Did you know that it’s possible to be a citizen of the United States and a citizen of another country at the same time? There are a number of ways that travelers can become dual citizens (also called dual nationals). Dual citizens can have two valid passports at one time, and have some special travel and passport considerations when holding passports from two different countries.
How is Dual Nationality Acquired?
Dual nationality, with US citizenship and citizenship of another country, can be obtained in several different ways.
- By Birth. If a child is born to a US citizen and a citizen of another country, that child can claim citizenship to both countries. Children born in the United States to foreign national parents can also claim US citizenship by right of their birth on US soil, and will still be able to claim the nationality of their parents’ home country as well.
- By Marriage. Many countries will automatically extend citizenship to US citizens who marry a national of that country. If a foreign national marries a US citizen, the spouse will have to spend several years as a US Permanent Resident before becoming a naturalized US citizen (see below.)
- By Naturalization as a US Citizen. When a foreign citizen acquires US citizenship by naturalization, they do not lose their previous citizenship.
Traveling with Two Passports
Dual citizens always need to travel with their US passport, and frequently need to travel with both their US passport and the passport from the second country. The US passport must always be carried because it must be shown to the Customs and Border Patrol agents upon the return to the US. The other passport must also be carried if the traveler is visiting their other country of citizenship, as it will be needed to enter that country. If the traveler is visiting a third country, they can check local visa regulations to see whether it would be better to enter using their US passport or their other passport.
Travelers who will be using two passports on different legs of their trip frequently wonder which passport they should use when buying their airline tickets. If possible, they can book two separate tickets, using the passport number for the passport they will use to enter the destination country. For example, if a dual US-UK citizen is traveling from New York to London, he could book the New York to London ticket using the British passport number, and the London to New York return flight using the US passport. If the traveler has to book a roundtrip ticket, it’s generally recommended to use the passport number for the destination country. The traveler can still show their US passport upon arrival back in the States, even if the foreign passport number was listed on the plane ticket.
Passport Issuance and Renewal Concerns
- US Passports. When applying for or renewing a US passport, dual citizens go through the same process as any other US national. The foreign passport does not need to be mentioned on the passport application. The foreign passport can be used as a proof of identity when applying for a US passport for the first time.
- Foreign Passports. Dual citizens who are living in the United States who need to renew their foreign passport should check with the embassy of that country for instructions on how to renew their passport. Some countries will process passport renewals at embassies and consulates in the United States, while other countries, such as Russia and the United Kingdom, require that the passport be sent back to the home country for renewal. Because of this, dual nationals should plan well in advance for their passport renewals!