What Is Dual Citizenship, and How Does It Work?

Last updated on February 21st, 2024 at 04:10 pm

What is dual citizenship: USA and Japanese Passports

Here at Remitly, we’re proud to help immigrants around the world send money to their loved ones back home, and we know from talking to our customers that many people have questions about different immigration policies, including dual citizenship.

To help demystify what it means to become a dual citizen, we created this guide that breaks down what dual citizenship means, explains how people can become dual citizens, and answers common questions surrounding dual citizenship.

What is dual citizenship?

There are currently 195 recognized countries in the world, and the vast majority of the world’s nearly 8 billion people are citizens of those countries. Some of them are also dual citizens, holding two or more passports.

Dual citizenship means that two countries claim and protect you as one of their own. It can happen when you have parents from multiple countries or are born in a country other than the one(s) where your parents are citizens.

You can also acquire a second citizenship by being naturalized as a citizen of another country. In some cases, this process may result in dual citizenship.

What is dual citizenship: USA and UK flags

The benefits of dual citizenship

One with dual citizenship must obey the laws of both nations, including laws regarding the payment of taxes to those countries. However, treaties frequently prevent double taxation. If one or more of your countries has a draft or other type of compulsory military service, you will also be subject to those laws.

In addition to these responsibilities, there are several dual citizenship advantages, including:

1. Consular protection from multiple countries

A dual citizen is entitled to consular protection from each of their countries.

Consular protection means that if you are arrested, run into some other kind of legal trouble, or need assistance while traveling in a foreign country, you can receive aid from your home country’s consulate. Having more citizenship means there are more people to help, so you have options if you get into trouble abroad.

2. Social programs and entitlements

Citizenship may also come with benefits in the social and legal systems of a given country.

For example, United States citizens are entitled to Social Security numbers, which makes them part of a wide-ranging benefit system for injury and retirement and gives them the right to work anywhere in the U.S.

They can also apply for state-sponsored healthcare (Medicare) in old age.

Dual citizens can take advantage of similar benefits from both of their countries.

3. Passports and travel

Dual citizens can also have a passport for each country where they are citizens. This is important because it gives you greater mobility throughout the world, as foreign passports may be treated differently from those of your home country.

For example, a U.S. passport is generally entitled to the visa waiver program in Japan, so an American citizen can travel there without first getting a visa.

An Iranian citizen, however, would have to get a visa for advance permission to travel to Japan, which does not allow waivers for Iranian passports.

The same issue arises with U.S. passports and travel to Cuba, which is difficult without a visa. However, someone with Canadian citizenship and a Canadian passport could travel to Cuba much more easily.

Therefore, a dual citizen has additional travel privileges thanks to their passports from both their countries of citizenship and origin.

4. Extension of full rights

Many countries extend some rights to immigrants but reserve others only for those who hold citizenship status.

For example, only citizens have the right to vote in federal elections and the right to a fair, prompt trial by a jury in the U.S. Only people with citizenship status can apply for certain government jobs as well.

By obtaining dual citizenship, a person can enjoy all the rights afforded to citizens in two countries.

Certificates of Australian Citizenship and passports

Dual citizenship by country

Many countries allow dual citizenship. For instance, countries like the United States, Switzerland, and Australia have welcomed the idea.

The Maastricht Centre for Citizenship, Migration and Development maintains a Global Dual Citizenship Database here that shows data on which countries allow dual citizenship and in which ways. They note that as of 2020, 76% of nations allow their citizens to become citizens of another nation without repercussions.

Not all countries like the idea, however. Japan, Germany, China, and India discourage or forbid the practice.

Japan, for example, allows younger people to have dual nationality or citizenship until they are 22 years old. After their 22nd birthday, they must choose one or risk losing their Japanese citizenship.

The Japanese immigration law also applies to naturalized citizens, who generally have to renounce their foreign nationality or citizenship as part of the naturalization process.

When considering dual citizenship, research both countries’ laws. You want to avoid running the risk of losing one of your foreign citizenships when you take the oath of allegiance to a new country.

Common ways to get dual citizenship

Four Pathways to Get Dual Citizenship
Dual citizenship via birthright
Dual citizenship via naturalization
Dual citizenship via marriage
Dual citizenship via investment

Dual citizenship via birthright

Perhaps the most common way to get dual citizenship is to be born with it.

In countries with birthright citizenship (jus soli), like the United States or Canada, any person who is born within the country gains citizenship automatically, regardless of where their parents are from. However, birthright citizenship does not extend to the foreign parents of the newborn.

Your birth can also give you the right to multiple citizenships if your parent is a citizen of a country other than where you were born.

For example, a child born in the United States to a citizen of the United Kingdom is generally eligible to be both a U.S. citizen and a U.K. citizen and can obtain a passport from each country.

Dual citizenship via naturalization

Another method of obtaining dual citizenship is through naturalization. Each country establishes its own laws regarding naturalization and sets its own requirements for who qualifies.

In some cases, a person may need to first reside in a country for a set time, pay taxes, and adhere to laws and regulations to qualify. Mandatory military service may be required in some nations, or voluntary military service may provide a pathway to naturalization.

To earn dual citizenship through naturalization, the two countries involved must both allow their citizens to become dual citizens. Countries that do not permit dual citizenship will require you to renounce other citizenship or nationalities to become a naturalized citizen.

Dual citizenship via marriage

Marriage is another potential pathway to dual citizenship. The U.S. will generally grant citizenship to citizens of other countries who legally marry U.S. citizens, provided they go through the proper naturalization process and meet all requirements.

Dual citizenship via investment

Another avenue for those who wish to hold dual citizenship is investment.

If countries recognize dual citizenship, they may allow individuals who invest a minimum amount in a small business, government-approved fund, or real estate to apply for citizenship and keep their citizenship status in their home country.

The difference between citizenship and permanent residence

Dual or multiple citizenship is different from being a permanent resident of a country. Permanent residence status varies by country but is not the same as citizenship.

Being a permanent resident in the United States entails receiving a green card from the government, which comes with many rights but not all the rights of a full citizen.

Permanent residence is often a path to citizenship by naturalization. A lawful permanent resident can apply for citizenship if they’ve held that status for the past three or five years, for example, under U.S. law. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) governs that process.

The difference between citizenship and nationality

Depending on the laws of the countries involved, a person may also have dual nationality. The word “nationality” is often used interchangeably with “citizenship.” This is due in part to interpretation between languages.

Your “nationality” usually refers to your country of origin, not your current residence. “Citizenship” means that you and a country have a unique relationship. As a citizen, you pay income taxes to your country and follow its laws. In return, a country provides its citizens with legal protection and social benefits.

The risk of statelessness

One area of caution regarding dual citizenship is the small but real risk of statelessness. Statelessness happens when a person loses all their citizenship and isn’t considered to have allegiance to (or protection of) any existing country.

Consider this hypothetical example of statelessness: a United States citizen applies to be naturalized as a citizen of a country that requires the applicant to renounce their U.S. citizenship to proceed.

The person does this and obtains citizenship of this new country, which suffers a regime collapse two years later. Now, they are neither American citizens nor citizens of anywhere else.

Life can be difficult without consular protection or a right to reside in any one country. Learn more from the UN Refugee Agency, which is working to end statelessness by 2024.

Mother and daughter sitting in a park

Dual citizenship and immigration FAQs

If you still have lingering questions regarding dual citizenship, read on for answers.

What are foreign nationals?

A foreign national is not a citizen of the country they currently live in.

For example, a person from Spain who moves to another country would have Spanish nationality and be a foreign national in the other country until they go through naturalization.

What are dual nationals?

A dual national has more than one nationality, typically because they hold dual citizenship. For example, if you hold citizenship in the U.S. and another country, you would be considered a dual national.

Is it possible to obtain triple citizenship?

Dual citizenship isn’t the only multiple citizenship status. It is theoretically possible to obtain triple citizenship or to become a citizen of four or more countries.

Keep in mind that not all countries allow for multiple or dual citizenships, so the number of possible citizenship combinations is limited. People with multiple citizenship statuses must also fulfill the requirements for retaining citizenship in all countries, which may involve completing military obligations or continuing to pay taxes.

How do I go about obtaining dual citizenship in the U.S.?

To become a citizen of the United States and continue to hold citizenship in other countries, you have a few pathways.

Permanent residents can usually apply to become naturalized citizens after five years of living in the U.S. If you’re a foreign spouse of a citizen and wish to hold citizenship yourself, you can usually apply for naturalization sooner.

During the naturalization process, candidates must meet certain requirements, like passing the U.S. citizenship test. You can learn more about naturalization in the U.S. by checking out our guide on the subject.

Does Canada allow people to obtain dual citizenship?

Yes, it is possible to hold Canadian citizenship and be a citizen of another country. Read our guide on how to become a citizen in Canada for more information about citizenship laws and regulations.

Does the UK allow people to obtain dual citizenship?

Yes, British citizens can hold dual citizenship in another country. To learn more about British citizenship, read our guide on the topic.

Can you hold dual citizenship in Australia?

Yes, a born Australian citizen or a foreign national who becomes a naturalized citizen can hold dual citizenship. Read our Remitly guide about moving to Australia for more information.

Does France allow dual citizenship?

Yes, French citizens can become dual citizens under the laws of France. Our guide on how to obtain a work visa in France can help you begin the process of moving to the country to obtain dual citizenship.

Can you get a foreign passport if you have dual citizenship?

Although countries have their own rules and regulations, most that permit dual citizenship will issue a passport to dual citizens.

Can you acquire dual citizenship if you have Chinese citizenship?

No, China does not have a dual citizenship program. Usually, a person will have to renounce citizenship in a foreign country to obtain Chinese citizenship.

Can you be a dual citizen if you have Indian citizenship?

Indian citizens can generally not become dual citizens. Someone who holds citizenship in India will need to renounce their Indian citizenship if they become citizens elsewhere. Conversely, foreign nationals in India will need to renounce their foreign citizenship if they wish to become Indian citizens.

Can you obtain citizenship in another country if you hold South African citizenship?

Yes, South Africa permits dual citizenship. However, South African citizens who wish to pursue dual citizenship status must complete a retention process to maintain their South African citizenship. You can learn more about that process here.

Can Mexican citizens obtain dual citizenship?

Yes, Mexican citizens can seek dual citizenship without losing citizenship in Mexico. Foreign nationals may also apply for Mexican citizenship without renouncing their nationality.

How do I know if a country recognizes dual citizenship?

Since not all countries permit dual citizenship, it’s important to become familiar with the local immigration law and the specialized legal processes before applying to become a legal citizen.

Government websites, such as those for citizenship and immigration services, can be a good starting point for your research. You may also want to consult an immigration lawyer for assistance.

Do foreign diplomats get dual citizenship?

Foreign diplomats don’t automatically receive dual citizenship status. However, they may be able to apply to become dual citizens, following the same rules as other individuals who wish to hold dual citizenship status in the two involved countries.

Do dual citizens pay taxes in both countries?

Whether or not dual citizens will owe taxes in both countries where they hold citizenship will depend on the immigration law that is in place in both places. To ensure that you comply fully with tax laws, consult an immigration lawyer or knowledgeable tax professional.

Can a former citizen get their citizenship status back?

In some cases, it may be possible to become a citizen again if you previously renounced a country’s citizenship to become a citizen somewhere else. An immigration lawyer can help you determine whether you’re eligible to reclaim your citizenship status.

Staying connected with loved ones, no matter what your citizenship status

Whether you hold dual citizenship or are an immigrant with foreign citizenship living as a foreign national, remaining connected to your loved ones living in other countries is important.