What does it mean to "leave" a country on a passport?
July 9, 2012 4:46 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean to "leave" a country on a passport (specifically, the US)?

There are a bazillion questions here from dual citizens asking about how to use their passports when travelling, and the consensus seems to be: enter and leave the US on your US passport, enter & leave other country on your other country passport. What does "leave" mean in this context? I haven't travelled out of the US since 2002, and don't remember what the procedure was then. Is there some kind of immigration checkpoint before you get on your outgoing plane? Or does it just mean the passport you show when you check in at the airline?

Details: I'm a New Zealand citizen long-term resident in the US with a Green Card; but I also have a British passport which I've never used. I want to go to Europe. So, do I show NZ passport at the counter when I "leave", Brit one at European immigration, Brit one when I check back in to come home to the US (ie "leave" Europe), and NZ one when I get to US immigration? Won't the European airline want to see my NZ one to check that I'm allowed back into the US?
posted by media_itoku to Travel & Transportation around United States (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Leave" sort of conflates a couple of different things: check-in for the flight, and exit control with immigration. The US doesn't actually have full-time exit control, and neither does the US, although there can be random checks.

The rule of thumb is "always present the passport which shows the requester what it wants to see", and that can sometimes differ between check-in and any security/immigration check according to circumstances.

On returning to the US: what the airline definitely wants to see is your permanent resident card, as it's your A number that goes into the computer with your passport number to satisfy check-in requirements, exempt you from ESTA, and cover their arses. The card itself only states "country of birth", not citizenship -- although the strip and chip presumably has that, along with your blood group and inside-leg measurement.

So: if the US only knows about your NZ citizenship and passport number, provide that to check-in for the flight manifest to avoid any red flags, but have your British passport handy at security.
posted by holgate at 5:19 PM on July 9, 2012

If you have never used your British passport, why start now? You won't have trouble anywhere in Europe with the NZ passport. If you were born in the UK and are worried that they may think it odd that you declare that and yet present an NZ passport, carry the other just in case. Extra passports are never a problem, unless you have different names on each one, or one of those names is "Jason Bourne."
posted by ubiquity at 5:42 PM on July 9, 2012

I am a dual citizen. The only time it really matters what I show is when I come back into the US, at customs/immigration I have to show my US passport. For you, you would show your green card and whatever passport you want, NZ since that it is probably what is on file for the US.

As to what it means to leave a country on a passport, it doesn't really matter what you leave with, it is what you enter the next country with that can matter. (I never found that the airline cares what I travel with, as long as it is a passport. They never asked about a green card).

When I enter/leave another country besides the US, I always using my Canadian passport. But that is just a personal preference, any passport is fine.
posted by nanook at 5:44 PM on July 9, 2012

@ubiquity, I was assuming that if you enter a country that you're a citizen of, then you're required to show them that passport (e.g. from the other postings, if you were American and entered on another passport, they would freak out). Or is that just a US thing?

And also, I was thinking maybe there would be visa implications, e.g. maybe I wouldn't need a visa to get into (insert EU country here) with a Brit passport, but would with a NZ.
posted by media_itoku at 5:55 PM on July 9, 2012

And also, I was thinking maybe there would be visa implications, e.g. maybe I wouldn't need a visa to get into (insert EU country here) with a Brit passport, but would with a NZ.

I think it's likely that you'll qualify for a visa waiver with the NZ in most European countries, but you should check the countries' consulate sites. Unless you're planning on staying/living/working there, in which case the UK citizenship is more important as it's inside the EU.
posted by polexa at 6:05 PM on July 9, 2012

I am in the USA on an E3 work visa in my Australian passport. I also have a UK passport.

As to what it means to leave a country on a passport, it doesn't really matter what you leave with,
This is not true.
- Some countries require that you record when you left them, to prove you haven't overstayed your visa.

- Airlines require that you check in with reasonable proof that you will be allowed in to the destination country, so they won't be on the hook for an instant return flight. (When flying to the USA, this means either a US passport, a visa or an E-Verify number. Other countries are usually easier.)
- Immigration at the next country wants the passport that shows you're allowed in.

When I leave the USA, the airline has to take away the paper I-94 from my Australian passport, which records that I departed during my visa period. Other countries have exit stamps for the same purpose (I think Japan, for instance?). Not showing the same passport you entered with, in these countries, means their system will probably flag you as overstaying.

However, what the airlines are mostly concerned with is getting evidence that you will be allowed in to the country I am visiting - when I went to China, this meant showing them my valid Chinese visa at checkin. This happened to be in my Australian passport, but if I'd gotten the Chinese visa in my British passport, I would have had to show the airline both passports to check in - one to record my departure from the USA, one to ensure my entry to China.

Overall, people really aren't that fussed by British and Australian passports, and you can probably get away with either or both for everything except the USA/greencard. I've even accidentally shown the wrong one, but dual citizenship isn't that unusual these days and they just asked if I had a different one (e.g. giving my Aust passport in the British citizens line). As far as I know, Britain does not legally require citizens to use a British passport (the USA does, and Australia does). So if you are just going for a holiday where you wouldn't need a visa for someone from NZ, you could probably just use your NZ passport. Personally I'd be more comfortable having the UK passport, and if in doubt show both and the official should know which one he cares about.
posted by jacalata at 6:32 PM on July 9, 2012

According to the NZ government travel tips site, "New Zealand passport holders are able to spend up to three months visa-free in most European countries, and up to six months visa-free in the United Kingdom. The only European countries that require New Zealand passport holders to have a visa for a stay of less than three months are Belarus, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine." So the UK passport won't be better for visa reasons. But it did just occur to me that you will be able to go through the shorter EU queues with the UK passport. So use it in Europe, and the NZ passport in and out of the USA.
posted by ubiquity at 7:45 PM on July 9, 2012

As far as I know, Britain does not legally require citizens to use a British passport (the USA does, and Australia does).

They do if you're returning with the intent to reside, but that's different from a flying visit, and definitely less strict than the US -- though if you volunteer that you have a UK passport in the immigration queue, you'll likely be asked to produce it. Both practically and on principle, I think it's worth using the passport that shows you're entitled to the broadest rights (and shortest queues) for a particular country.
posted by holgate at 8:13 PM on July 9, 2012

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