What is Dual Nationality?
Dual nationality means that a person is a national (or citizen) of two countries, having legal rights and obligations in connection with both countries.* While there may be advantages associated with holding dual nationality, such as ease of foreign residency and access to government programs, dual nationals should understand the legal considerations that can make life more complicated.
*A person may hold more than two nationalities, and the same guidance generally applies.
How Do You Acquire Dual Nationality?
You may be a national of another country knowingly or unknowingly even if you do not accept the nationality or hold a passport of that country. A person may acquire dual nationality in one of several ways, including:
- Being born in the United States to one or two parents holding a nationality other than the United States, based on the other country’s citizenship laws;
- Being born outside the United States to one or two U.S. citizen parents, based on the foreign country’s laws;
- Naturalizing as a U.S. citizen while maintaining the nationality of another country; and
- Retaining nationality in a country of origin after naturalizing as a U.S. citizen.
Potential Challenges to Holding Dual Nationality
Countries have different regulations for dual nationals; some countries may not permit dual nationality. U.S. citizens should check with the embassy of any country of which they hold a foreign nationality for relevant nationality laws before travel. Examples of regulations that may impact a dual national include the following:
- Entry and Exit Requirements: When traveling to a country where you have a second nationality, you may be required to enter and depart on a passport from that country or present a valid identity document from that country. Some countries impose specific restrictions on departing nationals, such as the requirement for an exit visa in their passport.
- Exit Bans: Countries may also impose exit bans on dual citizens as an alternative to criminal detention. In some instances, civil or familial disputes can result in an exit ban. Exit bans may be used coercively on individuals who are not themselves facing criminal charges, but as a means to compel an associate or relative under investigation to return abroad to stand trial. Dual nationals subject to an exit ban may not have a way to determine how long the restrictions or investigation may continue. Dual nationals who are subject to an exit ban or prolonged processing of civil documents, often face a significant financial burden. They may face unemployment and unexpected living expenses and fines.
- Limited Assistance Abroad: Local authorities may not recognize your U.S. citizenship especially if you do not enter a country using your U.S. passport. The U.S. embassy or consulate’s ability to provide consular assistance may be limited.
- Notification and Access to Detained Dual Nationals: Many countries, even those that do not prohibit dual citizenship, do not explicitly recognize dual citizenship under their laws. U.S. consular officials abroad may not be afforded access to U.S. citizens in detention if they are citizens of the country where they are detained. Some countries, particularly those that do not recognize dual nationality, will not contact the U.S. embassy when a dual national is arrested or detained. Dual nationals who are arrested or detained should request police or prison officials to notify the closest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate.
- Military Service: U.S. citizens holding dual nationality may be subject to mandatory military service in a foreign country. This obligation may be imposed immediately upon arrival or when attempting to depart the country.
- Double Taxation: Dual nationals may be subject to taxation in the United States and in any other country where they hold nationality.
- Registration: Some countries may require you to register your other nationalities.
- Other Restrictions: Some countries have laws that prohibit dual nationality and you may be forced to give up a foreign nationality. Other countries have laws that compel you to give up your nationality through a formal act of renunciation (and even then may not recognize the renunciation).