British citizenship and indefinite leave to remain: Why you need to know the difference

People often confuse indefinite leave to remain with UK citizenship, or assume that they mean the same thing. Although there is a lot of overlap between the two, there are important differences that should not be overlooked.


Indefinite leave to remain

Indefinite leave to remain ILR allows you to live and work in the UK. Once you have obtained ILR status, you are no longer subject to immigration controls when you enter and exit the UK.

There are several requirements that you must meet to apply for ILR.

You need to have been resident in the UK for at least five years before the date of your application. You may not have spent more than 900 days outside the UK in the last five years and no more than 180 days in the last 12 months.

If you are a Tier 2 visa holder, you will need to earn at least £35,000 per year at the time of your application to meet the financial requirement for ILR.

ILR is just one step away from British citizenship, although it is not citizenship itself.

British citizenship

British citizenship or naturalisation gives you the right to a British passport and the full rights of a UK citizen. You need to have held ILR status for at least one year to apply for British citizenship, and you may not have spent more than 90 days outside of the UK for the 5 years preceding your application.

It takes up to six months to process a citizenship application, and you are required to attend a citizenship ceremony within three months of your application being approved. A standard adult British passport usually takes about six weeks to be issued.

A major difference between ILR and UK citizenship is that while ILR can lapse if you stay away from the UK for longer than two years, British citizenship is for life. This means you can exit and re-enter the UK as you please with no restrictions whatsoever. Once you are a British citizen, you also have the right to vote.

Not sure if you qualify for UK citizenship or ILR? Take our free Visa Assessment to find out. For more information, contact our visas team on or +44 (0) 20 7759 7527


  • majeed khattak

    hi there i am on route for 10 years
    and i would like to apply for ILR. this year my question is
    i have gap of 15 months. i gone to back home and had accident and hospitalised.
    i am back on new visa here and continue.
    do i qualify or not?
    thx majeed

    • 1st Contact

      Hi Majeed,
      This is a complex case which would require a full assessment to be done. You can email our team on

  • S. Dooley

    Hi – I have Right of Abode – which I understand is like ILR.? I have been here two years. Does that mean that I could have applied for citizenship already?

    • 1st Contact

      Hi, yes you may now be eligible to apply for your Citizenship.

      • S. Dooley

        Thank you for your response.

  • Karona

    Hello, is it a typo in the British Citizenship text above that you may not have spent more than 90 days outside of the UK for the 5 years preceding your application. That is only 3 months, or about 13 weeks, over five years which seems very little. I have probably been abroad on holiday more than that in the last five years.

    • 1st Contact

      Hi Kerona,

      To gain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), you should not have spent more than 180 days in each 12 month period. However when it comes to Naturalizing and gaining British Citizenship the requirement is no more than 450 days over the 5 year period and no more than 90 days in the 12 months that you have gained your Indefinite :Leave to Remain status.

  • Atif

    I am in UK on tier 2 visa. In year 2, I have total of 111 days absence from UK, out of which 45 days is unpaid leave when I stayed out of country. This unpaid leave was agreed with the employer.
    First unpaid leave was in Aug 15 for 19 days and second was in Feb 2016 for 26 days. During these periods I was out of UK and stayed their on these unpaid days combining with my annual leaves.
    First question, Can this unpaid days be an issue when applying for ILR under tier 2 visa?
    I am eligible to apply for ILR beginning of next year. i-e Feb 2018.
    Secondly, Can I ask when I apply to gain British Citizenship, In total I will have spent no more than 450 days over the 5 year period before and no more than 90 days in the period after I will get my ILR, but 3 years before I will apply, i have been out of country for 111 days, can this be an issue or the days are calculated as total and total will not exceed 450? Or does it need to be 90 days calculated seperately for each year before?
    Thanks for your help

  • Jade

    Hi 1st Contact! I understand that to qualify for citizenship, you need to have not spent more than 450 days outside the UK over the preceding 5 years. Are there any exceptions to this? ie, for work I am required to travel significantly; would they consider this as an exemption? I have just received ILR, but have already accumulated 425 days outside the UK. Does this mean I shouldn’t spend more than 25 outside for this upcoming year or would they allow any exceptions given it is work-related? Many thanks for your advice!

    • 1st Contact

      Hi Jade,
      Work reasons for being out of the UK would not allow exceptions to be made unfortunately.

  • T Talha

    Hello can somebody tell me if home office can accept private psychiatric certificate to prove that the person is not able to to do life in the U.K basically my mother and my family came in uk 2012 we were on her dependant after 2 years and some month we applied for indefinite but they gave us refusal and extend our visa me and my siblings all have life in the uk test and we are working too my father he’s British national can someone answer my question please

  • Dmitry

    Could you please advise how to proceed with our applications. I have Tier2 visa and been living in the UK for the last five years. I have 3 dependants, one of which was born here.
    1. How long in average does it take to receive ILR?
    2. Can the dependant which was born here skip the step and apply for the British passport straight after I will receive my ILR?
    3. How long is average does it take to receive British passport?

    Thank you.

  • Mohamed Morsy

    I am on Tier 2 visa since February 2016..

    How many days am I allowed to get out of the UK per year and during the whole 5 years without affecting my application for ILR ?