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Concept under which a person can be a citizen of two different countries. This can be by birth in one country to a national of another (in countries which confer citizenship ius solis), by birth to parents of different nationalities (ius sanguinis on both sides) or by acquiring citizenship in a second country by virtue of fulfilling residency or other requirements.

Some states require that their citizens be only citizens of that country, to the exclusion of all others, and forbid the acquisition of citizenship of a second state on penalty of withdrawing the original citizenship. The United States is technically one of those countries though I've heard no reports of it ever happening. Naturalised citizens of the United States are obliged to renounce the citizenship of their country of origin but the authorities very rarely check.

In some cases, dual citizenship may be unavoidable despite laws to the contrary if the person is born to citizens of two countries whose laws automatically confer citizenship to children born to their nationals and have no provisions for renouncing or revoking it. Many countries, the US included, legally accept and allow this.

Dual citizenship is otherwise irrelevant to the country the person is living in. If s/he lives in a country of which s/he is a citizen, the second one is ignored. If in a third country, they are treated as a citizen of the country whose travel document they entered with, though they could probably request consular assistance from either.

Yes, I hold dual citizenship.

What are the advantages of dual citizenship?

  1. Right of abode. Having citizenship in two countries usually gives a person the right to live and work freely in either country. Sometimes citizenship in one country opens up the possibility of living in many other countries (e.g. citizenship in the European Union or the Commonwealth). You might even get free education or health care out of the deal.

  2. Travel. Having a certain passport can make it possible to take advantage of visa waiver provisions in certain countries. For instance, while most people have to buy a tourist visa to enter the People's Republic of China, Japanese nationals do not. South Africans get a similar free ride in Australia. There are also certain regional travel arrangements which can be made available through dual citizenship, such as the APEC Travel Card program and the simplified US entry procedures afforded to Canadians.

  3. Business. Many industries have foreign ownership restrictions for national security reasons, so dual citizens can have a distinct advantage in building and owning multinational business empires. Rupert Murdoch and David Neeleman are two prominent examples.

  4. Political rights. Dual citizens often have the right to vote in each country where they are a citizen (although the rules and systems vary considerably between countries), and may also have the right to influence politicians in each country (e.g. through campaign contributions).

  5. Passing it on. Even if you don't have a personal use for citizenship in a certain country, you can often pass it on to your children, thus expanding their options in life. If you want to do this, though, be aware of any rules which apply to overseas-born children of non-resident citizens. Depending on the countries involved, you may have to register at the embassy or file other paperwork in order for your children to be recognized as dual citizens.

What are the disadvantages of dual citizenship?

  1. Taxes. These are usually not an issue unless one of your citizenships happens to be of the United States, which taxes all of its citizens on their worldwide income* regardless of whether they use their US citizenship or not. Fortunately, most other countries are more enlightened on this point and only tax residents.

  2. National service. In many countries, citizens are required to enlist for military or civil duty at a certain age. Even if your country doesn't have such a program, you may still be drafted into service in the event of a war, regardless of where you live or which other citizenship(s) you have. If you don't answer the call, the country trying to draft you may have grounds to arrest you if you ever go back.

  3. National security. Dual citizens who go into the military or civil service are often scrutinized as to their allegiance. If you plan on becoming a senior politician or military officer, you may be expected to give up any other national allegiance you have. And if there's a war between your countries of citizenship, expect a lot of political flak.

  4. Laws against it. Some countries, like Japan and Singapore, have arcane rules prohibiting various forms of dual citizenship. You can still have dual citizenship in these countries, but it requires a considerable deal of bureaucratic trickery, and if you aren't careful you can end up losing one of your citizenships solely by virtue of maintaining another.

How does one become a dual citizen?

  1. Birth to nationals of different countries (or birth in one country to nationals of another) is probably the most foolproof basis for dual citizenship, since citizenship by birth is usually granted involuntarily and can thus survive challenges later (since one can always say they don't use it and didn't want it in the first place).

  2. Naturalization is another way to become a dual citizen, assuming the law allows it. Some countries expect you to renounce your original citizenship(s) when you naturalize. Some countries will deem you to have lost your citizenship if you naturalize elsewhere. Some countries (such as the United States) don't really care either way.

  3. Marriage to a citizen can lead to citizenship in many countries, such as France.

How should a dual citizen use their dual citizenships?

  1. Never use a foreign passport to enter or exit a country where you are a citizen. This is the most important rule to remember when you have multiple passports. So long as you are a citizen of a country, you should deal with immigration just like every other citizen. (This also means never using the foreign citizen lane at immigration, even if it is shorter.) That said, if you're flying to China and the agent at check-in asks where your visa is, don't be afraid of telling them you're a dual citizen and showing your other passport.

  2. Know the citizenship, tax and national service laws of each country where you are a citizen. This is also very important, because you don't want to inadvertently lose one of your citizenships. You may even face criminal liability in some cases--for instance, if you fail to report for national service, fail to pay taxes, or apply for a passport when your citizenship has actually become invalid.

  3. Don't be afraid to disclose dual citizenship to immigration inspectors who might wonder why you don't have a passport stamp from the country you just visited. This is often not an issue, since some don't bother to check and others are cognizant of the fact that many countries don't stamp all the time. Unless you would be incriminating yourself by doing so (e.g. if you are returning to a country where you are a citizen and which doesn't allow dual citizenship), it generally doesn't hurt to explain what's going on if asked. Dual citizenship is common enough these days that most officials will not be too mystified by it.

* To the US's credit, it does allow you to take foreign taxes as a US tax deduction, along with a fairly generous income exclusion for living overseas, so US taxes don't become a major financial burden until you're making something like $100,000 a year. The catch is that you still have to file returns to claim the deduction and exclusion; if you don't, you may be committing tax fraud.

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