The culture test: Welcoming new citizens or a way to stop immigration?

Padlock ‘Keeping them out… or US in?’ Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

An elderly Italian lady, who has lived in the UK for 75 years and has British citizenship, was hoping that her niece could come over from Italy to be her ‘badante’ (carer). She said recently that her niece “can just come over with her ID card”… NO, post-Brexit she would now need an expensive passport, and a work-permit. The elderly lady wishes she could go back to live in Italy, but again, NO, only for 90 days at a time, now being a citizen of a ‘third country’. BOTH parties have lost their freedom of movement as a result of Brexit!

Brexit’s notorious ‘end to freedom of movement’ for people wanting to come to the UK was pitched as a big ‘win’ for those who voted to leave. In fact, it has ended freedom of movement for British citizens too, meaning a stifling of freedom and opportunity, notably for British youngsters: they have now lost the freedom to travel, study, work, live and love in the 27 countries of the EU. It also means loss of flexibility to come and go for the hundreds of thousands of Brits who live permanently in, or own holiday homes in, the EU. Plus extra documentation, loss of reciprocal health care, and higher travel and holiday insurance costs for those travelling to, or taking holidays in, EU countries.

Photo by the author

Many UK citizens have, therefore, applied for citizenship of other EU countries, and thereby to obtain the corresponding passport – in fact 360,000 between 2016 and 2020. This can be by virtue of length of residence in an EU country, others via documented family connections (iure sanguinis). Applications for Irish citizenship have soared; notoriously Stanley Johnson has applied for French citizenship, and Farage has reputedly applied for German citizenship (ironically his wife is German and their children have dual nationality), and the ‘super-rich’ can buy Maltese ‘golden passports’. For ‘ordinary’ applicants, however, it is essential to qualify for citizenship of an EU country via the language and culture tests. Here we compare the culture tests for various EU countries against the context of the culture test for UK citizenship.

The Spanish Culture Test

For the purposes of this article, I asked members of the ‘Bremain in Spain’ Facebook page to share their experiences of the culture test for applicants for Spanish Nationality, known as the CCSE (Prueba de conocimientos constitucionales y socioculturales de España – Test of constitutional and socio-cultural knowledge). Bremain members came up trumps, and I learnt a lot from them! It’s a mark of how Brexit is affecting so many Brits in Spain that my request gained 88 likes and 61 responses in just a few days, and requests from a couple of people for the information to be posted on the Bremain Facebook page for all to see. They provided me with links to several relevant websites, which provide all one needs to know, and offer practice for the test itself:

This site provides general information on the structure of the tests, and what to expect: ‘Spanish Nationality Test: Duration, Cost, Where to Take it and More’. Our focus here is on the Culture Test: the CSSE consists of 25 different questions, divided into true or false and multiple-choice questions. In order to pass, you must get a minimum of 60 per cent right.


The tests themselves are set and administered by the Instituto Cervantes, Spain’s equivalent to the British Council. Their website provides general information, all the cultural information on which the tests are based, and the pool of questions from which any one iteration of the test is drawn. So candidates have ample opportunity, not only to mug up on the knowledge needed, but to practise the test itself!


Finally, a couple of Bremainers suggested this Instituto Cervantes site, which provides an app for practising for the culture tests.


A few comments from Bremainers:

Several mention the easy availability of practice material, and how easy the test is:

“Even without studying I got 20 out of 25 on the first attempt so there’s hope for me (when I apply for citizenship) in a few years’ time!”

“It’s easy to pass the CCSE. You just prepare the 300 questions which keep coming up again and again on the various past tests. In the test itself, I think only 25 questions come up; I did the tests for CCSE on the website which is linked to the Cervantes site.”

“All the CCSE questions are available to download from the Cervantes website, and there is an app for practising … It’s easy to study: you would struggle if you haven’t studied for it, but they literally give you all the answers beforehand!!”

“As well as on Cervantes, some private developers offer practice material such as this one … Also, on the Cervantes website, there is a study guide and glossary that can be downloaded as a pdf.”

Of course, there can be difficulties!

“I’ve seen questions about TV celebrities, names and faces of gossip magazines: a bit unfair for anyone who doesn’t watch Spanish TV or read Spanish magazines!”

“Although some questions are easy such as ‘Is Julio Iglesias a politician, footballer or singer?’, others are more difficult to remember, such as questions about the judiciary, or how many members of parliament there are for Mallorca, Ceuta and Melilla. Being multiple-choice you know the right answer is there, so you have a decent chance of guessing. Just living in Spain for 30 years with a Spanish husband isn’t enough preparation, and my Spanish friends didn’t have a clue either!”

“A really tricky question was: “¿De dónde emana el poder en España?” (“Where does power reside on Spain”?), the answer they want being “El pueblo” (“the People”), in the context of the Constitution.”

General impressions?

“The test seemed to be mainly history, geography, landmarks and how the government works. It’s not quite as specific as the UK one; it seemed like sensible Information you’d want to know. It’s easy, provided that your level of Spanish is reasonable. The majority of the questions about the state and the political system are easy for a British person because Spain is a constitutional monarchy like the UK, so a lot of the answers are obvious for someone from the UK.”

A couple of the trickiest questions?

“There was a weird geography question: what river was links Barcelona and Madrid? The answer was there is no such river, a bit of a trick question!”

 “I was stumped with the question on maternity leave in Spain. Why does a granny need to know this??!!”

Bremainer comments on the UK Culture Test

Some Bremainers who had looked at the so-called Life in the UK test made these comments:

“I can’t do the UK one more than 75% of the time, but I got 19 out of 25 on Spanish one!”

“I could always get above the pass mark when I did Spanish sample tests online just from general knowledge – not always possible with the UK version!”

The Italian citizenship test

There is no culture test as such: “The Italian test is more intensely focused on language and grammar than culture.” According to an Italian Consul, “The applicant has to demonstrate no less than level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is an intermediate or low-intermediate score”.

The German Citizenship Tests

Rachel Marshall reports:

“I had a go at the German and UK test questions and scored better in German! (Lowest score of 92 per cent on the German test, lowest score of 87 per cent on the UK one). Subjects in the German test included parliamentary system, Christmas traditions, tax (some of which I could answer thanks to my vocab rather than an understanding of the complexities of the tax system) and a few about the DDR.
Compare this with the ‘Life in The UK test’: ‘When did Christian communities first appear in Britain?’ – I have no idea! (author’s note: nor do I!) Admittedly my knowledge of pre-1066 history is a bit thin but post-1066 I would say my knowledge is well above average.”

Cathy Illsley writes:

“The list of requirements for obtaining German citizenship is actually quite modest. However, this is Germany so it has to be followed to the letter and the certificates, etc. have to be exactly the ones stipulated rather than any equivalents. This particular requirement meant that, despite the fact that I had studied German, lived in Germany for almost 20 years by that time and worked as a professional translator for nearly 15 of those years, I had to take a test to prove that my German skills were at least “intermediate”! Funnily enough I got 100 per cent! That bit of silliness aside, the rest was straightforward – I had already lived in Germany for more than long enough, I had behaved myself during that time and had a permanent employment contract. That left the citizenship test – 30 general/national-level questions and 3 state-specific questions selected from a total catalogue of 310 (300 national/10 state-specific). You can even practice the questions online but I thought I ought to be able to pass without doing that, given how long I’d already lived in Germany, and that proved to be the case. Almost a year to the day after my first appointment with the immigration authority, I was granted German citizenship – a proud moment!”


A couple of contributors raised valid points about how some applicants might be at a disadvantage doing this type of test:

“When I did the exam, I met an Arabic-speaking lady who was struggling with both the cultural and language exams. Her spoken Spanish was very good indeed and she’d lived and worked in Spain for many years, and had Spanish-born children. But she had never learned to read and write properly using the western alphabet. It was a good ‘check my privilege’ moment!”

“Further to this is how such tests by default exclude people without a formal education. The lady I talked to had never done a multiple-choice test before, or written an essay. The challenge for her went way beyond revising a few facts. Does that make her less worthy of citizenship?”

Comments on the UK Culture Test

“I have passed the Spanish ones I tried, mainly because of helping primary school kids with ‘bilingual’ homework: the Spanish tests include a lot of material that primary school kids in Spain are meant to know. I found the British tests much harder: I gave them to some British friends, and a lot of them failed!”

“Examples I’ve seen of the UK test have contained questions which about 99 per cent of the British population couldn’t answer.”

“I found the UK one covered very specific niche historical details whereas the Spanish version seemed to be more general and relevant.”

“I certainly couldn’t answer all the questions on the British test. I failed terribly with about 25 per cent on the British one.”

“I’ve tried a few of these tests online (and the Spanish one officially) and the one I like best is the German one, which has a section at the end asking questions specific to the Bundesland you live in. Online sample tests I’ve done for Spain and the UK have asked the number of members of the Basque and Scottish Parliaments respectively, which is ridiculous if you don’t live in the Basque country / Scotland.”

“It was blindingly clear that the Spanish one is designed to check a very basic understanding in Spanish culture, whereas the UK one, from the questions I have seen, show it to be a method to stop immigration.”

The author’s comments on the ‘Life in the UK’ test

Information on this test is available online, but booklets, and e-learning packages containing the material the tests are based on, and practice tests all have to be paid for, unlike the Spanish, for example. I have just done four online practice tests for UK citizenship on one of several free websites which offer practice tests: in the first two I scored a pass, with 20/24 correct answers without any prior preparation, but then I am a product of the British education system! However, on the third and fourth tests, I failed with 17/24, though in one case I had misread the question, which was worded in a ‘trick’ way in my view. Had I read it correctly, I would just have passed the test. However, in the context of Brexit, there was what I would consider a ‘joke question’:

“There is no place in British Society for extremism or intolerance: True or False?”

Girl behind bars ‘An EU citizen… or a UK citizen?’ Photo by Nandhu Kumar from Pexels

How would YOU answer? I got it wrong! Try it for yourself online; there are 40 practice tests on the website in the link above; if you google ‘LifeintheUKtest’ you’ll find other similar practice websites. These tests are good value for a bit of fun, especially if you challenge a friend or partner to do each one at the same time as you! Beware: they are addictive …

I asked three French friends who have lived and worked in the UK for many decades whether they have applied for UK citizenship: all of them replied that they had obtained Settled Status and had no intention of applying for citizenship, as they preferred the flexibility of maintaining their status as French citizens. All three would be perfectly capable of passing both the language and Culture Test, but I reckon they are saving themselves from a lot of pointless anguish and frustration! As has been mentioned already, it seems that the British citizenship tests are designed as an element of the ‘hostile environment’: to deter applicants, and thereby reduce immigration.

Acknowledgements: In addition to those named above, many thanks are due to Amy Bloodworth (Italy), and to the following members of Bremain in Spain who provided much useful information and their own – often amusing – experiences of the Spanish Culture Test:
Alex Bensusan, Alison Lever, David Eldridge, Don Andrews, Elizabeth Fraser, Elspeth Williams, Frances Gillard, Heather Steed, Helen Johnston, Jenny Mayhew, Juliet Hunt, Karen Hersey, Katrina Edbrooke, Lawrence Renaudon Smith, Lyn Shepherd, Maddy Ward, Martin Roberts, Mary De Lisle Lyle, Tracy Quintana-Parker
I hope I haven’t left anyone out, and I wish you all a very happy life living in Spain.

Look out for the second part of this article which will deal with the Culture Tests for French, Danish and Swedish citizenship.