Dual citizenship, also referred to as multiple citizenship or dual nationality, means that a person is a citizen of two countries at the same time. Dual citizenship can happen automatically in certain circumstances as when a child is born to foreign parents in the United States. In this case, the child has birthright citizenship in both the U.S. and the parents’ home nation.

Likewise, if a person has parents that are U.S. citizens but is born overseas, they may automatically become a citizen of both the U.S. and the foreign country.

One can also apply for dual citizenship. If a foreign national has permanent resident status in the United States, for example, if they have a green card, for at least three years and have been married to a U.S. citizen, they may qualify for dual citizenship through a naturalization as a U.S. citizen.

What Countries Allow Dual Citizenship?

The United States does not necessarily encourage dual citizenship, but it allows a person the right to retain dual citizenship. This can happen if a person has been a dual citizen from birth or if a person becomes a citizen of another country after already having U.S. citizenship. Another possible scenario is a person who is a citizen of another nation who becomes a naturalized citizen of the U.S., while retaining their citizenship in their nation of birth.

There are a number of countries that allow dual citizenship, such as Germany, South Africa, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Turkey, to name a few. There are many that do not allow dual citizenship, such as Austria, China, Malaysia, the Bahamas, Indonesia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. In these countries, a person would automatically lose their citizenship upon becoming a citizen of another nation. If a person with U.S. citizenship should want to become a citizen of these nations, they would be required to renounce their U.S. citizenship first.
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Further, there are some countries that only allow dual citizenship only with specific other nations. For example, Spain, for example, allows its citizens to be dual citizens of certain Latin-American countries, but does not allow dual citizenship for Spanish citizens with the United States.

What Precautions Should I Take Before Traveling as a Dual Citizen?

First, a person should confirm their dual citizenship status, if there is any doubt about it. While a person may have filed appropriate paperwork for dual citizenship, it may not have been processed through to a result. In that case, a person may not be a dual citizen, and travel would be more straightforward.

If a person does in fact hold dual citizenship and plans to travel, the person should contact the nearest diplomatic office of the country to which they intend to travel to find out whether there are specific requirements that they need to meet.

American citizens often do not recognize that other nations do not provide the same rule of law that is available to citizens of the U.S. In the U.S. a person cannot be detained by the police unless there is probable cause to believe that the person has committed a crime. If a person is detained, they must be informed of the charges against them and except in the rare case, the person is able to post bail and thus obtain their release from jail pending trial.

They have a right to a speedy trial. They have a right to an attorney and if they cannot afford one, the state must provide one for them at no cost. These are significant protections embodied in our Constitution, and the same protections are not available in all nations. They are probably not available in most nations

Some issues that may arise include the following:

  • Entry and Exit Requirements: When traveling to a country where a person has a second citizenship, they may be required to enter and exit on a passport from that country or present a valid identity document from that country when they enter. The U.S. does not have identity documents, but some foreign nations do and they check them upon arrival. Some countries impose specific restrictions on their departing citizens, such as the requirement that an exit visa be entered in their passport;
  • Exit Bans: Countries may have very different government rules regarding detentions and imprisonment than the U.S. has. Some countries may impose exit bans on dual citizens as an alternative to criminal detention. Even civil or family disputes can result in an exit ban. It does not have to be connected to a criminal charge.
    • Exit bans may be used to coerce a person who is not personally facing criminal charges, as a means to compel an associate or relative under investigation to return from abroad to stand trial. A person with dual citizenship who is subject to an exit ban may have no way to determine how long the exit restrictions or investigation may continue. Dual nationals subject to an exit ban or prolonged “processing” of civil documents that delay their exit may face a significant financial burden, including extended unemployment, unanticipated living expenses and fines;
  • Limited Assistance Abroad: Local authorities may not recognize a person’s U.S. citizenship, especially if they do not enter a country using their U.S. passport. The U.S. embassy or consulate’s ability to provide help may be limited;
  • Notification and Access to Detained Dual Nationals: Many countries, even those that do not prohibit dual citizenship, may still not give recognition to dual citizenship under their laws. U.S. consular officials abroad may not be given access to U.S. citizens in detention if they are citizens of the country where they are detained.
    • Some countries, especially those that do not recognize dual citizenship, are not going to contact the U.S. embassy when a dual national is arrested or detained. If a person is a dual national who is arrested or detained, they should ask police or prison officials to notify the closest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate, because they are entitled to the help of the embassy or consulate;
  • Military Service: U.S. citizens with dual nationality may be subject to mandatory military service in their second nation of citizenship. This obligation might be imposed immediately upon their arrival in the country or when they are attempting to leave;
  • Double Taxation: Dual nationals may be subject to taxation in the United States and in any other country where they have citizenship. This can be avoided only if the other nation and the U.S. have a tax treaty that excepts a dual national from double taxation. A dual national should consult an accountant for advice;
  • Registration: Some countries may require that a person register their other nationalities;
  • Other Restrictions: Some countries have laws that prohibit dual nationality and a person may be forced to give up a foreign nationality. Other countries have laws that force a person to give up your nationality through a formal act of renunciation. Even then the other nation may not recognize the renunciation.

Officials in other nations may act in ways that are not constrained by laws and constitutions. It pays to do some research and consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before attempting travel with dual citizenship.

What Passport Should I Carry When I Travel?

If a person’s travel destination is their other country of citizenship, a person should travel with both their U.S. and destination’s passports. When showing your documentation to airline officials, it is best to show the same documents as those that the person would show immigration officials as well as their U.S. passport.

U.S. law requires its citizens to be in possession of a U.S. passport to show U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials when they re-enter the country. A person should never leave the U.S. without their U.S. passport and they should have a copy of it also in case their passport is lost or stolen..

What If I Left My Country Under Less Than Friendly Terms?

If this is the case, a person would want to exercise caution when they travel near that country, over its airspace or through its territorial waters. They should also be careful traveling to or near a third country that has an extradition treaty with a country in which a person formerly had or currently has citizenship. A person can always consult the U.S. State Department.

Do I Need an Immigration Attorney?

Dual citizenship and traveling as a dual citizen are complex issues that have specific legal obligations. For this reason, it’s a good idea to seek counsel from a skilled immigration attorney to advise you on citizenship matters and assist you in the event that any complications arise.