Immigration & Naturalization Law
Dual Citizenship: When You Can Have It and Which Passport To Use To Travel
The laws and constitutions of many countries use “citizenship” and “nationality” as synonyms. This is how you will find them in this article, although it is important to mention that technically they are not the same.
Citizenship is a legal and political term that supposes a series of rights and obligations that the government of a country grants to an individual.
Nationality, on the other hand, is more associated with an individual’s cultural identity. That is, there can be several nations within the same country.
Note: Dual citizens may need to do military service in their original country of citizenship, which will not affect their U.S. dual citizenship status.
The vast majority of Spanish-speaking countries allow dual citizenship, which is also the case in the U.S.
The U.S. does not force citizens of other countries to renounce their citizenship of origin to become citizens.
However, other countries such as Spain, Panama, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and Honduras see this differently. They consider becoming a citizen of a foreign country a renouncement of citizenship in cases where there is no dual nationality agreement between countries.
Nicaragua law is as follows:
- Article 7 of its nationality law says “foreigners may be nationalized after renouncing their nationality.”
- Article 15 states that “nationals will lose Nicaraguan nationality when they voluntarily nationalize in a foreign State, except that acquire the nationality of another Central American country or benefit from a dual nationality agreement.”
Honduras also considers that a citizen loses Honduran nationality by naturalizing in a foreign country with no dual nationality treaty.
Article 13 of the Constitution of Panama states “the express resignation of nationality occurs when the person expresses in writing to the Executive his will to abandon it; and the tacit one, when another nationality is acquired or when one enters the service of an enemy State.”
Suppose a Spanish citizen decides to apply for U.S. citizenship. In that case, they have three years to declare their willingness to retain Spanish nationality from either:
- The acquisition of foreign nationality, or
They must present the required documentation to the Civil Registrar.
The good news is there are other options to regain Spanish nationality even after three years of obtaining the second nationality.
When one has a nationality and then wishes to become a Spanish national, the reverse case is more discouraging. Spain obliges all individuals who want to be Spanish to renounce their nationality of origin unless it is from an Ibero-American country, such as:
- The Philippines
- Equatorial Guinea
Paraguay admits multiple nationalities through an international treaty. There must be reciprocity of constitutional rank between the country of origin and the country of adoption.
Article 150 of the Paraguayan National Constitution indicates that “naturalized Paraguayans lose their nationality by virtue of an unjustified absence from the Republic for more than three years, declared in court, or by the voluntary acquisition of another nationality. The Judicial Power will have exclusive competence to understand these cases.”
Cuba also deserves special mention. For a long time, it considered its citizens lost their Cuban nationality when they obtained another.
However, it currently follows the principle of “effective citizenship.” This implies that:
- Cuban nationals must enter the island with their Cuban passport
- While in Cuba, only their rights and obligations as Cuban are recognized even if they are citizens of another country
Effective citizenship is seen as an intermediate position between tolerating and not tolerating multiple nationalities.
If you have the nationality of the country you are traveling to, that is the passport you should use.
Suppose you enter a country of which you are a national with a foreign passport. In that case, you run the risk of incurring fines for prolonging your stay beyond the legal time.
Whenever you leave a country, do so with the same passport that you entered with. There are cases of people who enter a country with the passport of one nationality and left with the passport of another. This leads to:
- Being computed as if they were still in the country
- Breaking the law
- Exceeding their maximum legal stay
A person who, for example, has an Argentine and Spanish passport must leave Argentina with the Argentine and enter Spain with the Spanish.
On several occasions, citizens who tried to leave Argentina with a Spanish passport were required to show the Argentine passport to leave the country. This is because they did not have an entry stamp in Spanish.
Finally, to know which passport to use, it is best to evaluate the advantages that one or the other passport would bring you.
Let’s say a person wishes to travel to the United States for a short time. They have passports from:
- A Latin American country that requires a visa to enter the United States
- A European country that has a visa exemption agreement through the provisions of the Program Visa Waiver (PVW)
The person in this example should enter with the European passport to avoid the visa process. The system for obtaining travel authorization is called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
If your circumstances are different and you want to stay for more than three months on the same visit, obtaining a visa may be more convenient.
The ESTA only allows a stay of up to three months in a row, while the tourist or business visa allows a stay of up to six months.
In the same way, entering a Latin American country with a reciprocity visa for Americans implies that using a Latin American passport will save you having to pay for said visa.
You can learn more about:
- Citizenship through naturalization
- Foreign citizenship
- Citizenship by descent
- Citizenship by marriage
- Application for citizenship
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