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What is Dual Citizenship (or Dual Nationality)?

Dual citizenship or dual nationality is simply being a citizen of two countries.   The United States allows dual citizenship. For example, if you were born in Mexico you are a native-born Mexican.   If you move to the United States and become a naturalized US citizen, you now have dual citizenship.   Dual citizens can carry two passports and essentially live, work, and travel freely within their native and naturalized countries.

Some dual citizens also enjoy the privilege of voting in both countries, owning property in both countries, and having government health care in both countries.

Dual citizenship is becoming more common in our increasingly interconnected, global economy.   Many countries are now seeing the advantages of dual citizenship and are liberalizing their citizenship laws (India, the Phillippines, and Mexico are recent examples).   Dual citizenship has the advantages of broadening a country’s economic base by promoting trade and investment between the dual citizen’s two respective countries.

Some countries do not allow dual citizenship.   For example, if you were born South Korea and become a US citizen, you will most likely lose your Korean citizenship if the Korean government finds out about it.   But an increasing number of these countries that prohibit dual citizenship are not enforcing their laws regarding dual citizenship.   So, you may informally have dual citizenship if your native country does not take away your citizenship after you become a US citizen.

The following website list countries that officially allow and do not allow dual citizenship: Dual Nationality

Dual Citizenship, the Naturalized US Citizen, and the Oath of Allegiance

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…” from the Oath of Allegiance

The opening lines of the Oath of Allegiance are meant to give the United States exclusive sovereignty over the newly naturalized citizen.   In other words, you are a citizen of one and only one country, the United States of America.   The idea is that as soon as you take the Oath of Allegiance and become an American, you are giving up your citizenship of your native country.

Naturalized citizens are not legally obligated to give up their citizenship of their native country.   The United States has never ordered (as far as we know) any newly naturalized US citizens to present themselves to their native country’s embassy and formally renounce their original citizenship.   In the past, the first part of the oath was never a problem because almost all countries took away a person’s citizenship as soon as they became a citizen of another country.

Legally speaking, however, there is nothing in the Constitution and there are no past rulings from the United States Supreme Court preventing the United States (via the USCIS and the State Department) from requiring all naturalized citizens to officially renounce their original citizenship to their native country as a condition of naturalization.   However it seems very unlikely that this would occur for a number of reasons:
  • Even in the aftermath of September 11th, there doesn’t seem to be much political support or even political will for implementing such an extreme policy.
  • Many foreign countries may resist implementation of any such policy.   These countries could simply refuse to accept any renouncement of citizenship as a condition of US citizenship, which the US would be powerless to stop.
  • The rate of naturalization in this country would drop off dramatically and alienate many immigrants, creating divisiveness and polarization in a country that prides itself on being the “great melting pot.”
  • More practically speaking, besides the administrative cost of implementing such a policy, the US government is ever so slowly waking up to the fact that there are more benefits in terms of economic opportunities and US cultural expansion than risks in allowing dual citizenship.
The important thing to remember about the Oath of Allegiance is not the renouncement of your original citizenship, which the US does not enforce and permits you to keep anyway.   The important thing to remember is the allegiance and fidelity you swear to the United States of America.   That’s the power in the Oath and that’s why you should display the Oath of Allegiance.   It is a reminder of the promise you made to be faithful and true to the United States.   The Oath is also demonstration to everyone else of your loyalty and the sworn commitment you made to place America first!

On Being a Dual Citizen

As mentioned previously, the United States government does allow dual citizenship.   They don’t approve of dual citizenship—they simply tolerate it.   You need to understand this distinction so you won’t have problems with the US government at the border, at the airport, or abroad at one of their embassies or consulates.

In America
When leaving or returning to the United States always present yourself as a US citizen (show your US passport and declare yourself to be a US citizen).   When inside the United States and dealing with the local police or any other local, state or federal official, if a question comes up about your citizenship, tell them you’re an American.   It’s that simple.   Don’t mention your dual citizenship or that you are a citizen of another country unless specifically asked.   Ninety-nine percent of the time the police and government officials don’t care because in the eyes of US law you are an American first and foremost and subject to our laws.

In Your Native Country
When returning to or leaving from your native country, always present yourself as a citizen of their country (show them your native country passport, not your US passport, and declare yourself to be a citizen of your native country).   When inside that country, be a citizen of that country.   When dealing with the local police or any other local or federal official, if a question comes up about your citizenship, tell them you are citizen of that country.   If they ask where you live, tell them in America.   Don’t mention your dual citizenship or that you are an American unless specifically asked.   In the eyes of that government you are citizen of that country first and subject to its laws and regulations even though you live in America.

If you go to a US embassy or consulate in your native country for help or assistance, represent yourself as an American.   The embassy staff will probably ask about your dual citizenship.   Why?   Because as far as international law goes, your native country has legal claim on you first when you’re in that country.   This may limit the kind of help the US embassy or consulate can give you, especially if you are in trouble with your native country’s laws and government.

Other Practical Tips for Dual Citizens

Please obtain a passport of both your native country and the US.   It will make traveling between the two countries and abroad so much easier.   For information about obtaining a US passport go to Passport Information.

When you travel between the two countries carry both passports.   US law and the laws of countries that allow dual citizenship allow you to carry more than one passport.

As mentioned previously when entering or leaving the United States use your US passport.   When entering or leaving your native country, use your native country’s passport.

When traveling by air, the same principles apply, but dealing with the airlines may be confusing.   The airlines are interested in what passport you will use at your destination.   So before your flight begins, the airlines will ask for your passport so they can verify that you can legally enter the country at your destination.   Your passport information will be entered into their computer system and will become part of the flight manifest.   So make sure you show the airlines, the passport you will use at each of your destinations.

For example, let’s say you are dual citizen of both the United States and France. You live in New York and you are traveling to Paris.   In New York, when you check in for your flight to Paris, you would show the airline your French passport.   You will be entering France as a French citizen so the French passport is the passport the airline wants to see.   When you are in Paris and checking in for your return flight to New York, you would show the airline your U.S. passport.   You will be entering United States as an American citizen so the U.S. passport is the passport the airline wants to see.   Keep in mind, while you are in the airport, if you are asked by government officials about your citizenship, if in the U.S., be an American and show them your U.S. passport.   In the airport of your native country, be a citizen of that country and show them your passport for that country.

Some airlines may ask you upfront, when you check in for the first time, how you are going to enter each country on both the outgoing flight and the return flight.   In this case, you would show them both your passports.   Also, be prepared when you first book your flights to discuss the dual passport issue with the airline’s reservation agent.

When traveling to a third country (lets say you’re a dual citizen of Brazil and the US and you are traveling to the Philippines), the choice of which passport to present at the third country’s border is up to you.   We suggest doing a little research before leaving, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of using your native country’s passport as well as the possible consequences.   Remember when you return to the US you will have to present your US passport, so bring it with you.

Lastly, please be discreet about your dual citizenship.   Dual citizenship is still controversial here in the United States and in many other countries.   When in the United States, be an American.   Unnecessarily flaunting your other citizenship may stir resent among the Americans who don’t have dual citizenship and lead them and others to question why you became an American in the first place.   Opposition to Dual Citizenship

Websites with Further Information on Dual Citizenship:

Dual Citizenship FAQ is the most comprehensive, non-academic, non-legalese discussion on dual citizenship.

A somewhat exhaustive and academic discussion of dual citizenship by Peter S. Spiro, a leading scholar in the area of citizenship and nationality law:
Embracing Dual Nationality
Helping new and naturlized US Citizens become Americans

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