Ethnicity vs. Nationality: What’s the difference

People from different groups, races, cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities live all over the world. So, you can never use ethnicity and nationality the same way.

In the United Kingdom, there is a difference between being of a certain ethnicity and having a nationality. The list is made in a table format to make it easier to understand.

Ethnicity vs Nationality

What is Ethnicity?

Ethnicity is a cultural identity based on shared ancestry, language, and cultural traditions. Ethnicity can also be affected by things like where people live, their religion, the food they eat, how they dress, their beliefs, and customs, among other things.

There are different ethnic groups based on where people come from. Some of these groups are based on race (like Afro-Brazilians), religion (like Sikhs), nationality (like Pakistanis), and language (like Gaels). There can be thousands of people in an ethnic group or only five or six people. A big ethnic group can split into smaller ethnic groups, or smaller ethnic groups can join together to make a bigger ethnic group.

A person can come from more than one culture. Say a person’s father is Hispanic and their mother is Chinese or Vietnamese. This person may also know the customs, languages, and cultures of both parents. In this case, the person doesn’t belong to a single ethnic ethnicity.

Example: If a person was born in Greece but came from an Italian family, that person’s ethnicity would be Italian, not Greek.

What is Nationality?

Nationality is how a person is connected to a certain country. More specifically, it means a person’s status in relation to the country where he was born or where he lives. A person’s nationality is set by where they were born or how they became a citizen. For example, a person who has lived in Australia for a long time and is a citizen of Australia may think of himself as an Australian. But he might be of Indian ethnicity. In the same way, think about an Italian who has been living in England for a long time and has been given citizenship there. That person might think his nationality is British.

In the law, a person’s nationality gives the state power over him or her and makes sure that the state can protect him or her. So, nationality can also be seen as something made up by the law.

Example: If a person was born in Nigeria and lives in the Canada, they will only have Nigeria nationality, not Canada nationality.

Comparison table (Ethnicity Vs Nationality)

DefinitionRefers to who a person is in relation to a social, cultural, or religious group.Refer to a person’s country of origin.
Arises fromEthnic backgroundGeographical location
RepresentsHeritage and ancestryLegal status
Method of identificationLanguage, religion, culture, race, etc.Place of birth or inheritance

Key Differences Between Ethnicity and Nationality

Here are some clear ways to tell the difference between ethnicity and nationality:

  • Ethnicity is a person’s background and family history. On the other hand, nationality is a legal identity that can only be given to people who are born in the country.
  • Ethnicity is a person’s ethnic identity, based on their ancestry and the culture they grew up with. On the other hand, a person’s nationality is their membership in the country, which shows how they relate to the country.
  • A person’s ethnicity can be seen in his or her language, culture, food habits, style of dress, race, physical appearance, and so on. On the other hand, a person’s nationality can be based on where he or she was born.
  • While a person’s ethnic background determines their ethnicity, where they live determines their nationality.


So, you’ve probably learned a lot about ethnicity and nationality from the above points. Both of these play a big part in how a person forms and grows their identity. In simple terms, a person’s nationality is the name of the country where he or she was born, while a person’s ethnicity is the name of the subgroup to which he or she belongs. As we saw in the first example, people from the same nation can be of different ethnicities. In the same way, people from the same ethnicity can be from different nations.