayo Nov 30 '15 at 10:43
  • @MarkMayo lawyers make money by worrying about things like that. The supreme court would have to reverse several decisions for that to come to pass. For the last several decades, the renunciation clause is (like many acts of congress) unforced and unenforceable. The author writes "could" but does not cite any case where anyone actually has lost citizenship for that reason. The cases "in the past" refer to a means of losing US citizenship that was struck down by the supreme court in 1964. – phoog Nov 30 '15 at 17:05
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Just read this article about a man who has eight passports.

This “octa-citizen” has passports from Canada, UK, Ireland, Belize, Grenada, Dominica, St. Kitts, and Cape Verde.

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