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?