Dual Citizenship FAQ http://www.richw.org/dualcit/

Dual Citizenship FAQ:
Dual Nationality and
United States Law

by Rich Wales

Last revised: 2011-01-03 18:51:31-0800

3 January 2011


Due to increasing demands on my time and energy, I will no longer be actively maintaining the material on this site. Instead, I will be putting my efforts into improving the coverage of dual citizenship issues on Wikipedia.

I have already done considerable work on the Wikipedia articles about U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, Afroyim v. Rusk, and Vance v. Terrazas. My longer-term goal is to raise the level and quality of coverage of this subject on Wikipedia to the point where I can convert my FAQ site into a portal pointing to Wikipedia articles and other source material.

Additionally, I will no longer be able to take the time to answer questions sent to me by e-mail. If you have a specific problem or question regarding dual citizenship, I would advise you to find a knowledgeable and experienced immigration lawyer (sorry, no, I don't have any specific person in mind to refer you to), or look for online discussion groups where you can ask your questions.

(Please note that the "discussion" or "talk" pages associated with Wikipedia articles are intended for use by editors working on the content of the articles. Please do not use Wikipedia talk pages as discussion forums to ask questions about citizenship or immigration issues.)


This document attempts to describe the current situation in United States law regarding dual citizenship. Although I am not a lawyer, I have checked this question out quite thoroughly in recent years and am fairly confident that this material is accurate. (Hopefully there aren't any typos!)

Obtaining a copy of this document

The latest version of the Dual Citizenship FAQ can be found as http://www.richw.org/dualcit/ on the World Wide Web.

Rich About the author

I was born in California. My wife, daughter, and I moved to Canada in late 1992 as landed immigrants (permanent resident aliens). We obtained Canadian citizenship via naturalization in Waterloo, Ontario, in 1996; as a result, we are now dual citizens of both Canada and the US. Our son, born in Canada, is a dual citizen by birth. We moved back to the US in mid-1997 (in order to be closer to our extended families, not because of any particular problem with Canada or our citizenship situation).

I have been researching the dual citizenship issue in my spare time since 1986.


I am not a lawyer, a professional immigration consultant, or a government official. Nothing in this document should be considered legal or professional advice in any jurisdiction.

Unless indicated otherwise, any opinions or interpretations expressed in this document are mine alone. In particular, this material does not in any way reflect the opinions or policies of my employer, Stanford University.

If you are in a dual citizenship situation, or are contemplating such a move, you should consider discussing your plans with an attorney who is knowledgeable in this particular aspect of immigration law, and/or with consular officials of the countries involved. At the very least, I would encourage you to verify anything you may read here with authoritative sources before acting on it.

Brief overview on dual citizenship

In general, countries define citizenship based on one's descent, place of birth, marriage, and/or naturalization. That is, you might be a citizen of a given country for one or more of the following reasons:

The exact details will, not surprisingly, depend on the laws of the country in question. For example, the US limits its application of ius sanguinis by requiring American parents to have lived for a certain period of time in the US before foreign-born children can be entitled to US citizenship by birth. Many countries (Switzerland is one example) do not confer citizenship via ius soli at all, and those which do generally make exceptions for children of foreign diplomats. Automatic citizenship via marriage is rare nowadays; more commonly, marriage may allow one spouse a "fast track" to immigration to the other spouse's country, but a period of non-citizen permanent residence would still be required before the immigrant spouse could obtain a new citizenship via naturalization.

Since there can be several ways to acquire a given country's citizenship, it is possible for someone to be considered a citizen under the laws of two (or more) countries at the same time. This is what is meant by dual (or multiple) citizenship.

For example, my son has been a dual citizen of both the US and Canada from the day he was born. He is a citizen of the US (via ius sanguinis), because his parents are both US citizens who fulfilled the US's legal requirement of residency in the US prior to his birth. And he is also a citizen of Canada (via ius soli), because he was born in Canada and neither my wife nor myself were in Canada as foreign diplomats.

I, too, am a dual citizen of both the US and Canada -- a citizen of the US because I was born in the US, and a citizen of Canada because I went through the Canadian naturalization process (an action which did not cause me to lose my US citizenship).

Countries usually frame their citizenship laws with little or no regard for the citizenship laws of other countries. In my son's case, for instance, the US does not care that Canada thinks he is a Canadian citizen, and Canada does not care that the US thinks he is a US citizen.

In some (but, please note, not all) cases, a country may seek to restrict dual citizenship by requiring one of its citizens born with some other citizenship to renounce (give up) the other citizenship upon reaching adulthood. Similarly, newly naturalized citizens in some (but not all) countries are required to renounce their previous citizenship(s); the US has such a requirement, for example, but Canada does not. And in some (but, again, not all) cases, a country will automatically revoke the citizenship of one of its citizens who acquires another country's citizenship by naturalization, even if no explicit renunciation was involved.

Where one country requires a citizen to renounce the citizenship of another country, this renunciation may or may not be acknowledged or accepted by the other country. This can sometimes lead to sticky legal situations. Also, countries which require such renunciations differ in how seriously they treat this requirement. In some cases (such as Singapore), an applicant for naturalization may be required by his new country to go to an embassy or consulate of his old country and renounce his old citizenship in a manner prescribed by his old country's laws. Other countries (such as the US in recent years) may treat their own naturalization oaths' renunciatory language as essentially meaningless and take no steps to enforce it at all.

As a general rule, dual citizens are not entitled to any sort of special treatment by their two countries of citizenship. Each country will usually consider the person as if he were a citizen of that country alone. Some people describe this sort of situation by saying that a given country "does not recognize dual citizenship" -- but this usage can be confusing, because it might mean either that a country passively ignores other countries' claims on its citizens, or that it actively prohibits its citizens from also being citizens of other countries.

Citizenship frequently carries with it legal obligations relating to taxes, military service, and/or travel restrictions. Again, since countries usually insist on dealing with their citizens without regard to any other citizenships they might hold, and tend to frame their laws regarding citizenship obligations without regard for the laws of other countries, a dual citizen could possibly find that a country which considers him a citizen, but in which he does not live, expects him to pay taxes (possibly in addition to taxes he is already paying in his country of residence); considers him liable to be drafted into its army (even if he has already served or is currently serving in the other country's army); and may forbid him to travel to certain countries, including possibly his other country of citizenship.

In practice, such situations are often smoothed over via tax treaties and the like, but conflicts could (and sometimes do) occur. Also, be aware that most countries (the US is the main exception) base liability for income tax on residence (where one lives) and/or source of income, not solely on citizenship; thus, dual citizenship usually does not automatically translate into double taxation.

Citizenship claims by a country over a given individual could happen even if the person in question never sought recognition as a citizen of that country -- or even if the person was totally unaware that he/she was a citizen of that country according to its laws. Accordingly, anyone who is planning to travel to an ancestral homeland -- even for a brief vacation trip -- would be strongly advised to check that country's citizenship laws carefully beforehand. Otherwise, the trip could run into unpleasant snags if you discover, say, that Country X considers you to be one of its citizens because your father (or even your grandfather!) came from Country X -- and that, as a result, you need a passport issued by Country X in order to leave -- and in any event you can't leave until you have put in a year's worth of military service in Country X's army -- and when consular officials of the only country where you thought you were a citizen try to intervene in your behalf, they are told to get lost because your case is strictly an internal matter between Country X and one of its own citizens (i.e., you)!

On the other hand, dual citizenship can have distinct advantages. In particular, a person with dual citizenship has greater flexibility in his or her choice of where to live and work. Thus, it behooves anyone with dual or multiple citizenship -- or with the possibility of claiming such a status -- to investigate the pros and cons of the specific situation very carefully.

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