If you were born in the United States, you may have only ever thought of yourself as American. But one of the beautiful things of our country is that our differing backgrounds build a rich tapestry of the world — often called the Great American Melting Pot (for you School House Rock fans out there). So, while you may be American, your family may be from China, Ireland, Mexico, or Nigeria, giving you a family heritage uniquely your own.
No matter where your family is from, the value of being American is that you’re often accepted and welcomed by your countrymen and women. But some people are able to reclaim a bit of their old familial ties while maintaining their personal ones. This is called dual citizenship, and it’s growing in popularity in the United States.
What is Dual Citizenship?
So, what exactly is dual citizenship? Well, it’s right there in the name. Dual citizenship is when you hold citizenship to two or more countries. This can sometimes be called multiple citizenship, dual nationality, or multiple nationality. The popularity of dual citizenship has been growing for some time, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each country decides how it handles dual nationality. Some notable countries don’t allow dual citizenship — such as China, India, Japan, and Singapore — though each treat the situation differently. For example, China simply forbids multiple citizenship, while Japan and India make you renounce your old nationality upon attaining another.
It’s also important to understand that pursuing dual citizenship doesn’t mean you love your first country less, just that you wish to receive the benefits of having multiple citizenships.
In the United States, dual citizenship is allowed, though at one time, the naturalization process had new citizens renounce their old allegiances and fidelities. The Supreme Court has allowed for multiple citizenships in their rulings, and dual citizenship is actually not mentioned in the Constitution. Despite this, international law recognizes the potential legal issues of dual nationality and addressed these issues with dominant and effective nationality in court cases like the Nottebohm case. This case established that while you can have multiple nationalities, one can be recognized as your primary nationality based on factors like familial, financial, and personal ties, main residence, and participation in public or political life.
It’s also important to understand that pursuing dual citizenship doesn’t mean you love your first country less, just that you wish to receive the benefits of having multiple citizenships. It’s like having more than one child. You don’t love the first child any less.
Is It Worthwhile?
If you’re curious about dual citizenship, you may also be wondering why someone may be interested in it beyond the fact that it’s neat.
Reclaim Your Heritage
Depending on where your second citizenry is, the benefits may vary. Chief among the benefits is reconnecting with your heritage. Let’s say your mother was born in Greece and was a Greek citizen, but you were born in the United States. You’re entitled to Greek citizenship, and reclaiming it can help you feel closer to your ancestral heritage. While that’s a good enough reason for some people, others may want more real-world benefits.
Benefits for Travel
If you’re a traveler, a second nationality gives you a greater degree of freedom when abroad, since you receive a passport from that country. For many nationalities, it’s easier to travel to and from the country you’re a citizen of. If your citizenship is of a country in the European Union (EU), these benefits extend throughout the EU, meaning you can travel fairly freely throughout Europe, not needing to go through customs in each new country. You can also go through an often quicker customs line at the airport for EU citizens, compared to the non-EU citizens line. This can save a LOT of time at the airport! You can also stay longer than a non-citizen, as you won’t need a visa to stay longer than 90 days anywhere in Europe.
If your citizenship is of a country in the European Union (EU), these benefits extend throughout the EU, making it easier to travel.
Then, there’s also the peace of mind you receive from your secondary citizenship. As an EU citizen, you’re entitled to universal health care anywhere in Europe if you get sick on vacation. In a more topical benefit, during the COVID-19 pandemic, most places around the world were closed to US citizens, due to the spread of the coronavirus. If you hold a dual citizenship, you can travel more freely using that passport to return “home.” This is only an example (traveling during a pandemic still isn’t a good idea) about how powerful your rights as a dual citizen can be.
Long-Term Benefits and Living Abroad
Of course, the biggest benefits of dual citizenship are seen if you plan to live or spend a significant amount of time in one of or both countries. Dual citizenship gives you access to all the benefits of citizenship in that country. As mentioned earlier, this can include health care, but it goes beyond this. You can vote, work, and access social services like a natural born citizen.
In some international bodies, like the EU, these benefits extend throughout the union, meaning an American-Italian citizen could live and work in France.
In some international bodies, like the EU, these benefits extend throughout the union, meaning an American-Italian citizen could live and work in France. You may even have access to free or affordable education at a public university. Some countries ban non-nationals from purchasing property or include additional taxes or restrictions, so claiming dual citizenship allows you to retain these rights or avoid the additional taxes and restrictions in that country.
Pass It On to Future Generations
While the laws generally differ depending on the country, it’s common for your citizenship to be able to be passed on to decedents. Specifically, if you have any children that are under the age of 18, they may automatically receive citizenship along with you. Family members over 18 will likely need to apply on their own, though it may be possible to apply as a family through a common ancestor. Again, this all depends on country and its rules, but it could be a nice life event to share with the family.
The Downsides of Dual Nationality
We always strive to give a full view of a topic we’re covering, so to do that, we need to talk about the potential downsides of having dual citizenship.
Process May Be Confusing and Expensive
Before you even have dual citizenship, the process for getting it may be expensive or difficult. We’ll cover how you can attain dual citizenship later in this article, but unless you’re the child of a citizen of that country, it can take a lot of work to get the paperwork together, translate everything into the correct language, and apply correctly. You can get help from a professional service, but this can be expensive, ranging from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. That said, it may still be worth it if this is something you really want or your connection to citizenship is more direct.
Military and Governmental Service
Another possible consideration is that some countries have mandatory service of some kind. Age, gender, or other factors may preclude you from required military service, but if you fall into the population that must give service, it could create complications for your dual citizenship status. Specifically, if you serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer with a nation that is currently hostile to the United States, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your American citizenship.
It’s generally accepted by United States law that mandatory service is not considered an expatriating act, but you should be aware of the possibilities prior to reclaiming citizenship in a country that has mandatory military service. It’s also worth noting that dual citizenship can make it difficult to acquire security clearances that may be required for some jobs with the United States government, though rules are changing to add flexibility to this.
The big concern for seeking dual nationality concerns taxes and finances. Specifically, do you owe taxes to both countries, even if you don’t work or live in one of them? While there is a chance you may have to pay taxes in both countries, there are programs in place to help ensure dual citizens aren’t paying double. These usually come in the form of tax treaties.
To protect dual citizens, tax treaties amend the laws for applicable citizens so that they aren’t paying taxes twice.
For example, the United States taxes income globally, meaning even money made outside of the US. So, even if you’re not living in the States, as a citizen, you could have your income taxed. To protect dual citizens, tax treaties amend the laws for applicable citizens so that they aren’t paying taxes twice. You may be required to fill out forms for both countries, but at least you won’t be paying twice.
Some states don’t recognize tax treaties, though, so you may have to pay some state taxes. If you own property in both countries, you may also owe some form of property or land tax, though you may also be able to get tax deductions for overseas property. That said, it’s important to look into the tax laws of the specific country you’d be applying for dual citizenship with or talk to a tax lawyer to learn more. Each country taxes its citizens (and dual citizens) differently, which can create a headache depending on where you’re looking to receive citizenship from.
● ● ●
Getting dual citizenship is by no means a small decision, but it can also open your life to a number of possibilities, from where you can live to changing the way you travel. That’s without bringing up how it can restore a piece of your heritage that you may feel has been lost. Whatever your reasons, you may find dual citizenship to be a life-changing opportunity. Just make sure you do your research!