dual citizenship

Having two passports and nationalities opens up the world of travel to the estimated 1% of the globe’s population [PDF] – over 60 million people – that have some form of dual citizenship. That combination means dealing with fewer visas for countries around the world but can also leave you with complications if you’re not careful.

For those of you who are also dual citizens, these general guidelines can make sure neither of your nationalities causes problems for you as you hop over one international boundary after another.

porto portugal airportAlways Use The Same Passport Entering And Exiting A Country

This one seems straightforward but if you’re on a longer journey and visiting several countries with differing entry requirements for your particular nationalities, it can feel intuitive to to enter with one passport and exit with the other. I’ve made this mistake once or twice (most recently when flying out of Georgia to Ukraine) and had to charm my way out of buying an impromptu flight to Istanbul.

The reason is because countries want to keep track of foreigners entering their borders; using two passports not only makes that more difficult, but also changes the legal framework you fall under.

In general, even if the next country you are visiting would require a visa from you with passport #2, use the same passport to enter and exit a nation. The passport control officer in the country you’re leaving doesn’t care about where you’re going – only about you when you’re in their borders.

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Airlines And Governments Are Different; Flash The Right Passport

The advice above is specifically for passport control – not when you check-in with the airlines. They are the ones who are going to care about whether you’ve got the rights (e.g. visa-free travel) to enter the destination. In these cases you should show airline staff the appropriate passport for where you’re going. The airline staff want to make sure you’ll be allowed entry to the country you’re flying to.

Several times prior to boarding a flight I’ve been taken aside by staff to have my documents re-examined. If there’s any question about whether you can (visa-free) enter the country you’re headed to, don’t hesitate to let them know about your dual status. Perhaps you’ve been working on obtaining permanent residence in Thailand. It may able be that you are in that process so while working on your Thai residency be aware of how it might change your status.

neon sign las vegasDon’t Advertise Your Dual Nationality Otherwise

Yes, says the guy who is publicly blogging about dual citizenships to thousands of people right now. Broadly speaking, most governments worry about illegal immigration; which your second citizenship may actually be guilty of. Don’t tell passport control you’ve got two nationalities – even if asked. Doing so can forfeit your rights as a legal traveler. By the way, you’re not lying in this case either. No country in the world records dual citizen entries by tourists – they only see you as a single national.

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I should mention also that many immigration and passport controls are tinged with a hint of racism, often biased against citizens of Third World or those who make up a significant minority in a given country. Another good reason not to mention your second citizenship and to keep your second passport inconspicuously stored in your carry-on luggage.

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That is a bit of an extreme example for most people, but the basic premise is if you get in real trouble in a country, whichever passport you used to enter is the nation that’s going to bail you out. So if you’re a French-American dual citizen held hostage by genetically-engineered llamas on your trip to Ecuador you’ll know whether to expect Navy Seals or French Special Forces. (Or Superman, who doesn’t discriminate unless Lois Lane is in trouble at the same time.)

llama ecuador

What To Do If Problems Arise

Problems aren’t likely to happen if you’re a dual citizen taking advantage of your two passports – especially if you’re cognizant about not flashing both around. Your biggest troubles are likely to be at passport control due to a second nationality – remember to stick to the one that gets you legal entry. Be firm but confident and if all else fails, get in touch with your embassy.