The Republic of Guatemala, situated in Central America, allures foreigners with its abundant natural beauty and gentle tropical climate. The name of the country translates from Aztec as 'a place of many trees,' and approximately 80% of its territory remains covered in forests. Regarding the climate, in places like Quetzaltenango and San Marcos, the average temperature remains around +21°C throughout the year, with the only difference between summer and winter being the level of precipitation.
Between 1990 and 2019, this small Spanish-speaking country welcomed 720,000 individuals from various parts of the world. According to the VisaDB portal, the majority came from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Additionally, there were 48,400 emigrants from the United States, 8,600 from South Korea, and 3,700 from Germany, among others.
Anyone who has resided in the republic for a sufficient duration can apply for state citizenship. One of the most notable benefits of this country's passport is the opportunity for visa-free entry to 133 countries worldwide, including European Union countries and the UK.
Here is what you need to know about the requirements set by the authorities of the republic for immigrants and what steps you need to take if your objective is to obtain citizenship.
Who Is Eligible for Guatemalan Citizenship?
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, citizenship in this nation is granted unconditionally to:
- Persons born on the territory of the country, as well as on Guatemalan ships and aircrafts regardless of the nationality of their parents,
- Persons born abroad if at least one of the parents is Guatemalan.
Individuals who fulfil these criteria are recognized as native Guatemalans by birth. However, an exception applies to the children of diplomatic personnel and individuals engaged in legally equivalent roles; these categories do not automatically qualify for citizenship.
In addition, the following categories have the possibility of obtaining Guatemalan citizenship through special procedures:
- Stateless people,
- Persons who have rendered special services to the people of Guatemala,
- Persons who have outstanding achievements in science, art, or charity.
Foreigners seeking to acquire citizenship must undergo the naturalisation process as outlined in Article 146 of the Constitution. This article states that individuals who receive naturalisation in accordance with the law become Guatemalans. Naturalised Guatemalans enjoy the same rights as other citizens of the country, with the exception of restrictions established by the Constitution. Guatemalan citizenship through naturalisation is granted exclusively to adult foreigners.
Here are the rights exclusive to native Guatemalans (in contrast to naturalised citizens):
- They are eligible to run for President or Vice President of the Republic (Article 185).
- They can serve as magistrates, judges, including magistrates of the Constitutional Court (Articles 207, 270).
- They are eligible to become officers in the Guatemalan army (Article 247).
- They have the right to organise, advise, and lead trade unions (Article 102).
- They have the ability to own real estate located within a 15-kilometre-wide area along the borders of the republic (Article 123).
The Constitution imposes no additional restrictions on naturalised citizens. For instance, non-native Guatemalans have the right to be elected to municipal positions, including the position of city mayor.
Requirements for Those Applying for Citizenship through Naturalization
For a foreigner to be eligible to obtain citizenship through naturalisation, they must have legally resided in Guatemala for a minimum of five years with a permanent residence permit (residencia permanente). Prior to that, a similar period with a temporary residence permit (residencia temporal) is required.
Additionally, individuals seeking to obtain Guatemalan citizenship are required to renounce their prior citizenship, unless Guatemala has previously entered into an agreement with their country of origin for the mutual recognition of dual citizenship.
It's advisable to initiate the naturalisation process while holding a 90-day visa (Visa por Expediente de Residencia en Trámite). This document is essential, although citizens from 93 countries can enter Guatemala freely without the need to obtain a visa in advance; they receive it upon crossing the border. With this stamp, you can stay for up to 90 days within the next 180 days in the country. This is particularly convenient for travellers embarking on extended journeys through Central and South America.
However, it's essential to keep in mind that the period of residence considered when applying for citizenship does not include these so-called visa-free days. Therefore, upon arrival in Guatemala and receiving a passport stamp at the border control, it's advisable to promptly request a 90-day visa. Those arriving in Guatemala from countries without a visa-free entry agreement with the republic do not need to do this, as they receive a visa before entering.
There are two types of the 90-day visa: simple or multiple-entry (múltiple).
A regular visa permits a foreigner to depart the country within 90 days from the date of issuance, allowing both exit and re-entry into Guatemala's territory. A multiple-entry visa also allows for departure within 90 days from the date of issuance, but it additionally grants unrestricted entry and exit to Guatemala throughout its entire validity period.
To obtain any of these visas, you must provide the following documents:
- An application indicating passport details, sex, citizenship, place and date of birth, the reason of the visit to the country, marital status, as well as the type of residence in Guatemala for which the application is being made (in this case, put in La Visa por Expediente de Residencia en Trámite; do not forget to add the type of visa: simple or múltiple).
- Two recent photos.
- A passport valid for at least six months after the expected expiration date of the visa. For example, if the applicant expects that a visa will be issued to them from the 1 October to the 29 December, then their passport must be valid until at least the 29th of June of the next year.
- A letter from a sponsor (a person who has Guatemalan citizenship with a positive reputation and is ready to vouch for the applicant).
- Evidence of a stable income for both the applicant and the sponsor (bank statements, certificate of employment, etc.).
The most advisable approach is to submit your visa application along with the necessary supporting documents, as well as other residency applications, at the central office of the Guatemalan Immigration Service (Instituto Guatemalteco de Migración). While there are a total of 20 immigration offices throughout the country where you can submit your application, using other immigration offices carries a significant risk of experiencing lengthy delays in document processing. Some individuals report that, in certain cases, it can take a year or more to process their applications at regional offices. In contrast, at the central office, visas are typically issued within 15 days from the date of application submission.
Head office address: 6a. Avenida 3-11, Zona 4, Guatemala City.
Opening hours: Monday through Friday from 8:00 to 16:30.
Is it possible to bypass the initial step and directly obtain a temporary residence permit? Yes, it is possible if you have been issued such a visa at the Guatemalan consulate prior to your entry into the country. However, without a visa from the consulate and solely relying on a border crossing stamp, obtaining a residence permit can be challenging, and there is a high likelihood that your application will be rejected.
Temporary Residence Permit
The next step in the naturalisation procedure is acquiring a temporary residence permit. You should initiate the application for a residence permit before your initial 90-day visa expires. In Guatemala, there are a total of eight types of residence permits:
- For labour migrants,
- For students,
- For individuals in the arts (actors, painters, musicians, etc.),
- For athletes,
- For investors,
- For religious figures,
- For researchers and scientists,
- For refugees and asylum seekers.
A temporary residence permit in Guatemala is typically granted for a duration ranging from one to five years, depending on the applicant's request. Individuals aiming to attain citizenship in the future are advised to apply for the maximum duration.
Required documents for obtaining a residence permit:
- Completed application for a residence permit.
- Original valid passport along with a certified copy by a Guatemalan notary.
- A document validating the passport's validity and expiration date issued by the embassy or consulate of the applicant's home country. If there is no accredited diplomatic mission in Guatemala, applicants must provide either a certified copy of their passport from the issuing authority or a birth certificate.
- Original certificates of a clean criminal record issued by the competent authority in the applicant's country of origin, as well as in any country where the applicant has legally resided for the past five years. This should be accompanied by supporting documentation demonstrating legal residence in those countries. Acceptable alternatives include similar certificates issued by an accredited embassy or consulate in Guatemala or refusals to issue such certificates, along with a stated reason for the refusal.
- The applicant's travel certificate with the record of their last entry into Guatemala.
- Confirmation of payment of the state fee ($100).
As for refugees, they are not required to provide documents (2) to (5). Instead, they must submit an application, a simple copy of an identity document (if available), proof of payment of the state fee, along with evidence or confirmation of the authorities' decision to grant refugee status or political asylum.
In some cases, additional documents may be required. For instance, when applying for a student residence permit, you must include a letter of admission from a Guatemalan university or a recognized educational institution, specifying the duration of your studies. Students must also provide proof of financial solvency, either their own or from another source. Acceptable forms of proof include a certificate indicating the scholarship amount or financial support from an institutional funding source covering tuition expenses.
Athletes are required to provide certificates and diplomas verifying their sports category. Additionally, they must submit a letter from a sports federation officially accredited in Guatemala, along with a legalised copy of the meeting protocol endorsed by the executive committee of the Sports Confederation or the Guatemalan Olympic Committee, indicating the athlete's recruitment.
Investors are required to submit an affidavit, which is a notarized sworn statement outlining their forthcoming economic activities in the country. Additionally, they must provide supporting documentation confirming that their investments in Guatemala amount to more than $100,000.
Permanent Residence Permit
The next step is obtaining a permanent residence permit. Guatemala offers five types of permanent residence permits tailored to different categories of individuals:
- Family members of Guatemalan citizens.
- Foreigners who have resided in Guatemala with a temporary residence permit for five years or longer.
- Those who have maintained a registered marriage for a duration of one year or more (or have declared a valid marital union with a Guatemalan citizen). Required documentation includes a marriage certificate or evidence of a de facto union issued by the National Registry of Persons (Registro Nacional de las Personas), as well as the Guatemalan spouse's birth certificate from the National Registry of Persons, with a notation of the marriage or de facto union.
- Individuals born in other Central American countries who have resided in Guatemala with a temporary residence permit for one year or more.
- Investors and retired people with a permanent stable income.
The documents required for permanent residence are the same as those for a residence permit. However, if you have resided in Guatemala for five years or more as a foreigner, you will also need to submit an affidavit detailing your activities and engagements within the republic.
In addition, to obtain permanent residence, a foreigner must have a Guatemalan citizen act as their guarantor. The guarantor shall submit a properly executed Certificate of Guarantor to the immigration office, along with a notarized certificate affirming their declaration of allegiance to the Constitution of Guatemala made under oath.
The paperwork processing for permanent residence can take several months, so it's advisable to submit the application well in advance. In most cases, applicants will need to extend their temporary residence permit while awaiting the permanent one. If the applicant has a clean legal record, this extension process typically takes two to three weeks.
Please note that at the time of the application, all documents must have been issued no more than six months prior, unless otherwise specified in the documents themselves.
Guatemala (city). Photo: Miguel Ángel Hernández (Unsplash)
After a foreigner has spent five years or more in Guatemala with permanent resident status, they can apply for citizenship. It's important to note that during your tenure as a permanent resident, you must not be absent from the country for more than six consecutive months, as mandated by Article 33 of the Republic's Citizenship Law. Additionally, when totaling the applicant’s cumulative absences from the country, it should not exceed one year or more.
Furthermore, before submitting their documents, the applicant must successfully pass a Spanish language proficiency exam and secure the consent of three witnesses who will provide testimony in their favour. These witnesses may be called upon at any time during the citizenship application process by any of the relevant departments.
Documents to Submit for Citizenship
- Certificate of permanent residency in the Republic issued by the Guatemalan Immigration Service, with a special mark confirming the validity of resident registration.
- Certificate of residence at the current place of residence, issued by the relevant civil registry office.
- Letter of citizenship issued by the embassy or consulate of the applicant's home country.
- Valid passport.
- Certificate of clear criminal record issued by the Supreme Court of Guatemala.
- Certificate of absence of a police file issued by the General Directorate of the National Police of Guatemala.
- Apostilled certificate of clear criminal record issued by the authorities of the country in which the person concerned had resided during the five years prior to their entry into Guatemala.
- Certificate of the applicant's movements issued by the Guatemalan Immigration Service to confirm compliance with the requirements outlined in Article 33 of the Guatemalan Law on Citizenship.
- Documents verifying the applicant's profession, trade, or skill that enables them to sustain a decent livelihood. Apostilled professional diplomas, licences, or similar documents are acceptable.
- Certificate issued by the Guatemalan Immigration Service confirming payment of the annual contribution for each year of residence in Guatemala ($40 per year).
Fuego Volcano. Photo: Alex Person (Unsplash)
An application for granting Guatemalan citizenship by naturalisation is submitted to the provincial department (La Gobernación Departamental) where the applicant lives. After consideration, the department sends the application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores). Once the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is done considering the application, a hearing is scheduled at the country's Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la Nación).
The next step involves the applicant's case being transferred to the General Secretariat of the Administration of the President of the Republic (Secretaría General de la Presidencia de la República) for consideration by the President. Each citizenship case includes the issuance of an Agreement on the Granting of Guatemalan Citizenship by Naturalization. It's important to note that the decision to issue this document is always made personally by the President. Once such an agreement is issued, it is published in the Official Journal (Diario Oficial).
If the decision is positive, you will be scheduled to attend a ceremony where you will take the oath of allegiance to the republic and renounce other citizenships (if applicable). The date of the ceremony is determined by a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where this event will be held.
Once all the formalities are completed, the applicant is issued a Guatemalan passport and is also removed from the register of permanent resident foreigners and added to the register of naturalised Guatemalans.
In a Nutshell
The naturalisation procedure in Guatemala takes at least 10 years and requires patience and precision in handling your paperwork. We recommend that you always make photocopies of your diplomas, certificates, and other original documents that you submit for consideration and expect to have returned.
The only way to reduce the required length of stay to obtain Guatemalan citizenship is by entering into marriage or registering an existing de facto marriage with a citizen of the republic. In this case, the permanent residence permit can be obtained in as little as one year, and the total time required to obtain a passport is reduced to six years.
Cover photo: Josue Pinales (Pixabay)