The Road to Dual Citizenship

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have passports from two different countries? I don’t mean like Jason Bourne, jet-setting around the world under multiple aliases. I mean legally being a citizen of more than one country at the same time. Although it might seem like a...

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have passports from two different countries? I don’t mean like Jason Bourne, jet-setting around the world under multiple aliases. I mean legally being a citizen of more than one country at the same time. Although it might seem like a crazy idea to some people, the global marketplace is expanding and the ability to live and work in more places than just your home country can definitely be beneficial. I’d heard of “dual citizens” before, but never really thought much about it. In fact, some of my relatives have married people of foreign birth who have retained their nationality of origin in addition to taking U.S. citizenship. This got me thinking: what if I could acquire dual citizenship too? I found out that there are basically six different ways to go about doing this, depending on a country’s laws.

Six Ways to Acquire Dual Citizenship:

* Birth within the borders of a nation’s territory.

* Marriage to a foreign citizen.

* Formal naturalization by applying (and qualifying) for citizenship.

* Religion, as in Israel’s “Law of Return.”

* Descent from a parent or grandparent.

* The actual purchase of dual citizenship.

Well, options one through four were out and number six seemed like something the sort of people who have “off-shore” bank accounts would do. (Currently, only the Commonwealth of Dominica and the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, both Caribbean island nations, allow people to purchase citizenship. In exchange for large sums of money, they will grant official citizenship without any prior residency requirements. However, it can cost in excess of $100,000 per family member!)

As it turns out, with some research, a little paperwork and plenty of patience, it was possible for me to become a dual citizen. You see, my father was born in Portugal, so due to Jus sanguinis (Latin for “right of blood”) I had the right to claim citizenship to Portugal too. My road to dual citizenship took a little more than six months to accomplish. It entailed supplying the birth certificates for myself and both of my parents, registering their marriage with the Portuguese government and paying some fees. I currently hold a Bilhete de Identidade de Cidadão Nacional (Portuguese National Identification Card) but can obtain an actual passport, if I choose. I  just need to make an appointment at the Portuguese Consulate in San Francisco and it can be taken care of in a matter of days. Why did I do this, you may ask? Well, there are many reasons why a person would want dual citizenship. For me, it basically came down to pride in my ancestry and simply, because I could. Keep in mind that I am proud to be American and would never want to relinquish my  U.S. citizenship under any circumstances.

There are several advantages and disadvantages to having dual citizenship. Before starting the process, you should double check that the two countries do in fact allow it since many EU (and non-EU) countries do not. Under U.S. law, having dual citizenship does not jeopardize American citizenship. However, U.S. citizens are subject to loss of citizenship if they perform certain specified acts voluntarily and with the intention to relinquish U.S. citizenship. The Department of State website has more information on this. Keep in mind that there are many laws that must be obeyed no matter what. For instance, U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must by law always use their U.S. passport when entering or leaving the United States.

PROS:

There are many benefits of  having dual citizenship. Foremost is that it allows you to travel, live and work in both countries with few restrictions and with no need for a visa. An added bonus is that someone who holds a passport to any of the27 member states of the European Union (in addition the non-EU countries of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein) has the right to free movement and can live and work anywhere in any of these countries as well. This is great if you have family in both places and/or want to travel for extended periods of time. A person with dual citizenship can also enjoy the advantages of both countries, such as pensions and healthcare, and can generally vote in elections for both countries too. For an American, the benefits may also include the ability to travel freely to countries where Americans aren’t necessarily welcomed. Another reason is to avoid hefty visa fees. For example, due to reciprocity, some countries (such as Brazil) charge Americans much more for a visa than they do non-Americans.

CONS:

Although there are many pluses to being a dual citizen, there are several potential negatives too. Probably the biggest downside is that if you are traveling under a non-U.S. passport, it could hamper efforts to provide diplomatic and consular protection in the case of an emergency. This is especially important during times of civil unrest or after natural disasters. When you are the citizen of two countries, you must abide by the laws and meet the obligations of both countries (and hope that they never go to war against each other!) Some countries have mandatory military service requirements and many have specific tax laws that must be followed. As an American citizen, you must pay federal income taxes no matter where in the world you live or earn your money. So, in theory, if you live and work in Spain then you will have to pay income taxes to both Spain and the United States.

Besides Portugal, several other European countries will grant dual citizenship based on Jus sanguinis, including Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Luxembourg. Check with each country’s embassy or consulate to find out their requirements.

If you don’t qualify by Jus sanguinis, some countries offer citizenship after reduced residency. Citizens from many Latin American countries can gain citizenship from Spain after only two years of residency there. The same goes for Brazil and Portugal.

Although I have no immediate plans for my newfound dual citizenship, someday I may move to Portugal to get in touch with my roots even more. Who knows where this journey of life will lead?

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