A person with dual citizenship is a citizen of two countries at the same time, which has both advantages and disadvantages because it is a complex legal status. One benefit of dual citizenship that is often cited is the ability of an individual to possess two passports. However, a potential drawback is the possibility of double taxation.

Key Takeaways

  • Dual citizens enjoy certain benefits, such as the ability to live and work freely in two countries, own property in both countries, and travel between the countries with relative ease.
  • Drawbacks of being a dual citizen include the potential for double taxation, the long and expensive process for obtaining dual citizenship, and the fact that you become bound by the laws of two nations.
  • Applying for dual citizenship is a complicated and typically expensive process that may require the assistance of an immigration lawyer.

Dual Citizenship: An Overview

The U.S allows dual citizenship but not all countries do. Dual citizenship happens automatically in some situations, such as when a child is born in the U.S. to parents who are residents of a foreign country. Unless the parents are foreign diplomats, the child generally becomes a citizen of the U.S. (in addition to the country-of-residence of their parents). Similarly, if a child of U.S. citizens is born overseas, they may automatically become a citizen of both the U.S. and their country of birth (although this is situational because it depends on that specific country’s laws). 

Dual citizenship can also be achieved through specialized legal processes: for example, when a foreign national marries a U.S. citizen. (A foreign national is any person who is not a naturalized citizen of the country in which they are living.) In this case, dual citizenship is not automatic. However, dual citizenship may be granted if the foreign national has been a permanent resident for at least three years, has been living in a marital union with a U.S. citizen-spouse during that time, and meets other eligibility requirements. In this scenario, a permanent resident is anyone who has been legally granted the right to live in the U.S. indefinitely. This status includes the right to work in the U.S., although permanent residents continue to hold citizenship in another country.

In addition, in this example, since not all countries permit dual citizenship, it's possible that the foreign national's home country may cancel the person's citizenship when they become naturalized as a U.S. citizen. However, if their home country permits dual citizenship, this individual will be a citizen of both the U.S. and their home country.

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Advantages And Disadvantages Of Dual Citizenship

Advantages of Dual Citizenship

Benefits and Privileges 

Dual citizens can receive the benefits and privileges offered by each country where they are a citizen. For example, they have access to two social services systems, can vote in either country, and may be able to run for office in either country (if the law permits). They are also allowed to work in either country without needing a work permit or visa and can attend school in either country at the tuition rate offered to citizens (versus the international tuition rate).

Two Passports 

As a dual citizen, you are allowed to carry passports from both countries. For example, if you are a U.S. citizen and also a citizen of New Zealand, you can travel more easily between these two countries. Having a citizen's passport eliminates the need for long-stay visas and any questioning about the purpose of your trip during the customs process. It also guarantees the individual in possession of two passports the right of entry to both the U.S. and New Zealand; this can be especially beneficial if you have family to visit in both countries, or if you are a student or a businessperson that either studies or conducts affairs in both countries.

Property Ownership 

Another benefit of dual citizenship is the ability to own property in either country. Some countries restrict land ownership to citizens only. As a legal citizen of two countries, you would be able to purchase property in either—or both—countries. If you travel frequently between the two countries, this might be especially useful since property ownership might offer a more economical way to live in two places.

Cultural Education

As a dual citizen, you'll reap the benefits of being immersed in the culture of the two countries. Some government officials are also fond of dual citizenship and see it as a way to promote the country's image as a prime destination for tourists. Dual citizenship offers individuals the opportunity to learn about the history of both countries, learn two (or more) languages, and experience a different way of life.

Because dual citizenship is complex and the rules and laws regarding citizenship vary between different countries, it may be in your best interest to consult with qualified experts–including accountants and lawyers–about certain purchases or decisions related to employment and your finances.

Disadvantages of Dual Citizenship

Dual Obligations 

As a dual citizen, you are bound by the laws of both countries. For example, if you are a citizen of the U.S. and a country with mandatory military service, you can lose your U.S. citizenship under certain circumstances, such as if you serve as an officer in a foreign military that is engaged in a war against the U.S. In general, U.S. policy recognizes that dual citizens might be legally obligated to fulfill military obligations abroad, and many can do so without jeopardizing their U.S. citizen status, but it is important to research each situation carefully.

Double Taxation 

For individuals who are dual citizens of the U.S. and another country, the U.S. imposes taxes on its citizens for income earned anywhere in the world. If you are living in your country of dual residence that is not the U.S., you may owe taxes both to the U.S. government and to the country where the income was earned.

However, income tax treaties between the U.S. and other countries serve to effectively reduce or eliminate an individual's tax liability in order to avoid double taxation. For example, a treaty between the U.S. and New Zealand overrides the income tax laws of each country to avoid double taxation. Even so, dual citizens may be required to file U.S. tax returns even if they are living and earning income in New Zealand. Because tax laws are complicated and can change from year to year, it's important for individuals facing this situation to consult with a qualified tax accountant.

Barriers to Some Forms of Employment

Depending on your career path, dual citizenship can be a disadvantage. If you are seeking a position with the U.S government or your job requires access to information that is considered classified by the U.S. government, having dual citizenship may bar you from gaining the security clearance you need for this type of employment. Those born into dual citizenship may encounter fewer problems than those who actively sought it out. 

Complicated Process 

Sometimes dual citizenship happens automatically (for example, when a child is born in the U.S. to foreign parents). Other times, however, the process can take many years and can be extremely expensive and complicated. This can deter some people from pursuing dual citizenship.

Process for Gaining Dual Citizenship in the United States

If you were not born in the U.S. and you want to become a U.S. citizen, there are many requirements for gaining dual citizenship. In addition, the requirements for gaining citizenship in the U.S. may be different for individuals based on their circumstances and their other country (or countries) of residence. In general, to apply for U.S. citizenship, you must have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident–and have a permanent resident (green) card–continuously for five years (or three years if you are filing as the spouse of a U.S. citizen). Other eligibility requirements include being at least 18 years old when you apply and being able to read, write, and speak basic English.

You must also pay a fee to apply for permanent residency and then another fee to file an application for citizenship. The amount of the fee depends on what application you use and your filing category. This fee is set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. For most people, the complicated process for gaining citizenship requires the help of an immigration lawyer. Immigration lawyers can help individuals achieve citizenship, although they also require fees for their services. To apply for permanent residency, most individuals file form 1-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. To apply for naturalization, most individuals file form N-400, the application for naturalization.