An Easy Guide To U.S. Dual Citizenship

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Can you be a citizen of two countries at once?  For some people, the answer is yes!  Maybe you were born in another country but have become a naturalized U.S. citizen.  Or perhaps you were born in the U.S., but your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were from another country and passed their citizenship to you.

With increased globalization, dual citizenship is becoming increasingly common and something that many people actively seek, either for practical reasons such as more accessible or better work and travel opportunities. Or sometimes for more personal reasons such as wanting to maintain a connection to their country of birth or ancestry.  Dual citizenship can offer many benefits, but it also can have drawbacks.  Additionally, not all countries allow dual citizenship.

Related: The Length of The Citizenship Application Process

What Does Dual Citizenship Generally Mean?

Simply put, dual citizenship means being a citizen of two countries simultaneously; this allows you to have two passports and access the benefits available to both countries’ citizens.  However, it also means that you will have responsibilities for both countries.  While the United States allows dual citizenship, not all countries do.

The laws on this issue can vary significantly from country to country.  It is essential to know the laws surrounding dual citizenship for both the U.S. and the other country so you can understand the implications.  Sometimes you can be a dual citizen without even realizing it!

Benefits of U.S. Dual Citizenship

Dual citizenship can offer many benefits, including:  

The right to live, work, and vote in the U.S. and another country– You will be able to live and work in both countries without needing a visa; this can open the door to many opportunities.  In some cases, you will be able to live and work in multiple countries.  For example, having citizenship in one European Union country, such as Italy, will allow you to live and work in any other E.U. country.  In many, though not all cases, you will have voting rights in both countries.

Access to healthcare, education, and other public benefits in the U.S. and another country– Some countries offer their citizens free or subsidized healthcare, university education, or other services that you can take advantage of.  The benefits provided in some countries are sometimes more generous than what is available in the U.S.

Easier travel– Dual citizenship could allow you more options for visa-free travel. For example, American citizens need a visa to enter Brazil, but U.K. citizens do not.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries are allowing citizens of only specific countries to enter.  Sometimes the benefit is simply having a shorter line when going through customs or immigration.  Some countries require anybody who they consider a citizen to enter with the passport of that country.  For example, a person born in Colombia may have difficulty entering that country if they attempt to do so with a non-Colombian passport.

Related: Criteria To Be Eligible For U.S. Citizenship

Drawbacks of U.S. Dual Citizenship

The flags of various countries standing together

While dual citizenship can offer many benefits, you should be aware that there can be some downsides:

Not all countries allow dual citizenship– While the U.S. allows dual citizenship, some countries do not, meaning you will lose that citizenship if you naturalize in the U.S. or any other country.  Even if you are born with dual citizenship, you might have to choose one country over the other once reaching a certain age, usually when you become a legal adult.  You should check your home country’s laws before naturalizing in the U.S. to understand how naturalization will affect you.

Taxes– The U.S. requires all citizens to pay taxes, even if you live abroad or earned your income outside of the U.S. You might also have to pay taxes to your other country of citizenship.

Military Service– U.S. citizen and permanent resident males must register for the Selective Service.  While there hasn’t been a draft in the U.S. for over 40 years, this could, while unlikely, potentially change  Your other country of citizenship might also require you to serve in the military, though some countries waive this requirement for non-residents.

Limited Consular Help– If you need assistance while traveling abroad, the U.S. government may be limited in the help they can provide in dual citizenship cases; this most commonly occurs if you are in your other country of citizenship.  For example, Americans arrested abroad have the right to consular assistance, but this may not be honored if you are also a citizen in the country where you were arrested.

Security Clearances– Some sensitive U.S. government or government contract jobs will not hire dual citizens; this can especially be the case if the country of your other citizenship is considered hostile to the U.S.

Determine If Your Country Allows U.S. Dual Citizenship

Each country has somewhat different laws related to dual citizenship.  The requirements sometimes change and can be quite complicated.  Sometimes one family member will qualify for dual citizenship, but not the other.  

Be sure to check with the country’s embassy or consulate for accurate and up to date information.  An immigration attorney can help you plow through what can sometimes be a bureaucratic maze.

The Avenues To U.S. Dual Citizenship

U.S. citizens receive citizenship through birth in the U.S., naturalization, or U.S. citizen parents.  Other countries vary widely in how they recognize citizenship, but the most common paths are as follows:

Naturalization– Some countries will allow residents to naturalize after a certain period of residency or through marriage to a citizen of that country.  They often require applicants to pass a language and civics test.  Not all countries allow naturalizations, even for long-term residents.

Heritage–  Some countries base citizenship based on ethnic origin and allow people to claim or gain citizenship if they have an ancestor from that country, sometimes even going several generations back.  This path often lets you skip some of the naturalization process requirements, such as residency or language requirements.

Birth– If you were born in another country to a U.S. citizen parent, you might be considered a citizen of both countries.  Not all countries have birthright citizenship, and some will also require that you have a parent who is a citizen or resident of that country.

Religion– Some countries grant citizenship based on your religion or religious heritage. For example, Israel’s Law of Return allows any Jewish person or anyone who has at least one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen.

Investment– Some countries will grant citizenship to people who invest a specific (usually tremendous) amount of money in that country or pay a certain amount to the government; this is most commonly seen in small island nations.

Related: Citizenship Eligibility Criteria

Wrap Up

The U.S. flag next to ones from other nations

Dual citizenship can offer many benefits, but it is important that you understand the laws governing it for both the U.S. and your other country. There are many common misperceptions about dual citizenship, and well-meaning family members sometimes provide incorrect or outdated information.

Make sure you are relying on an authoritative source. An immigration attorney can help you either figure out if you have dual citizenship already or how you might qualify for it, as well as guide you through the process. At Brudner Law, we can help with a wide range of citizenship-related needs. Call us today and let us help you!