Why I gave up German citizenship for Estonian citizenship
After over 8 years of waiting, I finally got Estonian citizenship and was more than happy to pay the price of giving up my German citizenship.
One would think that still being excited about something that you’ve been waiting for for over 8 years, while you have already done everything in your power to achieve that thing, is difficult.
After all, waiting around and not being able to do anything to accelerate the process would be an adequate way of defining the phrase “not exciting”.
It’s the opposite of excitement.
Just like you can’t make a tree grow any faster after you have planted it, acquiring citizenship was mostly about waiting.
The word that best describes the experience of actually receiving my new passport is dream-like.
Having taken so many years, this change fundamental change of reality took a while to fully register with my brain.
I wish I could have “waited faster”, but unfortunately your active role in acquiring citizenship is quite limited:
learning the language (I had already done that before moving here),
going through an exam testing your knowledge of the Constitution (a 45-minute formality).
The passive parts are:
living in Estonia for 8 years, the last 5 consecutively (= not being registered anywhere else),
giving up any other citizenship you possess.
The price of belonging
Why would you give up your German citizenship?
👆 that’s the most common question I’ve received about changing citizenship.
On the surface, it seems like a bad tradeoff:
Germany is Europe’s largest economy,
with a strong social security system,
geographically far away from belligerent countries,
strong diplomatic connections all over the world (= more visa-free travel)
Estonia scores worse on all of these dimensions.
Once you dig deeper, you’ll find some interesting facts though:
Net salaries in IT are often significantly higher in Estonia than in Germany (because the cost to the employer is lower in Estonia),
Being unemployed gets you fewer benefits in Estonia, but the benefits you get are qualitatively different, like free education plus some starting capital for starting your own business,
History is still fresh and its lessons aren’t forgotten yet,
While many people still don’t know that Estonia exists or where it’s located, it has an international reputation that it can actually live up to.
Looking at these arguments, you can make the case for Estonian vs German citizenship being roughly equal in benefits (depending on what you care about).
So why switch?
The reason is emotional.
Tallinn is home.
And I want to always have access to my home.
Just like I care about my home being in order and getting along with all of the other people living in the same building.
Germany does not feel like home, more like a curiously familiar, yet strange place.
I don’t feel associated that much with Germany anymore, at least compared to my feelings toward Estonia.
Thus renouncing German citizenship felt like a price worth paying.
So what do you get as an Estonian citizen?
Preferential treatment! While I haven’t put my theory to the test yet, based on prior interactions I’m pretty sure you get better loan conditions with Estonian banks as a citizen of the country.
I can finally renew my ID card and request a new passport online and don’t have to appear at the police station anymore because I’m not a citizen.
I don’t need a “residence permit” anymore.
I’m part of the in-group, not the out-group.
More rights and responsibilities! I finally get a vote in the parliamentary elections. With the rise of the far right all over the world, Estonia being unfortunately not spared this development, this is something I strongly care about.
Getting a notification about now being in the register of people who are part of the reserve made me pause for a moment, given how much more real and immediate war has felt over the last few years.
While my feelings about this are still conflicted, remembering that a lot of my friends are also in the reserve by virtue of being a citizen makes the thought more bearable. After all, it is a shared responsibility.
No more ticking timers! Whether you are waiting to qualify for citizenship or just here on a temporary residence permit, you have this timer ticking in the back of your head: you need to fulfill certain conditions until day X, otherwise you jeopardize your goal.
Not having to count anymore where I spend just how many days comes as a great relief.