How does a dual US/EU citizen travel legally with just a US passport?
May 15, 2014 4:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm a dual citizen of the US and Poland but for various reasons I carry only a US passport, so for what follows, "Get your Polish passport and save yourself the trouble and worry!" is not a useful answer. I would like to travel to Europe in the near to medium future, but I came across a dire warning from the US Embassy in Vienna that "It is illegal to enter the EU as an EU citizen with the U.S. passport." Is this true? (Related discussion about Ireland previously.) Although the Polish government is aware of my existence and citizenship, can and would they really post an alert not to let me in or to detain me that would show up at a passport control station in, say, France? Am I overthinking this or being paranoid?

I'm aware of the infamous "Polish passport trap" and don't want to be detained for a few months because I don't have a Polish passport. I also know there's a consular treaty between the US and Poland that says that a US citizen temporarily visiting Poland will be treated as a US citizen if sie bears a US passport and a Polish visa, even if sie holds Polish citizenship as well. Difficulty: Poland doesn't issue its own short-term visas, but instead issues Schengen Area visas. US citizens are exempt from having to get Schengen visas, but could I ask for one anyway, and would that satisfy the treaty requirements? And would I need it for just Poland, or for anyplace in the EU or Schengenland?
posted by Somnambulista to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just because the US recognizes dual citizenship (and allows you to travel as a dual citizen) does not mean that other nations also recognize the dual citizenship. I know from family experience, there are countries that if you are a dual citizen of there and the US, the other country will not recognize the dual citizenship and treat you solely as a citizen of that country (and require military service or whatever else citizenship requires).

I don't think there is anything strange about an EU law saying: if you have an EU passport, you MUST present it at the border (even if you could potentially enter under a different passport).

I would take that dire warning seriously, and check with the embassy of whatever countries you are planning to enter.
posted by Flood at 4:20 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Am I overthinking this or being paranoid?

Yes. The thinking is not that joined-up. You'll be fine. Random European countries do no have a list of every citizen of Poland. They have a list of every citizen of Poland who has been issued an EU passport.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:44 AM on May 15, 2014

Uh, if it is illegal I'm in trouble since I've been doing it for nine years. I have dual US-Italian citizenship and I just use my US passport to travel to Europe at least five times a year.
posted by lydhre at 4:47 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

No my wife does this all the time. Exactly this. Never been an issue - even going to Poland.

I'd imagine this only becomes an issue if you have to deal with law enforcement and not as a victim.
posted by JPD at 4:48 AM on May 15, 2014

It is unclear if this provision would still apply, since the Schengen visa is not a visa for US citizens. It seems at least some people are detained when trying to leave Poland.

There's also the complication that the Consulate/Embassy might not issue the visa. First, you'd have to disclose to them your situation. They may deny it on those grounds alone -- you have to certify that you're going for tourist purposes, but you really have a right to reside/work there. They might also deny the visa just because it is unnecessary for a US citizen.

My husband has dual US/German citizenship, but didn't find out about his eligibility for it until a few years ago. Before that time, he traveled a bunch in the EU on his US passport (both as a child with his German mother and later alone/with me). We never had any issues, but I imagine this is because the German authorities were never notified of his birth. It was also done in good faith (no idea he was a citizen), which goes a long way in the law.

You could chance it, but I wouldn't.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:49 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are two parts to your question; one subjective/experiential, and one objective/factual. Anecdotal experience states that you probably won't run into any issues. However, the operative words are "probably" and "anecdotal". If you run into the rare EU immigration official who feels like being a bugbear, they will have legal grounds to be a bugbear.

Objectively, the best answer is the one you stated is not useful: get a Polish passport and save yourself the worry.

The US has the same law: According to Section 215 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1185), it is illegal for a U.S. citizen to enter or leave the U.S. on anything other than an U.S. passport. This applies to dual citizens as well, meaning that persons holding e.g. both Swedish and American citizenships and passports must enter and leave the U.S. on a U.S. passport. [...] Airlines may also refuse to board a U.S. citizen on a U.S. flight if the U.S. citizen does not hold a valid U.S. passport.
posted by fraula at 4:51 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Were you naturalized as a polish citizen? If you were not they almost certainly have no proof that you are a citizen.

My wife is naturalized and has a polish passport she carries with her but doesn't use. She's never been asked to produce it. Of course don't forget that your passport Is only going to be checked when you first enter schengen so for us where we usually fly through FRA that's the last place the passports get looked at.
posted by JPD at 4:58 AM on May 15, 2014

The above answers indicate that you are unlikely to be caught. This doesn't make it legal. It just means that a bunch of people have done it and haven't been caught.

As for whether it is truly illegal, I would hesitate to contradict information supplied by the US Embassy. If you don't think it's correct, then I suggest contacting the embassy of the countries you'll be going to and see if they say something different.
posted by pianissimo at 5:11 AM on May 15, 2014

My brother is in the same boat and once came back to Poland for a week using his US passport, just to see what's up. Said he'll never do it again, mostly due to how long immigration can be for non-EU citizens.

The only rule you need to strictly adhere to is always use the same passport to leave as you used to enter.
posted by jedrek at 5:21 AM on May 15, 2014

To answer JPD, I discovered fairly recently I'm a Polish citizen by descent. Some have Polishness thrust upon 'em, as melissasaurus pointed out in her link.

So synthesizing all these great responses together (thanks, y'all!), I should first check with the embassy of any European country I plan to visit to see if I can enter with my US passport instead of my nonexistent Polish one.

And stay the hell out of Poland.
posted by Somnambulista at 6:32 AM on May 15, 2014

No - if you are a polish citizen by descent and have no paperwork from the poles saying you are a citizen by descent - then totally don't worry about this.

As far as the Poles are concerned you don't exist.
posted by JPD at 6:40 AM on May 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

I can't speak to the specifically Polish aspect, but they mean (basically) that you can't for example, enter Denmark on a US passport and use EU visa rights such as by staying and working for three months. If you want to do that you have to exit an re-enter on your EU passport.
posted by Iteki at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2014

I'm a Polish citizen by birth, with the most Polish of Polish first names and my birthplace in my U.S. passport listed as Poland (I was naturalized about 10 years ago). My Polish passport expired a while back, and I haven't renewed it. I traveled to Poland on my U.S. passport 5 years ago and won't hesitate to do it again this summer.

Some years ago, the Polish government began requiring that Polish citizens enter and leave Poland on a Polish passport. They detained some visitors who tried to leave on US passports and refused to let them go until they paid a few hundred dollars for a Polish passport. I think they even detained someone who had documents from the communists saying that his Polish citizenship was revoked because the new government no longer recognized that action. There was a huge outcry from the Polish population in the U.S. They wanted to be able to visit their families or their home countries without having their their American-born children detained or needing to pay for Polish passports for them. They had to change the policy.

I don't have a Polish passport for a couple of reasons. First, getting one is a pain in the ass. You have to apply in person, which means either traveling to a consulate or embassy (the closest one to me is in D.C., and I live in Atlanta) or finding out about the one day per year when a consulate official travels to a city closer to you to accept passport applications. Second, I applied for a job where I would have been applying for a security clearance, and it seems they don't like for you to have two passports for that.
posted by capsizing at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2014

I came to say exactly what capsizing said. Polish by birth, with uniquely Polish name, naturalized US citizen, expired Polish passport. I went to Poland in 2011 using my US passport with no problem and would do it again. I flew from the US via another Schengen country and walked out of the Warsaw airport without a single person looking at my passport.

I know that doesn't address the legality question. But it also doesn't sound to me like you're actually a Polish citizen, just possible maybe eligible for it if you jump through some hoops first. As JPD said, as far as Poland is concerned, you don't exist.
posted by ellenaim at 9:48 PM on May 15, 2014

Oh my god. And those hoops. Such a PIA. And that's with My wife being fluent in Polish and having my in-laws passports from when she was born. And having aunts and uncles still in Poland who could accept mail from the government and forward it along to us in the US. It took several hundred dollars, six months and multiple visits to the consulate - and that's with there being no question of my wife's eligibility and her knowing exactly what had to be done because one of her siblings had already been through the process. Honestly if she could have gotten a passport by flying to WAW and telling an immigrations officer she was a Polish citizen by descent traveling on a US passport we would have done that.

We also did this for my infant son when he was born and they rejected his passport pics because he was smiling too much.
posted by JPD at 4:55 AM on May 16, 2014

I discovered fairly recently I'm a Polish citizen by descent. Some have Polishness thrust upon 'em, as melissasaurus pointed out in her link.

No, no, no. You are eligible for Polish citizenship by descent. You have to apply and provide quite a bit of paperwork. Until and unless you complete that process and gain citizenship, you are basically making this problem up because it does not exist. Just travel on your US passport like a normal US citizen because that is what you are. If you start calling embassies with this question they are going to be baffled, justifiably so.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:51 AM on May 16, 2014

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