What is the Difference between a Nationality and Global Citizenship?


During the past decade, people are having increased interest in internationalization. The concept of education and engagement has broadened from a national focus to a more global one, expanding the idea of civilian responsibility beyond national borders. According to a 2016 poll by the BBC World Service https://www.bbc.com/news/world-36139904, more and more people around the world identify themselves as global citizens. This trend is visible in emerging economies, where people view themselves as internationally-minded and outward-looking.

Pollsters GlobeScan asked more than 20,000 people in 18 countries. More than half of those polled in emerging countries saw themselves first as global citizens rather than national citizens. In Nigeria, 73% felt that they are global citizens, while China (71%), Peru (70%), and India (67%) feels the same way.

But what is global citizenship, and how does it differ with nationality? Let’s discuss it here.

Nationality vs. Citizenship

To understand what global citizenship means, we have to identify first the difference between nationality and citizenship.

In general, nationality is a membership to a state. Nationality is acquired by birth, by adoption, marriage or descent. Having a nationality is essential for receiving full recognition under international law. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality, and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” However, it doesn’t say anything about citizenship.

Citizenship, on the other hand, is a narrower concept. It’s a specific legal relationship between a person and his/her state, giving him certain rights and responsibilities.

However, both the concept of nationality and citizenship are defined by the country’s laws. Usually, nationality is the condition that allows a person to get a passport from a country, and to enjoy consular protection from that country. But the concept of citizenship varies from country to country. Initially, a “citizen” is a person who enjoys full political rights in that country, but in some parts of the world, a person is considered “citizen” of the state even if they don’t have political rights.

It means that a citizen of a country is always its national, but a national doesn’t necessarily mean a citizen. Here are some cases where they are different:

  • Mexico – Some countries like Mexico defines a citizen as a Mexican who has turned 18. Therefore, a person acquires Mexican nationality at birth, but only receives citizenship upon turning 18. This means that Mexican children are nationals but not citizens.
  • United States of America – Not all American nationals are also American citizens. People who are born in the outlying possessions of the United States, can live and work in the United States, can get an American passport, but they do not get the right to vote or hold elected office. In the past, the outlying possessions of the US included Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, but today, only American Samoa and Swains Island stand apart.
  • Britain – Due to the legacy of colonization, British citizenship is even more complicated. There is just one British nationality, but there are different types of citizens: British citizens, British subjects, British overseas citizens, British overseas nationals, British overseas territories citizens, and British protected persons. It’s even possible to switch categories, like for example, before the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, some British overseas territories citizens registered themselves as British overseas nationals. They can hold British passports and can receive protection from British diplomats, but they do not have the right to work or live in Britain. Some British nationals do not fall into any type of citizen.

What is Global Citizenship?

The growing interconnectedness among countries, economies, and the people indicates a global dimension to who we are. A global citizen is a person who is aware of and understands the wider world and their place for it. They take an active role in the community and work with others to make not just their nation but the planet more fair and sustainable. Global citizens see themselves as part of the emerging world community and are committed to helping build the community’s practices and values.

The concept of global citizenship is mostly developed in colleges and universities, and it reveals how broad a concept it is and how different the emphasis can be depending on the person who uses the term. Here are the most prominent features of global citizenship:

1. It’s a choice and a way of thinking.

You won’t find a person with a personal data sheet that states “global citizen” on the “Citizenship” info. While national citizenship is usually determined by where you are born, but global citizenship is a voluntary association that signifies ways of thinking and living within international communities. Global citizens consider themselves through different formative life experiences and have various interpretations of what it means to them.

2. It means having self-awareness and awareness of others.

It is difficult to teach intercultural understanding to people who are unaware that they also live in a culture that colors their perceptions. Awareness of the word begins with self-awareness, which means a global citizen identifies with the universalities of the human experience, and in turn, increases their identification with other human beings and their sense of responsibility towards them.

3. It cultivates principled decision making.

Global citizenship involves an awareness of the interdependence between systems and individuals and a sense of responsibility that comes with it.

4. Global citizens practice cultural empathy.

This is usually articulated as a goal of global education, where there is enough literature on these topics. Cultural empathy allows people to see questions from different perspectives and move deftly among cultures.

5. Global citizens participate in the political and social life of one’s community.

Having global citizenship means having a connection to the community, which translates into participation. It can take the form of making responsible personal choices like limiting carbon footprint and fossil fuel consumption, volunteering, voting, supporting advocacies, and political activism. A global citizen participates in his community and in causes that affect his/her nation and the world.