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Living Abroad

My Country or Yours?

Exploring Your Rights to Live and Move Abroad With or Without Dual Citizenship

There must be a good reason for having two passports. The three children of ex Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife all have Irish passports as well as in addition to their passports from the U.K. This is thanks to Mr. Blair’s Irish grandmother.

Americans are increasingly applying for and getting passports from other countries. Many U.S. citizens are under the false assumption that it is illegal to have passports. It is not.

Americans Eligible for a Second Citizenship

It is difficult to get an exact fix on the number of Americans with a second citizenship. CNNMoney.com has estimated that 40 million Americans are eligible for a second citizenship; most because of parental or grandparental ties.

Currently, only 25% of Americans have a U.S. passport. A non-governmental source says that that figure is due more to recently nationalized Americans who want a passport as a symbol of their new nationality. And now, Americans must have an official document to travel to Canada or Mexico.

Procure Two Passports When Possible

Most travelers in the know want to make sure they have two passports if possible—especially a passport from the E.U. It allows an American, Australian or Canadian citizen to work relatively hassle free in the E.U. There are safety considerations as well. I have had an Irish passport as well as my U.S. passport for years. I’d rather travel with the Irish passport in Pakistan or Iraq than an American one. In my case, the motivation was to teach in Europe.

Once I’d received my K-8 teaching certificate, I spent seven years teaching in the U.S. But I’d travelled in Europe before and felt close to it. I decided to let my Irish background work for me. I requested the forms, did the paper chase and in 1980, got a letter from the Consulate General of Ireland in Chicago.

“I wish to inform you that it has been granted. The cost of Irish Citizenship is $12.50. Please let me have a cheque…” This was a bargain at half the price. I have lived, travelled and worked in Europe for almost 20 years now and consider that $12.50 to be one of my best investments. I know many others would like to do the same. Is it possible? Yes, it is. I hope the following helps out others to realize the same possibilities. But I am not a lawyer nor an expert. The information comes from official U.S., Irish, U.K., Canadian and Australian websites as well as phone calls with embassies in Madrid. But you must check as well for the most current info which applies to your specific case.

The process can be straightforward. But once one gets into more involved conditions of living overseas, only a professional or embassy can give you the info.

Q & A

1) Is it legal for an American citizen to be a citizen of another country and to hold two passports?

Yes, with conditions. If you have dual citizenship from birth or have become a citizen of another country, even after having U.S. citizenship, then U.S. law, even going back to the Constitution, offers you the right to keep both citizenships for life. This assumes that the second country has no law requiring you to renounce a previous citizenship. And even then, the U.S. might not recognize the legality of such renunciation.

For some years, the U.S. State Department was a stickler on the rules concerning the right to own two passports. And some officials will still claim that you can’t have both. But such is not the case.

It becomes less clear if the person obtained was naturalized in the U.S. but still wants to claim the original citizenship. The naturalization process requires the giving up the old citizenship. But even then, the first country might not recognize the U.S. requirement of renouncing said citizenship.

But the U.S. seems to be turning a blind eye to the strictest requirements of the birth or a second county’s oath requiring a person to renounce their U.S. citizenship. It is actually rather difficult to say, “I am not a citizen of the U.S.” More on that later

2) Will a person lose their citizenship if they move to another country with the idea of living there or taking a long-term job there?

No. The developed world now sees that its borders are more open than ever. The E.U. sees people coming and going all over it.

3) I thought that the U.S. Constitution forbids being a citizen of two countries?

And I bet you thought the Constitution made English the official language of the U.S. No, The Constitution says nothing on the topic. (The U.S. has no official language at the national level.)

4) Is there a difference between nationality, naturalization, and citizenship?

I think so. I had Irish nationality because of my parents. But I wasn’t a citizen of Ireland until I applied for it. Citizenship implies legal obligations. Naturalization is the process one goes through to become a citizen of another country.  Not everyone with whom I have makes this distinction—but dictionaries do.

One online dictionary defines nationality as “A people having common origins or traditions…, or a national character. If one is a citizen, one has legal obligations as well: paying taxes or perhaps, even military service. In any event, I use citizenship here to mean the legal connection between a person and a country.

5) If I am both a Spanish citizen say, and a U.K. or U.S. citizen, am I required to pay taxes in both countries?

Yes, you are. While the U.S. puts a very generous upper limit after which you have to pay taxes, you still have to declare. The limit is far beyond the wildest dreams of most independent travelers or teachers. But an Irish citizen does not have such a limit. Again, check with your tax people.

6) What if, in order to get the citizenship of a second country, I have to renounce my original citizenship?

This is a very cloudy issue. Firstly, most E.U. countries won’t require it. Spain requires that an adult be Spanish except with the exception of Argentines. But with a citizenship gotten through parents or grandparents, you are probably OK. Even then, one of the embassy people I spoke with said that the renunciation might not be recognized by the first country.

7) Could I unknowingly lose my original citizenship when I have a second?

It’s possible but very unlikely. When I got my Irish citizenship, I received a letter from the U.S. Department of State. “It has come to our attention…that you have become an Irish citizen. It is possible that by performing this act you may your lost your U.S. citizenship” etc. But I and thousands of others have not. See the last section for more on that theme.

(I didn’t have any obligation to inform the government of my step. But governments keep in touch. The Irish authorities had told the U.S. That seems typical.)

8) Citizens in the other major English speaking countries?

Since the Irish immigrant is such a stock figure in other countries, his children or grandchildren have the easiest time getting an Irish/E.U. citizenship. It carries many of the same benefits as the others. An added bonus is that they don’t have to pay taxes on overseas earnings. And for travel in problematic areas, it’s a far safer one. The Irish military of 8,500 people is involved in peacekeeping missions only. And Guinness has been a good will ambassador in over 200 countries, so most doors will be open.

Ireland does not require any foreign citizenship to be renounced on becoming a citizen. Most new citizenship is through descent. It does require the paper chase and there is a small fee.

9) The U.K.?

The British Nationality Act was passed in 1948. In general, there is no restriction on a U.K. citizen to become a citizen of a second country.  Unlike some other embassies with whom I talked, the U.K. is a bit stricter regarding what happens to a U.K. citizen if they assume citizenship in a country that requires renouncing any other nationality. For example, if one is a U.K. and U.S. citizen (which requires renouncing other citizenships), the situation could arise where the U.K. consul might refuse help to a U.K. citizen in the U.S. So again, check first.

10) Australia?

Australia is a land of recent immigration rather like the U.S. It takes an open attitude to the idea of dual citizenship. In fact, their website says that many Australia might be dual nationals already without knowing it.

They add that one can be or become a dual national by birth, by descent, by marriage, or by naturalization. It adds that the same negative consequences might apply to an Australian dual national travelling to their second country: military obligation (such as Egypt, Greece, Lebanon and most countries in Central and Eastern Europe), non-recognition of Australian citizenship, etc.

Since April 2002, an Australian has been allowed dual citizenship but a person is strongly advised to check with both the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and with the embassy of the second country concerning questions on a passport and travel.

11) If I live in Canada?

Why a Canadian would want to travel away from that country is a mystery. The government allows dual citizenship. But many of the cautions that apply to Australia, the U.S. etc, hold there as well. I’ll not say more here other than you can get much more information from their website. (see sidebar)

12) If live in London?

It’s far easier to see why a person living in London might want to spend time working or retiring to Spain or Greece. They are already E.U. citizens and so enjoy the same rights and privileges that apply.

The U.K. website offers good advice on the advantages and disadvantages of dual citizenship. The best as far as E.U. citizenship issue is concerned is the ease of travel and employment in the E.U. An E.U. passport can also give one a feeling of security in some situations.

One of the most frequently asked questions about having a second citizenship is if one could lose their first nationality by working and living in a foreign country. It’s very unlikely. One has to be very specific about wanting to renounce a first citizenship. It there is no intent, there is usually no risk.

In the case of my U.S./Irish citizenships, the U.S. State Department advised me that I might lose my citizenship by voting in Ireland (not possible yet from Spain), serving in its armed forces (highly unlikely), or holding any post that required that I pledge allegiance to the government.

I’m not going to touch on marriage with foreign nationals or child born overseas to dual nationals. It’s simply too complex for this article.

In conclusion, living in a second country for 20 years, marrying a local, sending your child to a local school, paying taxes—I’m still the foreigner. But the second passport has allowed me the space and convenience to enjoy all that a different land has to offer, whether it the country be Spain or Thailand or Brazil. The benefits far outweigh the unlikely downside. Go for it. 

For More Information

What’s in a name? Everything if it’s one way on your birth certificate and another on a passport or other legal document. If your friends call you Spike, but it’s Mortimer on your birth certificate, it has to be Mortimer on your passport.

The name on your passport should be the one that you are known by and is your legal and current name. A friend wanted the Irish of his name on his new passport. The embassy refused saying it was not the name he lived by. It was good advice.

Use your birth certificate as your bench mark. If you have changed your name because of marriage or by court order etc, have copies of all relevant paperwork with you as you travel and make sure that your passport has that name as well. In that case, it might be different from your birth certificate, but you must be able to document that fact.

And even within the E.U, names from other cultures can cause a bit of a delay in processing paperwork. In my case, I have two first names and a last name. And the spelling of my last name, McGuire, can give pause to some. In Spain, my second name became my last name while my last name became the second part of my last name. The Spanish habit is to have one first name and two last names.

Be patient with embassy people and border guards. Their job is to follow procedures based on their culture, not yours. You will make their job easier by having clear documentation and a lot of patience.

The advice I read the most is to be sure that your name is the same on every legal and travel document you have from your passport to your airline ticket.

Websites of Interest

The first thing to do if you want to find out if you qualify for a second citizenship/passport is to talk to your parents and grandparents. One of the easiest and most common ways to get a second citizenship is through foreign-born family members. The second way is to check the embassy/consular/government website in your country. They offer a world of information. In preparing this article, I was impressed with the helpfulness of the Australian and Canadian embassies. All the Anglo-speaking countries have web information that can be very helpful.

For example, the website for Australia is www.smartraveller.gov.au. The American page, //travel.state.gov/passport/, has a good question and answer section.

Non-governmental sites of interest such as www.travisa.com offer useful info. Do be careful. When you Google “second citizenship countries,” you get an extensive list of matches. But some want to sell you a passport claiming that one from the former U.K. colony of British Honduras is acceptable. I do not think I would want to pay money for such services.

Wikipedia has pages on second citizenships and passports, of course, but do double check anything from the website.