Dual Citizenship & Travel?
March 5, 2007 9:12 AM   Subscribe

DualCitizenshipFilter: Looking for anecdotes and advice about travelling between the US & Canada, as a citizen of both.

I am 22 and currently reside in the US. I was born in the US to a Canadian father and an American mother. Most of the family I consider myself close to is Canadian. Last year (when I was 21), I applied for and received formal recognition of my Canadian citizenship, making me a dual US/Canadian citizen. I have a US passport, and a Government of Canada photo ID card. I've travelled fairly extensively between the US and Canada by ground and air, but always with other family members, and not since my dual citizenship was recognized. I would like to visit some friends and family in Canada without my father, and I want to avoid making an arse of myself or inadvertantly getting myself in trouble at the border.

Both the US and Canadian customs websites recommend I present myself as an American to the Americans, and as a Canadian to the Canadians. I've never entered Canada as a non-resident citizen. Do I just tell them that I'm living abroad but I'm a citizen? Can I expect any particular questions/etc? When is the right time to explain my dual citizenship?

Looking back at my US passport, it looks like it isn't very consistantly stamped for entries and exits. All the same, if I enter Canada with my Canadian ID, and don't get my US passport stamped, how do I present myself to US agents when re-entering the US. (Or, by the same coin, if I get a Canadian passport, vice-versa). Veteran travellers, how do you handle this?

Also, any general advice at handling border crossings solo is appreciated. I've always done it with my father, who tends to do the talking, and I suspect agents treat "family travelling together" a bit differently than "20-something guy travelling alone in an old car."
posted by Alterscape to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd just tell the truth - you're a dual national residing in the US, visiting family in Canada. You have your passports to prove it. Don't worry too much - this is one of the easiest borders in the world to cross, and you are a citizen of both countries. Just answer their questions simply and honestly and you should be ok.

If you're interested in pleasure reading on the subject, I heartily recommend Kiss the Sunset Pig by Laurie Gough. She's an American-Canadian dual national like you, and the book is about travels around the world, but in particular the experience of a young Canadian-American dual national, raised in Canada, traveling in the US. It's a great read - I just tore through it this weekend.

Incidentally, she has a bad experience at the Canadian-US border, but I wouldn't worry about that too much - I've crossed that border hundreds of times with no problems at all. And when she told the Americans she was an American (she had said she was Canadian, I think), everything was a-okay.
posted by Amizu at 9:28 AM on March 5, 2007

dual citizenship is very common in canada; i am a dual citizen of the UK (by birth) and Canada (naturalization).

I present myself as BRitish by using my UK passport when travelling to Europe, and as Canadian using my Canadian passport the rest of the time.

However, once when I was living overseas my Canadian passport had expired, and I re-entered Canada without difficulty using my British passport and Canadian citizenship card in combination.

There is no requirement for Canadians to have a Canadian passport, so if you show up at the border with your US passport and Canadian citizen card, you will be absolutely fine. You will be asked the same q as everyone else -- where are you coming from, where are you going, where do you live, etc.

Answer all these questions truthfully, and you will have absolutely no problem at the border in either direction.
posted by modernnomad at 9:29 AM on March 5, 2007

I'm not a dual citizen, but my girlfriend is.

I'd shell out the money for a Canadian passport, just to simplify things.

I'd keep your Canadian citizenship card with you if you have only a U.S. passport, just to prove that you have the right to be there.

The U.S. border agents should not care that Canada hasn't stamped your passport.

From what you say you have, it sounds like when entering Canada, you should present your U.S. passport with your Canadian citizenship card (once you obtain the Canadian passport, that by itself), and when entering the U.S., you should present your U.S. passport only.

In general, at border crossings, be completely honest, and don't volunteer any information they don't ask for.
posted by oaf at 9:32 AM on March 5, 2007

Entering Canada as a non-resident citizen is easy.

Here's how it works for me at a land crossing. I drive up with Canadian passport(s) in hand (one per occupant of vehicle). The passport(s) typically stay in my hand. The first question is "Where do you live?" Next question is "What is the purpose of your visit?" Then, "How long are you staying?" Finally, "Do you have any gifts in the car?" "Have a nice day."

Many times I have been asked if it's my car that's being driven across the border. I have also been asked about my status in the US, since you need to be a US resident to drive a US-plated car into Canada without paying import tax.

Don't mention your dual citizenship status unless you are specifically asked about your status in the US. It's not relevant. Get a Canadian passport and cross on that passport.

It is no big deal to cross the border solo. I think I've made 30 solo crossings. I have never had an issue going northbound. Going southbound, though, I was pulled into secondary inspection on three separate occasions when I was driving solo for a "random search". (It happened so often I assume it was pseudo-random, if that, but they never found anything and I just had to wait longer).

You do, however, need to know how to talk to the border guards. Always remove sunglasses, turn off radio, roll down window, and have passports in hand before you drive up to the window. Spit out your gum. Only speak in response to specific questions. Say as little as possible. Do not furnish more information than required. Do not show more paperwork than required. That means you fork over only one passport.

Keep in mind that when you drive to Canada, you can choose to identify yourself as a Canadian or an American, but when you drive to the US, you must identify yourself as an American. Always carry your US passport when leaving the country.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:46 AM on March 5, 2007

Response by poster: If I may post a followup, RichW's FAQ, which is a bit old but well-researched, suggests that dual citizenship itself is one of the bits of information you shouldn't volunteer unless asked (ie, you should just tell the Canadians you're Canadian, and the Americans that you're American). His logic was that border agents aren't necessarily informed / trained to deal with dual citizens.

Is it the hive's experience that it's okay to hand the Canadian border agent both your Canadian ID and a US passport and say "I'm dual-nationality?" Or will this end in confusion and extra pain?
posted by Alterscape at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2007

Here's the passport application form for Canadians in the US. Keep in mind that you must submit original documentation of citizenship for your passport. You can still travel to Canada without your citizenship card; just call yourself an American and it's all good.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:53 AM on March 5, 2007

I am just passing through today, not able to research this comment, but I'm dual too and as I understand it you can only legally have/hold/own one passport at any given time, so you have to decide - US or Canadian passport. I might be very wrong on that but I believe that was the deal when I considered getting a canadian passport. I've crossed as a dual, and when I cross I just say I'm dual and show my U.S. passport both directions. It's no biggie.
posted by Eringatang at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2007

This stuff isn't difficult for the most part. The thing to remember is to let the border agents lead.

Going to Canada, do like this:

(1) Drive up to window with hands on steering wheel and do nothing, waiting for the border agent's instructions. Do not just hand the border agent your passport or citizenship card. Especially if you're driving, odds are the border agent doesn't give a damn about ID.
(2) The border agent will probably say "Citizenship?" Your reply to this is "Canada."
(3) The border agent will probably ask more questions. Answer only the questions you are asked, as simply and directly as possible. If asked to present ID, present ID.

Coming back to the US, do the same. Except now your answer to the question "Citizenship?" is "U.S."

The right time to explain *anything* to a border agent is always and only when you are directly and clearly asked to explain it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:57 AM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to bother with passports and all that, do what I did (seriously). Drive up the customs agent, and before he says anything, ask him what he thought about last nights hockey game. Talk about hockey for about 30 seconds, and he'll wave you in. No joke.

Everyone else is this thread is right too, I travel on 2 citizenships, one Canadian, one UK, even while living in the USA. Don't worry too much, just tell them you're Canadian and live in the united states. No one will have a problem with that.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2007

as I understand it you can only legally have/hold/own one passport at any given time, so you have to decide - US or Canadian passport. I might be very wrong on that but I believe that was the deal when I considered getting a canadian passport.

This is not true. If you are a U.S. citizen, you can have a U.S. passport (unless you've been ordered to surrender it). If you are a Canadian citizen, you can have a Canadian passport (again, unless there's some special circumstance that would not allow you to have one). If you are a citizen of both countries, you can have passports from each, and travel on either one if you are going to a third country.
posted by oaf at 11:26 AM on March 5, 2007

Canadian/US dual here. Handing over both passports is just asking for the process to take longer as they have to at least give the appearance of inspecting both. Present the Canadian passport for Canada, American passport for US and leave it at that unless they specifically ask (they won't).

as I understand it you can only legally have/hold/own one passport at any given time, so you have to decide - US or Canadian passport.

If this is true, they certainly don't enforce it as my other passport is usually visible when pulling out the one I'm going to show them.
posted by juv3nal at 11:29 AM on March 5, 2007

I do this all the time. I live in the United States. My Canadian passport's expired, and I should get around to renewing it one of these days, but it still works fine as ID for getting into Canada. None of this is a big deal at major airports; the agents are used to situations like this and I'm usually through in seconds.
posted by tangerine at 11:45 AM on March 5, 2007

as I understand it you can only legally have/hold/own one passport at any given time, so you have to decide - US or Canadian passport.

This is incorrect. As oaf said, citizens of either country are entitled to a passport, barring exceptional circumstances. Being a citizen of one country does not automatically preclude being a citizen of the other; passports are (again, barring exceptional circumstances) available to citizens.
posted by different at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2007

I have both Canadian and American passports. I use my Canadian to get into Canada and my American to get back into the US. Only once have I ever been asked (by US Customs) about the source of my US citizenship, and I just said that my parents are American.

My mother has a bad habit of saying "dual: Canadian and American" when asked at the Peace Bridge or other land crossings. At this point, the customs agent usually rolls his or her eyes and says "just tell me one or the other."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:39 PM on March 5, 2007

Oh, right, TheWhiteSkull, I meant to say that too. Airport agents don't blink an eye, they're used to all kinds of people; but road agents don't want to deal with anything non-standard. So generally if I'm in a car I don't elaborate, I just hand over one passport.
posted by tangerine at 1:47 PM on March 5, 2007

I have both passports and go across the border pretty often. I've found a couple of things. First, I get more attitude and get asked more questions when I cross into the US. The is much less of a problem when I cross into the US on my American passport.

You cannot be denied entry into the USA if you're a citizen.
posted by thenormshow at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2007

I am also a dual US-Canadian citizen, although I was born in Canada. I hold one passport from each country, and whenever I'm crossing the border, I just present the passport of the country which I'm entering. I've never had a problem.
posted by number9dream at 6:11 PM on March 5, 2007

As has been mentioned above, your Canadian citizenship guaranteed you entry to Canada. This cannot be denied, or refused. The same goes for you American citizenship on the other side.

As a dual citizen, the Canada-US border functionally does not exist for you (you lucky thing, you). You are guaranteed entry in either direction. For you, the border is merely a lineup, the end of which involves showing some paperwork or answering a question.

Simply claim citizenship/show the paperwork that guarantees entry into your destination country. Canada, Canadian. USA, American.
posted by generichuman at 6:54 PM on March 5, 2007

You cannot be denied entry into the USA if you're a citizen.

While true, that doesn't mean it hasn't illegally happened.
posted by oaf at 7:58 PM on March 5, 2007

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