British National Overseas (BNO)
Getting a British passport might be easier than you think. Thanks to the UK's historical laws and agreements with former territories, you may qualify for British nationality depending on where you, your parents and grandparents were born.
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British National Overseas, commonly known as BNO, is one of the major classes of British Nationality under British Nationality Law. Holders of this nationality are Commonwealth Citizens, but not British Citizens. They are not granted Right of Abode anywhere, including the United Kingdom and Hong Kong through their British National (Overseas) status.
The creation of the class of British National (Overseas) was a response to the question of the future prospect for Hong Kong in the 1980s, and therefore the nationality was "tailor-made" for the Hong Kong residents with British Dependent Territories Citizen status by virtue of their connection with Hong Kong. The nationality also served to retain an appropriate relationship with the United Kingdom after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. From 1 July 1987 to 1997, around 3.4 million of British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong (mainly ethnic Chinese), successfully gained British National (Overseas) status by registration. Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizenship then ceased to exist after 30 June 1997.
As of 2007, 3.44 million of Hong Kong residents had the status as British National (Overseas), although only 800,000 of them held a valid British National (Overseas) passport. As the BN(O) nationality can not be gained anymore, the number of BN(O) slowly decreases and will eventually disappear.
Upon registration (but never automatically), British National (Overseas) status can be obtained. The nationality is obtained for life and can not be lost in case of Dual Nationality. However, the status cannot be passed on to children nor could it be gained after the end of the registration period in 1997. All British Nationals (Overseas) are entitled to enjoy a variety of rights in the United Kingdom and to use the British National (Overseas) passport as a travel document. Only the minority of the BN(O) that hold no other nationality can register to become British Citizens.
By the late 1970s, it had become a public concern in colonial Hong Kong that the 99-year land lease of the New Territories, a major region of Hong Kong, to Britain would expire in around 20 years. The public concern immediately resulted in a series of negotiations between the Chinese and British government in the early 1980s regarding the future prospect of Hong Kong. The negotiations resulted in the Sino-British Joint Declaration on 9 December 1984 stating the transfer of the sovereignty to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997.
However, the decision reached by the two governments in the Joint Declaration brought uncertainty to the general public of Hong Kong. Many of them were deeply worried about the prospect of being ruled by the mainland Chinese regime and started to have doubts about the future prospect of Hong Kong. In order to avoid Hong Kong people migrating to Britain and other places, and to reinforce people's confidence in the future of Hong Kong, the British government introduced a new class of British nationality according to the provisions of the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Joint Declaration which would allow Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizens, who were mostly ethnic Chinese, to retain an appropriate relationship with its former sovereign state (the United Kingdom) after 1997.
Creation of the Nationality: Hong Kong Act 1985
After the signing of the Joint Declaration, a new class of British nationality, known as British National (Overseas), was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985. The new nationality was for life, non-inheritable and was specially created for British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong.
The 1985 Act was brought into effect by the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. Article 4(2) of the Order provided that adults and minors who had a connection to Hong Kong were entitled to apply for becoming British Nationals (Overseas) by registration.
Becoming a British National (Overseas) was therefore neither an automatic nor an involuntary process and many eligible people who had the requisite connection with Hong Kong never applied to become British Nationals (Overseas). To make it involuntary or automatic would have been contrary to the assurances given to the PRC government which led to the words "eligible to" being used in paragraph (a) of the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Any person, who failed to register as a British National (Overseas) by 1 July 1997 and would thereby be rendered stateless, automatically became a British Overseas citizen under article 6(1) of the Order. The deadline for applications passed in 1997.
The registration procedure of the British National (Overseas) status started on 1 July 1987 and applications could be made in Hong Kong's Immigration Department, passport offices in Britain or passport offices of the British Embassies, Consulates or Missions abroad. The majority however kept their original nationality (BDTC) in the early years when only 15% of the passport applications was for the BN(O) passport. In order to avoid peaks in the registration towards the transfer of sovereignty, the government to divide Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizens into groups by year of birth in 1993, and a deadline for applying British National (Overseas) status and passport was set for each group ranging from 1993 until 30 September 1997. All late applicants (within a certain age group) without a legitimate written-explanation would be deprived of their right to register. Most applications were made on or before 30 June 1997, and British Dependent Territories citizenship of Hong Kong officially ceased to exist after that day. However, those who acquired Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizenship between 1 January and 30 June 1997, were allowed to register until 30 September, nearly three months after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong. In light of the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Joint Declaration, 31 December 1997 was the final expiry date to register for British National (Overseas) status.
After the Transfer of Sovereignty
As of 31 December 1997, around 3.4 million of Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizens had successfully gained British National (Overseas) status and there were around 2.7 million valid British National (Overseas) passports in use. Circa 2 million Hong Kong residents did not obtain British National (Overseas) status. Most of those were not British Dependent Territories citizens and held only Hong Kong Certificates of Identity, and therefore they were not entitled to registration. Besides, some British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong acquired British Citizenship before 1997 so they did not need to register to be British Nationals (Overseas).
Prior to the transfer of sovereignty, the data of British Nationals (Overseas) were collected and managed by the Immigration Department. Following the transfer of sovereignty, the British Consulate-General Hong Kong has taken over the responsibility for administering the British National (Overseas) database.
BN(O)s are entitled to BN(O) passports, which are specific British Passports for international travel. They are lookalike versions of regular British Citizen passports, but do not have the text “European Union” on the cover. As of 2010, the passports are biometric.
British Nationals (Overseas) are Commonwealth Citizens and therefore enjoy certain rights in the United Kingdom in the United Kingdom. For example, they are eligible to join Her Majesty’s Civil Service and become civil servants, and are eligible to vote if they have lived in the United Kingdom for more than six months. British Nationals (Overseas) can receive peerages and become peers of the House of Lords. They can also be conferred British Honours, enjoy the UK's Working Holiday Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme and can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain if they have lawfully resided continuously in the United Kingdom for five years.
If British Nationals (Overseas) intend to study in the United Kingdom, residence permits as known as leave to enter in this case, are issued in Hong Kong without charge (while a nominal fee is charged for applications at other consulates), and they are not required to register with the local police of the place where they study. Different from other British nationalities without right of abode, such as British Subject and British Protected Person, British National (Overseas) status is for life and is not be lost in case of Dual or Multiple Nationality.
British Nationals (Overseas) are also eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme of the UK. BN(O) holders who hold funds of £1600 or more and aged 18–30 are eligible for the YMS. YMS entry clearance holders are free to perform many activities (with certain restrictions) in the UK for at most two years. BOCs, BOTCs and BN(O)s granted entry clearance under the YMS will not need to be sponsored for the YMS, and will not be included in any allocation of places on the YMS.
People's Republic of China
Although British Nationals (Overseas) are basically regarded as British Nationals under British nationality law, China regards British National (Overseas) passports solely as a travel document. British Nationals (Overseas) who are of Chinese descent are solely regarded as Chinese Citizens by the People's Republic of China.
As a result, they are not entitled to consular protection in Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland China. This practice is also followed in public cases: when a senior journalist and British National (Overseas), Ching Cheong, of The Straits Times from Singapore was detained, accused and imprisoned from April 2005 to February 2008 by the government of People's Republic of China for alleged espionage by providing state secrets to Taiwan, the British government refused to provide consular protection to him despite civil rights groups urging the Foreign Office to do so. The British Foreign Office explained that they could provide assistance to Ching Cheong, but they simply could not intervene in the judicial proceedings of other countries.
Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Republic of China only fully recognizes British Citizens but not British Nationals (Overseas) since they are mostly ethnic Chinese. Holders of British National (Overseas) passports or Hong Kong Special Administration Region Passports need an Exit & Entry Permit (landing visa) specific for China to enter Taiwan.
Absence of Right of Abode in the UK
The class of British National (Overseas) was specially created for British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong, and the British government does not provide them with Right of Abode in the UK. Different from most of the nationalities all over the world, the status of British National (Overseas) is neither inheritable nor transferable. It means that the children of British Nationals (Overseas) who are not British Nationals (Overseas) themselves cannot gain this nationality from their parents. In other words, the British National (Overseas) parents have no right to pass this nationality to their non-British National (Overseas) children.
The creation of a new nationality (with fewer privileges) has been met with criticism, as many Hong Kong residents felt the British Citizenship would have been more appropriate in light of the "moral depth" owed to them by the UK. There were also British politicians and magazines criticizing the nationality.
The absence of a Right to Abode in the UK has been seen as an attempt to weaken the link between Hong Kong residents and the UK.
The BN(O) status was for some a symbol for the general discontent on the end of British rule, transfer of the colony, and the perceived insufficient protection of the interest of the residents of Hong Kong by the UK.
The British Nationality Law 1981 has been criticised that different classes of British statuses are in fact closely related to the ethnic origin of the holder by experts as well as by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of United Nations.