Why dual citizenship is one of the most powerful tools you have when traveling

Jul 22, 2020

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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

Dual citizenship is an incredible privilege to have. Not only can you live abroad, but you can use your second passport to access more countries visa-free. Plus, the coronavirus outbreak has made dual citizenship even more useful — in a world where many borders are closed to Americans, having a second passport means you may be able to travel where others can’t.

That said, actually traveling with a second passport can be confusing. You have to know which passports to use and when to use them. Plus, it’s hard to know which passport gains entry to which country, and the benefit of using one passport over the other.

As a dual Czech/American citizen myself, I’ve used two passports when traveling for the better part of the last decade. In this article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about traveling abroad with two passports during the pandemic.

We’ll start by discussing the benefits of dual citizenship and then dive into how to travel abroad with two passports.

Before we begin, though, I want to make one thing clear: Don’t take this article as an encouragement to travel now. Instead, use this as a quick look at what you can expect if you do decide to travel abroad during the pandemic.

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In This Post

The travel benefits of dual citizenship

Czech Airlines A330
(Photo by Rebius/ Shutterstock)

Being a dual citizen means you’re a national of two countries. In turn, you’re afforded the benefits of being a citizen of both countries. For me, this means I can live in the U.S. or the EU with my American and Czech passports for as long as I’d like. Likewise, I am entitled to other benefits when I’m in the Czech Republic, like healthcare, the right to enroll in Czech universities and the right to vote.

Dual citizenship gives you a handful of travel benefits too, and that’s what we’ll focus on in this article. Here’s a quick look at the practical travel benefits of dual citizenship.

More visa-free access

Each country has its own set of countries wherein its citizens can travel without getting a visa. The U.S. has one of the world’s most powerful passports, offering visa-free access to 186 countries worldwide. There are still many countries where U.S. citizens must get a visa though, so you may turn to your second passport and see if it offers visa-free travel to said country.

For example, I can travel to Venezuela without a visa and enter Turkey without an eVisa with my Czech passport. This makes travel to these countries easier and more seamless for myself and other European passport holders.

You can compare visa-free access across two passports using Passport Index’s passport comparison tool. It’s updated with coronavirus restrictions too, so you can see where exactly you can travel during the pandemic with each of your passports.

This is incredibly important if you need to travel during the pandemic. With my Czech passport, I can still enter the EU despite the region being closed to Americans. When I land in the EU, I will be treated like any other EU citizen despite my American residency — though I could still be subject to quarantine.

Related: Will your US passport still be as valuable after pandemic restrictions are lifted?

Travel for longer than a travel visa

You may be able to visit certain countries for longer with a second passport too. Some countries let certain nationalities stay in their country for longer on a tourist visa, making it easier to plan long trips or work remotely from another country.

The most obvious example of this is having freedom of movement with an EU passport. Any EU citizen can stay in any EU member country for as long as they’d like, meaning that you can move anywhere in the Union at-will. Americans, however, are only given a 90-day visa on arrival in the Schengen Zone.

Other countries simply let select nationalities stay in the country for longer. For example, Barbados lets American tourists stay for up to 180 days while Europeans can stay for 90 days.

Related: How vacationing too long in Greece almost got me banned from Europe

You cannot be denied at the border of your home countries

This may be the most valuable benefit during the coronavirus pandemic. Under most circumstances, you cannot be denied access to countries where you’re a citizen, even if your country of residence isn’t allowed in the country.

This means that an Australian dual-citizen living in the U.S. can travel to Australia even if the country is closed to tourists from the U.S. However, keep in mind that you may be subject to mandatory quarantine or other restrictions on arrival.

Related: Everything you need to know about renewing your passport

Expedited entry to your home country (and others)

Certain countries offer expedited or digital border checkpoints for their citizens. For example, I can use automated passport controls at most major airports in Europe with my Czech passport. This is far faster than waiting for an actual border guard to check my passport — a welcome benefit on my frequent trips to and from Europe.

Related: These are the global travel restrictions by country

Consular protection from both countries

Another benefit of dual-citizenship is being able to claim consular protection from both of your nationalities. Further, many European countries have partnerships with each other, allowing citizens of one European nation to claim consular protection with another.

This can be helpful if something goes wrong when traveling. If there’s a natural disaster, war or another mishap pops up when traveling, you can visit whichever consulate is closer to get the help you need.

Related: Travel insurance vs. credit card protections

That said, you may not be able to claim consular protection from one of your nationalities when in the country of your second nationality. For example, I may not be able to claim consular protection from the U.S. when I’m in the Czech Republic.

It’s also worth noting that — in many cases — you’ll only get consular protection from the country whose passport you used to enter the country. There may be exceptions to this rule, but you’ll want to enter using the passport for the country where you’d like to claim consular protection when traveling abroad.

You’re subject to the laws of both countries

This one isn’t a huge deal, but it’s still worth noting. When you’re a dual-citizen, you’re subject to the laws of both countries. If you break a law in one the countries in which you’re a citizen, the other cannot help you. In other words: The U.S. couldn’t help me if I broke a law while in the Czech Republic.

Related: These are the most powerful passports in the world this year

Dual citizens traveling abroad during the pandemic

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 05: A pilot wears a face covering as he walks through a mostly empty terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, May 5, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. Most major airlines are now requiring passengers to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In a perfect world, you should be able to use your second nationality to travel abroad to places accepting said nationality during the pandemic. If you have EU citizenship, this means you can travel to the European Union and other countries that are allowing European citizens. That said, things don’t always go as planned.

For example, I heard from a friend who flew from Boston (BOS) to Copenhagen (CPH) via New York-JFK and Amsterdam (AMS) on Delta and KLM during the pandemic. He is a dual Danish/American citizen, so he shouldn’t have had any issues with his flight. That said, he was almost denied boarding by a Delta gate agent in Boston who was unfamiliar with rules on transitioning through Europe on an EU passport.

Speaking of Europe, the EU recently published a list of countries that can enter Europe for nonessential travel, listing countries like Canada and Australia. The list specifically states that this only applies to residents of these countries, not citizens. This means that an American with a Canadian passport cannot visit Europe at this time. Other regions may have similar rules as well.

That said, EU citizens, essential workers and long-time EU residents are exempt from this ban, so an American resident with a French passport would be able to enter the EU. Likewise, an American citizen living in Canada would also be able to enter the EU on their American passport.

Finally, traveling to another country with a foreign passport may not make you exempt from mandatory quarantine. Read up on this beforehand and ensure that you follow all local laws and regulations surrounding the coronavirus when you land.

Related: Complete guide to traveling during the deadly coronavirus outbreak

How to travel with two passports

Czech and American Passport
(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

So, you have two passports — how do you use them? In this section, I’ll cover the process I follow when I travel abroad with my U.S. and Czech passports.

This process could be different depending on your two nationalities, so make sure to do your research before you travel. Each section below is labeled by whatever step in the journey I’m in followed by the passport I use when traveling from the U.S. to Europe.

Checking in for a flight: Either passport

Let’s start at the airport. When headed to Europe, I can show my U.S. or EU passport at check-in as either can enter the region without a visa. While U.S. law requires that you have your U.S. passport with you when exiting the country, it doesn’t require that you actually exit with it. This is largely because the U.S. doesn’t have passport control when exiting the country.

Boarding the plane: Czech passport

You’ll be asked to show a passport when physically boarding the airplane. I show my Czech passport when going to Europe, as it’s the passport I’ll enter the next country with. This is important when traveling during the pandemic so that you don’t get pulled aside for questioning on why and how you plan to enter the EU.

Arriving in Europe: Czech passport

Upon arrival in Europe, I always enter with my Czech passport. For one, if I’m entering Europe it just makes sense to use my European passport. Further, this is often a faster process: European citizens can use automated border control at most major airports in the EU.

Again, this is more important than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. Americans can’t enter Europe for nonessential travel right now, so you’ll need to show a passport that does give you access.

Checking in for my return flight: U.S. passport

When it’s time to check-in for my return flight, I again enter my U.S. passport information. This is a requirement: Americans are not allowed to enter the U.S. with a foreign passport.

Exiting Europe: Czech passport

European countries — unlike the U.S. — have border control when exiting the EU. When going through this checkpoint, I always show my Czech passport as this is the passport I used to enter. Showing my American passport would raise an issue as there would be no entry stamp in that passport.

Pre-flight passport check: U.S. passport

When you travel to the U.S., you may experience a secondary passport check before you board your flight. Always show your U.S. passport when you experience this — otherwise, you may be asked to prove you have a U.S. visa or ESTA that corresponds to your foreign passport.

Entering America: U.S. passport

After I land back on American soil, I always use my U.S. passport or Global Entry card to enter the country. As discussed, this is a requirement put in place by the U.S. government.

Related: 6 passport mistakes that could leave you stranded at the border

And that’s all there is to it! Your experience may be different depending on the country you’re traveling to and the passport you’re traveling on. That said, your experience leaving and entering the U.S. will be the same if you’re a dual-citizen with an American passport.

Bottom line

Dual citizenship is a powerful tool to have in your travel toolbox. In normal travel times, a second nationality opens up more visa-free countries and lets you live in a second country if you so choose. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, it may be the deciding factor on whether or not you can travel to another country.

Again, if you are a dual-citizen, don’t take this article as encouragement to travel abroad right now. Only you can decide if traveling during the coronavirus pandemic is worth the risk, so do your research before you book a ticket.

Feature photo by Uskarp/Shutterstock

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