Explaining the Right of Abode UK

Section 1(1) of the Immigration Act 1971 exempts people who have the right of abode from immigration control, only if they can prove that they have the right of abode.

That means that these people do not need to obtain the permission of an immigration officer to enter the UK, and may live and work without restriction, they are usually:

  • British citizens
  • Commonwealth citizens who had the right of abode immediately before 1 January 1983 and who have not, since then, ceased to be Commonwealth citizens

Right of Abode

Proof of Right of Abode

A person claiming the right of abode in the UK can prove it by presenting either:

  • A UK passport describing them as a British citizen
  • A UK passport describing them as a British subject with the right of abode in the UK
  • A certificate of entitlement to the right of abode

Commonwealth Citizens

You may have right of abode in the UK either because of your parents or because you are or were married to someone with right of abode.

A person could have the right of abode under section 2(1)(a), (b) or (c) immediately prior to 1 January 1983 only if they were then a citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC).

Citizens of former British colonies, which have become independent, may still have pre-independence passports describing them as CUKC, but may have lost CUKC on independence.

If they lost CUKC status, they would have lost their claim to the right of abode unless they also had a claim on the basis of their Commonwealth citizenship.


You have right of abode if all the following apply:

  • One of your parents was born in the UK and a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies when you were born or adopted
  • You were a Commonwealth citizen on 31 December 1982
  • You did not stop being a Commonwealth citizen (even temporarily) at any point after 31 December 1982

Children of Polygamous Marriages

Children of a polygamous marriage may have a claim to British citizenship if the marriage is valid in UK law (that is, if it was a valid form of marriage where it took place and the father was domiciled in a country which allowed polygamy).


You can only get right to abode through marriage if you are a female Commonwealth citizen.

You must have:

  • Been married to someone with right of abode before 1 January 1983
  • Not stopped being a Commonwealth citizen, even temporarily, at any point after 31 December 1982
  • You usually will not have right of abode if the person you were married to has another living wife or widow who:
    • Is in the UK, or has been in the UK at any time since her marriage, unless they entered the country illegally, came as a visitor or only had temporary permission to stay
    • Has a certificate of entitlement to right of abode or permission to enter the UK because of her marriage

However, you may still have right of abode if:

  • You entered the UK while married and before 1 August 1988, even if your husband has other wives in the UK
  • You have been in the UK since your marriage and at that time were your husband’s only wife to have legally entered the UK or been given permission to do so

Who Qualifies for a Certificate of Entitlement?

You may issue a certificate of entitlement in the passport or travel document of a person who qualifies under the following:

  • Those who qualified by becoming British citizens on or after 1 January 1983 and who apply for a certificate of entitlement to be inserted in a non-British passport
  • Commonwealth citizens who did not become British citizens on 1 January 1983 but had the right of abode immediately before that date and retained their right of abode after that date

You cannot issue a certificate of entitlement in:

  • A non-British passport if the person holds a current British citizen passport
  • A British citizen passport
  • A foreign passport if the person has a certificate of entitlement in another passport

You will get a decision within six months from when you’ve sent your completed application and supporting documents.

Supporting Documents you will need to Provide

You will need to provide your original:

  • Valid passport or travel document – if it wasn’t issued in the UK it must have immigration stamps to show you’re living here, or you must have a previous right of abode certificate, and
  • Two passport photos of you taken in the past six months

Our solicitors will be able to give you a full list of documents that are required in your specific circumstances.

AWH’s expert immigration team can help you with any immigration issues you may have. 
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