Juggling Passports
July 3, 2012 10:22 PM   Subscribe

As a dual citizen, can I travel to places on a Canadian passport that I can't go to (or is difficult or expensive to get visas for) on an American passport? Can I actually pick-and-choose what passport to use to get the best benefit?

I have an American passport, and I'm eligible for a Canadian one but I've been dragging my feet getting the paperwork done to confirm my citizenship. Right now I'm planning a pretty big trip to South America and it occurred to me that some of the entrance fees and visa requirements might be non-existent or cheaper with a Canadian passport (i.e. I wouldn't need a visa to enter Bolivia).

Can I actually do this? I mean, I know I need to use my American passport for entering and exiting the United States. But if I travel to a bunch of countries using my Canadian passport, come back, and US customs asks me where I've been... are they going to get pissed that all those visas and entry stamps are not in the US passport?

And if I can't travel to a country as an American due to travel restrictions, can I travel there as a Canadian? The only country to come to mind is Cuba, since I need explicit permission to visit the country (entry requirements) as an American citizen. Does that mean I still can't go with my Canadian passport since I'm still under the US government's jurisdiction? (In this situation, obviously I'd fly out of Canada).

I'm not trying to dodge any laws, but I am interested in whether this opens opportunities for me that I hadn't thought of, or would just be a headache.
posted by subject_verb_remainder to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am also a US-Canadian dual citizen. I did find it useful when I went to Iran a few years ago. As an American it is more or less impossible to get a tourist visa. It is still difficult as a Canadian, but less so.

When I left the US I used my Canadian passport, which I guess I wasn't supposed to do. When arriving back in the US I used my US passport, and that flagged some sort of warning thing and they pulled me aside and questioned me for about 10 minutes. I just showed them the Canadian passport also, and everything worked out ok. They didn't seem to care one way or the other that I had used the Canadian passport for traveling; the problem was that I left the country and entered again using different passports.

About Cuba: I have never heard of a US citizen having a problem when arriving in Cuba and trying to get a visa on the spot. They want us to come spend money there; as far as I can tell the problem mainly lies with the US government.
posted by number9dream at 10:34 PM on July 3, 2012

Aside from the Cuba thing, yes, it's perfectly legal to use whatever passport benefits you most when entering a country for which you do not hold a passport. Some even let you enter on another country's passport if you're a citizen. (My SO does this when we go to her birth country..she even uses the citizen line)

As a US Citizen, you cannot legally travel to Cuba regardless of which passport you use or what intermediate countries you travel through. You may be able to get away with it, but the fines are steep and probably not worth it. As number9dream states, the Cubans don't care, and at one point would conveniently not stamp your passport, but the US obviously does care. It won't be much fun if they do somehow find out.
posted by wierdo at 10:37 PM on July 3, 2012

I have a US and a Canadian passport. I generally choose which to use when. On may into the States I give the US one, on the way into Canada, the Canadian one. The thing to be careful about is to only travel a complete leg of a trip on one passport. I was flying from Europe to Canada once, and I boarded the plane with my Canadian passport. We had a stopover in Chicago and as I always use my US passport when I'm in the States, I showed that to customs there as I switched planes. The customs woman didn't like this ONE BIT, knew immediately that I had another passport and said, DON'T EVER try to switch what passport you are travelling on in the middle of a trip that you has a record of you starting with a different passport.
posted by miles1972 at 10:48 PM on July 3, 2012

IIRC the one country you can go to on a Canadian passport but not on an American one is Libya, which is less than super useful.

Most countries where you might not want a stamp in your passport (Israel, Cuba) will generally just not stamp upon request, it isn't really necessary to use a 2nd passport.

BTW, I don't know how your citizenship is confirmed or when you're planning on doing this trip, but getting proof can be a pretty slow process. It took about 2 months for me to pull together the paperwork I needed to apply for a citizenship card (mostly because it turns out that any pre-1994 Quebec birth certificate is invalid for just about everything and you have to get a new one for government paperwork if you were born in Quebec before '94), 7 months for Canada to process my citizenship paperwork, and another month to apply for and get my passport.
posted by phoenixy at 11:02 PM on July 3, 2012

Libya has been open to American passports since 2010 (it was part of eased relations prior to the revolution).

As for Cuba, the main thing is that the trade embargo law requires that travelers to Cuba from the US obtain a license, which is not available for tourists. It is, however, possible to travel legally to Cuba under other permitted purposes, such as business, artistic performance, or humanitarian work; the hurdles are high but not insurmountable. Anyway. Not getting to the question at hand, but keep in mind.
posted by dhartung at 11:20 PM on July 3, 2012

Best answer: One thing that came up when I was moving to Japan without a job but with the intention of getting one was a working holiday visa. It's easier to get than a real job visa, works for the short-term, and is general purpose, so it's great for long trips if you don't mind working part time or if you want to try living and working in a foreign country.

Unfortunately, American citizens can't get those visas in Japan. Canadians can. This is also the case in many other countries, going by the Wiki page.

I really would have liked to have had that option.
posted by 23 at 12:13 AM on July 4, 2012

I am not a Canadian dual citizen, but I am a dual citizen. What I usually do is, I go to the with both passports and ask the authorities to stamp both. Keep in mind I am not a globetrotter so I won't know if all immigration authorities will oblige. You will definitely flag the authorities when you leave the country on a different passport than your US one and return on the US. You don't have a stamp to enter another country but you are now in immigration to return so it makes sense that it may cause a problem.
posted by Yellow at 4:22 AM on July 4, 2012

Best answer: To steal Yellow's phrase, I am not a Canadian dual citizen, but I am a dual citizen. A friend has avoided the South American visa fees for US citizens by entering South American countries on a non-US passport.

US immigration officials do not check stamps on your return. It seems they don't even consistently stamp passports on entry anymore. But in any case, even people without dual citizenship can have stamps that don't match their response to the 'Where have you been question?' For example, if you fly to Germany, but change planes in, say, Amsterdam, your passport will have Dutch stamps rather than a German one because you entered and exited the Schengen Zone in Amsterdam, but you'll probably tell the immigration official you went to Germany.

I'm exceedingly anxious about getting hassled by immigration officials over the two passports issue. (Or, more likely, some TSA person searching carry-on who doesn't know dual citizenship exists.) As far as I (and people I know) can tell, the rule of thumb is to show airline officials your US passport if you're travelling to/from/through the US and police/immigration officials the passport you used to enter whatever country you're in. (So, yes, this means you leave the US for Bolivia as an American and land in Bolivia as a Canadian. When you check in for the flight home, you're American to the airline, but Canadian to any government officials.) Basically, as far as we can tell, the US is the only country that attempts to use the data the airlines collect.

At one point, the UK was trying to do something similar, and flag people who overstayed visas, but the airlines protested this would screw dual citizens of countries (like the US) that required entry on their passport, as, for example, those who lived in the UK would get flagged as Americans overstaying a visa they never had nor needed when returning from their second trip to the US (the return from their first trip being logged as an American entering, since they had to tell the airline they were American). I have no idea what happened to that plan. Either they figured out how to check for dual citizenship or they dropped it, as there are quite a few countries with policies similar to the US with a not insignificant number of UK dual citizens, so I expect we would have heard by now if it was causing poblems.
posted by hoyland at 5:49 AM on July 4, 2012

Best answer: Previous advice

As I said then, the overarching rule is to use the passport that tells people what they need to know to let you pass. You have to understand the difference between showing your passport to immigration authorities and airlines, and why each needs to see your passport--then it all makes sense.

As an occasional globetrotter, I have to strongly recommend against Yellow's practice:

I would never ask authorities to stamp both passports, particularly if one of those passports would require a visa or fee. That's begging for someone to make up a new rule and mess up your day, or at least for confusion. They only need to know about the one that lets you in or out of that country, not how you're getting into the next country. The only time I'll show both passports is at airline check-in, if I need to show that I can benefit from both passports (e.g. going from the U.S. to Brazil, I need to show that I can get into Brazil and the airline wants to know that they don't need to collect any U.S. visa paperwork on my departure).

I guess I would show my Brazilian passport to U.S. immigration if I were questioned about returning without any foreign stamps, but it hasn't happened once. I've returned from various countries in South America without a stamp in my U.S. passport (and without taking the passport out in South America except to check in for the flight home) probably a couple dozen times.

If more than one lets you in, pick the one that does so more cheaply or otherwise makes more sense to you. You can generally switch passports at an air crossing without any trouble, with the caveat from miles1972. You might, however, run into issues at a ground crossing when leaving a country with an exit stamp, as the next immigration authorities may check for it.
posted by deeaytch at 5:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a dual Irish/Canadian citizen and generally carry both passports when travelling. I use my Irish passport when entering my home country (Ireland) or other parts of Europe, for no real reason other than using shorter lines. I always show the Canadian passport when entering Canada, where I live. Nobody has ever stopped me from doing this or questioned me, but I don't travel to places that customs may find weird/interesting.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:18 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The one thing that I've been advised on this topic is that generally you can travel under either passport and there is no reason to declare your secondary citizenship to border authorities, with one very important caveat:

1. Never attempt to enter a country in which you are a citizen using a passport from another country

Entering the US on a Canadian passport if you are a US citizen will get you in heaps of trouble, and entering Canada on a US passport if you are a Canadian citizen will at least get you a stern talking to.
posted by 256 at 6:55 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding Cuba specifically, of course it's illegal to go there if you're a US citizen regardless of which passport you happen to be holding when you enter, but enforcement against individuals has stopped. See http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/CivPen/Pages/civpen-index2.aspx for a complete list of OFAC sanctions going back to 2003; some individuals were fined for visiting Cuba in 2003 but no one has been fined for doing so in 2012, nor, I believe, going back several years.

So bottom line: even if you enter the US with a Cuban stamp in your US passport and draped in a Cuban flag, you probably won't be fined. If you fly from Cuba to Canada on a Canadian passport, the probability is essentially 0.
posted by deadweightloss at 7:35 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have an Australian and UK dual passport, soon to be three when I become a US citizen next year. Dual passports are handy for traveling, if only for the shorter entry lines. As 256 said always use the passport of the country when entering or leaving that country, In this day and age of people moving a lot there are a lot of dual citizens, officials at airports are used to it and not in the least bit phased. I have never had any problem with using dual passports and have even handed over the wrong one and gone whoops and swapped it for the right one in front of someone and they don't care.

If US officials were to ask you where you'd been and you didn't have stamps in your US passport you would just show them your Canadian one.
posted by wwax at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2012

I'm a dual Canadian / US Citizen and carry both passports when I travel. I have flown into the US on my Canadian passport without a problem. I've been a citizen all my life, but only got my US passport in 2004.

I've flown into the US heaps of times on my US passport, and shown my Canadian passport to customs on arriving home. Never been hassled for it, though on a multi-leg international trip, the above advice of doing all the flights on the same passport makes sense.

I make sure to bring my US passport wherever I travel, even if I'm not intending to use it at border crossings/ customs, etc. In case of natural disaster/political upheaval, etc, the US embassies are better developed and more numerous worldwide than the Canadian ones.
posted by thenormshow at 8:09 AM on July 4, 2012

Entering the US on a Canadian passport if you are a US citizen will get you in heaps of trouble, and entering Canada on a US passport if you are a Canadian citizen will at least get you a stern talking to.

This make no sense to me. Isn't having two different passports the same thing as dual citizenship? Therefore, in the example above, you're a citizen of both the US and Canada.

I have heard the US foreign policy takes a dim view of dual citizenship, and does what it can to discourage the practice, mostly in the realm of taxation, which may require the declaration of an official residence... but that detail hasn't been listed in any US passport I've had. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that info's in the database, and the guy at immigration can see it when they scan in your passport's bar code, or access its chip.
posted by Rash at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2012

This make no sense to me. Isn't having two different passports the same thing as dual citizenship? Therefore, in the example above, you're a citizen of both the US and Canada.

Right, the difference is that you have certain responsibilities and obligations in countries that you are a citizen of. You are legally required in the US to show your US passport when entering or leaving the country, if you are a US national. I believe the same is true in Canada.

The reason is, among other things, that showing a foreign passport could represent an attempt to evade taxation, military service, or other legal obligations you have as a US national. Even if your situation is as simple as having an expired US passport and a valid Canadian one, I would make that point very clear to the border guards and accept the possibility that they might hold you until they can verify your US citizenship. DHS takes a very dim view of subterfuge, and not mentioning your US citizenship certainly qualifies.
posted by 256 at 10:17 AM on July 4, 2012

It is $100 cheaper to get a Chinese L-class (standard tourist) visa if you are applying under a non-American citizenship. Also, something about Romania...

Regarding Cuba, not only is the restriction not enforced, it has never been enforced.
posted by Winnemac at 12:17 PM on July 4, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone so far! It's what I expected - that I can use whichever passport I want so long as I'm consistent and I enter/exit US/Canada with the appropriate passport. Also, I didn't realize that, practically, there's a difference between airline and government when it comes to presenting my passport.

I think I'll avoid Cuba for now, but it's nice to know that the ban is practically unenforced. And I've never heard of working holiday visas so that's a nice benefit.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:07 PM on July 4, 2012

Ah, now I get it -- would seem sneaky, wouldn't it?
posted by Rash at 3:47 PM on July 4, 2012

« Older Help me identify a drawing!   |   Is it possible to find lead sheet music for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.