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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Top 10: How to travel with two passports

Even before I had dual citizenship, The Discreet Traveler was interested in the practical issues of having two passports. Can you carry both on one trip? Is it legit to do the ol’ “switcheroo” between boarding a plane in one country and turning up at immigration in another? Assuming it is, how do dual passport holders know which to use when?

Based on the number of anonymous queries and websites, it seems other people are interested too. In case you’re one of them, here’s TDT’s 10-step guide for traveling with two passports. I am using the fictional example of a U.S. and British dual passport holder, since that’s a common combination. (And it doesn’t apply to me, so as always, Your Mileage May Vary.)

1.      Be legally entitled to hold both passports. Yes, this sounds like a given, but this entire post assumes that you are a dual citizen and have the right to each passport. Dual nationality is a whole area of interest in itself and TDT will no doubt write more about that someday soon.

2.      Know any particular rules that apply to your country(ies) of citizenship. The steps below will work for most people with most combinations of passports, but there are a few special rules that specific countries have. The U.S., for example, doesn’t have exit immigration like most countries do, but does require its citizens to use their U.S. passports both coming and going.* A few countries (not Britain or the U.S.) forbid their citizens to have another country’s citizenship and you could be in trouble if you travel there. Know the rules before you travel--as you would for any trip.

3.      No matter how many passports you hold, they should all identify you as the same person—name, date of birth, etc. This also sounds obvious but in another life, I’ve been amazed by how often people’s identification (including passports) doesn’t match. They fill out their middle name, or their hyphenated last name, on a form and that doesn’t match their ID. I’ve even had women express surprise that their maiden name was still on something, when they’d never legally changed to their married name! Airlines, and immigration authorities, won’t accept this. Know what your name is and stick with it—if you need to make a legal name change or update your documents, do it between trips.

4.      Always enter and exit any country in the world with the same passport. If you're going to country A, show immigration passport A going in and coming out. If you visit country C and you show immigration there passport B (because it has visa advantages, for example), show passport B to immigration again when you leave. This is the simplest and yet most important rule.

We now move to your first trip with two passports. In our example, you are traveling from country B (Britain) to country A (America, for simplicity).

5.      When you book your flight, you need to pick one passport and enter those details. Online travel booking can only cope with one passport. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel using both, but you should—and this is the point of using two passports—use the one that will make your life easiest. You'll be showing your American passport in America, both when you enter and when you leave, so you should enter the details from your American passport. Later when you check in, use the passport that the airline wants to see. The airline needs to know that they can transport you to your destination, country A, and not get fined for bringing someone who can’t get in. So show your American passport. If you showed your British passport, they would look for an ESTA (visa waiver), which British citizens are required to have, but you don't have it or need it. You're an American citizen. A

6.      If, as in most countries, you are stopped at exit immigration (departing Britain), use the passport that immigration wants to see. British immigration wants to know that you have been in Britain legally, not where you are going. So show your British passport. If you showed your American passport, they would look for a stamp or visa or ask you how long you've been visiting Britain, but you don’t have to answer those questions or abide by any limits. You're a British citizen. B

7.      When you arrive in the U.S.A., you use the passport, again, that immigration wants to see. This time it’s U.S. immigration, and they want to know that you are OK to enter the U.S. So show your American passport. If you showed your British passport, they would again look for an ESTA or visa waiver, but you have no such requirement or limit to your stay. You're American. A

The return trip is basically the same steps in reverse.

8.      Checking in for your departing flight back to Britain, use the passport the airline wants to see. This might mean both. *U.S. citizens are supposed to exit (and enter) the U.S. on U.S. passports, and that’s also the information you've entered in the passenger record (Advance Passenger Information or API, which airlines transmit when they carry passengers internationally). So show your American passport, but be prepared to show the British passport as well, in case the airline needs to know that they can transport you to your destination, country B. See a pattern here? Unlike in other countries, check-in departing the U.S. doubles as exit immigration—hence, both passports. A, B

9.      When you arrive in Britain, use the passport that immigration wants to see. British immigration wants to know that you are OK to enter Britain; they don’t care what passport you used with the airline or earlier on your trip. A British passport shows that you have the right to enter, and don't need a visa like American visitors get. You're a British citizen. B

10.   Finally, relax. If an airline or immigration official asks something that can only be answered by your other passport, just show it. Sometimes people worry that immigration will be looking for a stamp from wherever they’ve traveled (unlikely; many places you don’t even get a stamp anymore) or that they’ll arrive somewhere and present a passport that doesn’t match their API on the passenger record. But this is done every day. Show the passport that will make your life easiest. That means the one that shows you are a citizen of that country, or the one that doesn’t require you to pay for a visa for that country, or whatever. British passports, for example, let you go in the “fast lane” in any European Union country. Some countries require visas for U.S. citizens but not for Europeans. Canadian passport holders don't need an ESTA to enter the U.S.A. Etc.

It is no big deal, and you are not doing anything shady. You’re carrying two passports, both of which you are perfectly entitled to, and they both show you are the same person.

Questions? Hypothetical itineraries? Write them in the comments!

UPDATE: I've received several related questions on this post and thought I'd give some general advice:
Sometimes, people want to know if they can use their multiple passports to do something that they could not normally get away with. For example, you've stayed the maximum amount of time allowed in a country, and you want to leave and re-enter the country using a different passport. Or, you have some kind of a ban from another country (e.g. from overstaying on your last visit) so you want to try entering with your other passport.

I don't recommend this. I cannot say for certain that the two will link up but with the same name and date of birth, it's quite likely that they will. Remember that you are still always one person and the rules apply to you, not to your passport. Moreover if you get "caught" and immigration authorities think you have lied to them, it is likely to go worse for you.

Suppose you make a mistake like overstaying. It is better to fix the situation, and then try to travel. Or take the situation of someone who was denied entry to the US (not for a criminal reason; the officer didn't think he had sufficient proof of funds for his trip, and he was allowed to reenter the US the next day). If asked to fill out a US visa application in the future, this person must answer "Yes" when asked if he was ever denied entry before. If he does not answer this truthfully, and later on immigration officials discover that he's lied, he could face a longterm ban or other consequences much worse than the initial situation.

My rule is, be honest. That doesn't mean volunteering information not asked for, which only wastes officials' time. But the benefit of a second passport is that the passport may come with certain privileges--like an unrestricted stay or a lower visa fee. It doesn't change the rules that apply to one person. So don't try using a second passport to "trick" a country into letting you in when it wouldn't otherwise. Answer questions truthfully and if you make a mistake, get it fixed, rather than trying to circumvent the system.

Safe travels!

Melissa said...

Thanks for this very useful post! I am a Canadian citizen who VERY recently got American citizenship and am getting my brand new US passport tomorrow. I'm going to Brazil at the end of the month and have a Brazilian visa for my Canadian passport, but due to tight timeline, won't be able to get a Brazilian visa in my American passport in time. I assume I can still travel using my two passports? Please let me know if this sounds right:

1. Check in with airline with Canadian passport including Brazil visa
2. There's no exit check at JFK, so I would fly to Brazil and clear immigration with my Canadian passport
3. When I leave Brazil, I check in with airline with my US passport and exit Brazilian immigration with my Canadian passport
4. When I return to the US, use my brand new US passport and should have no trouble despite fact that it's completely blank??

Just want to be 100% sure - have been very stressed about not having a Brazilian visa in my American passport but based on your post, my Canadian passport with visa + US passport should be fine, correct? Thank you SO MUCH!
J. E. Knowles said...
Thank you for reading, Melissa! I hope my comment is not too late to help you for your trip.
I take it you live in the US and are traveling from there? If so, the steps you describe are exactly right.
Since you have two passports, either is fine for the Brazil visa, so there is no problem traveling on your Canadian.
You have to enter the US using your new US passport, since you are now a US citizen. There should be no issue with a brand new, unstamped passport, as there are all kinds of reasons you might not have stamps. I would be very surprised if US officials asked about this.
They will know that you've traveled from Brazil, because your plane came from there (and you'll declare this on the US Customs form). If by any chance they do ask, just explain that you are also a citizen of Canada and have a Canadian passport. You are perfectly entitled to travel on it anywhere except the US.
Enjoy your trip!
H Fazzari said...
I have a Dutch and Moroccan Passport. I have overstayed my stay in Brazil and will be paying a fine when I go back to Brazil. My ticket from Brazil to Europe was booked on my Dutch passport. Ill be going back to Brazil from Europe and wanted to know if there will be any questions asked when trying to enter Brazil with my Moroccan Passport. (I will still have a fine to pay, but its registered on my Dutch Passport) Flight booked was Brazil-Europe and going back from Europe to Brazil and has been booked on my Dutch passport. It’s a round trip booked while I was in Brazil and I don’t was to loose the flight back to Brasil. Should I change my passport number with the airline to my other passport?

Hope I am clear in my story.
vk said...
Hi, i am wrongly entering Heathrow using my Canada passport. May i know whether i can exit from Heathrow by my Canada passport to Dublin and then enter again into Heathrow by using my M'sia passport as i have a student visa on my M'sia passport.
vk said...
Hi, i am wrongly entering Heathrow using my Canada passport. May i know whether i can exit from Heathrow by my Canada passport to Dublin and then enter again into Heathrow by using my M'sia passport as i have a student visa on my M'sia passport.
J. E. Knowles said...
H Fazzari, I do not think you can use a different passport just to get out of paying a fine, if that's what you are asking. But as far as what passport the airline has, that in itself should not be a problem. When you check in at the airport, just give the airline agent the passport you will enter your destination country with. The airline can then update your information to that passport.
J. E. Knowles said...
vk, I think you are saying that you entered the UK using your Canadian passport, but you should have used your Malaysian passport which has your student visa in it. What kind of stamp did you get on your Canadian passport? A visitor visa?

You can travel to Ireland with your Canadian passport, but the problem is that flights from Ireland to the UK are treated like internal flights, so there is no UK passport control. So you still wouldn't get stamped. You are better off explaining to the UK authorities that you got the wrong passport stamped.
Nicholas Jones said...
I'm travelling to Vietnam from Bangkok with 2 passports. I'm in Bangkok on my South African passport which is nearly full and want to enter Vietnam with my German passport to save space in my SA passport until the new one is received.

Do you think it will be a problem entering Vietnam with my German passport which contains no stamps from previous travels as I got it issued in Bangkok?

Thanks for the helpful article.


J. E. Knowles said...
Thanks for reading, Nick.

I don't think it will be any problem to enter Vietnam on your German passport. The important thing is to enter and leave any one country with the same passport. So you leave Thailand on your S. African passport (which you entered with), but show the German one throughout Vietnam.

Just make sure any visa you need to visit a country is in the correct passport, and you should be fine. It is not a problem to have a new passport without stamps in it. It's unlikely anyone will want to see stamps, but if they ask, just show them your other passport.