What documents to show if I'm a US citizen with no US passport to re-enter the US?

    • Suppose I am a naturalized citizen of the US, but also a citizen of another country, "XYZ".
    • I then boarded a plane and left the US to another country (maybe not necessarily to XYZ), without first getting a US passport, but using my old, but valid XYZ passport.

    In this case what would be the best documents to have for me to gain entry back into the US as a US Citizen without a passport?

    Would I need to contact the US Embassy for help in order to be able return?

    If the airline does let me aboard to return to the US, even without the US passport, what are the best documents could I show at the border to prove I am a US citizen but that I just don't have a passport, for whatever reason?

    when you became a naturalized citizen, were you given any kind of papers, and in this thought experiment, are you assuming these papers are eligible to be "the best documents" to have with you?

    @KateGregory Well naturalized citizens get a Certificate of Naturalization. But I guess I'm not sure if that's ALL one would need... or if the Border people would even accept it at all. But yes, I'd imagine that would be the top docs to have to show either the US Embassy or the Border people.

  • Doc

    Doc Correct answer

    7 years ago

    As a US citizen you can not be denied entry to the US once you are on US soil, with or without a passport. Other than a passport there is no set list of documents required, however you will need to be able to convince the immigration officials that you are a US citizen and/or prove your identity so documents such as a Birth Certificate, Green Card, Drivers License, etc will all be helpful. If you follow this path you WILL be taken to secondary screening, and you can expect the process to take at least 1-2 hours longer than normal.

    However your initial problem is going to be making it to US soil. Without a US passport the airline will not let you board your flight to the US unless you have suitable entry documents, which means that you'll need either a Visa or an ESTA (if your other passport is from a country that is a part of the US Visa Waiver Program).

    If entering under the VWP, or most types of Visas, then you will also need to hold an onward/return air ticket as proof that you will be leaving the US at the end of your trip. Obviously once you arrive and enter the US as a citizen this will not be required, but without it it's highly likely that the airline will refuse boarding without it.

    Also be aware that as a US citizen you MUST enter the US as a citizen. ie, even if you have obtained a ESTA and a return ticket, you can not legally use your foreign passport to pass through US immigration. These will be required to allow the airline to carry you to the US, but must NOT be actually used to enter the country.

    In general, your best option is going to be to contact the local US Consulate and obtain a US Passport. This will save you a lot of trouble not only before your trip, but also when you actually arrive in the US.

    If you intend to leave the US again in the future you will also need a US passport for that - it is illegal for a US citizen to leave the US using a non-US passport.

    thank you! great answer! But can you explain what exactly an "ESTA" is? And also expand on the "it's illegal to leave the US using a non-US passport" part? I was not aware one had to show a US passport to leave? I usually think one just had to show whatever "doc" proves I am allowed (i.e visa, etc) to go to my destination... Where does this law/illegality come from? Why would they care about what passport I use to _leave_?

    Search this site for ESTA and you'll find answers to what it is. Officially US citizens must hold a US passport when leaving the US. It's not necessarily enforced, but it is the law.

    I know you're supposed to have _a passport_ to travel, but that law strikes me as 'odd'... So I guess a dual citizenship person w/o a US passport, who is in an urgent need to leave the US (say for medical/emergency reasons) would have to break the law, and leave using their other passport...wierd. The reason I came up with this question in the first place, is that I observed that for immigrants becoming naturalized citizens one can obtain a waiver for the $700+ costs it takes to actually become naturalized nowadays. No *similar* fee waiver exists for US passports, only gov/military get no fees

    Would you even get an ESTA if you have dual citizenship, one of which is US?

    @CesarDV if you have to "suddenly leave the US" and can't get a US passport (there will be ways to get an expedited passport) I'd were I a US border agent assume that there's good reason for you not to have been given a passport, and detain you pending a very thorough investigation, as such scenarios mostly include rather serious crimes by the person trying to get out of the country.

    @jwenting persons leaving the united states are not inspected by united states border guards.

    @phoog he was flying, he would have to show his passport as part of the airport security procedures...

    @jwenting but he could show a non-US passport. I do it all the time. The airline can easily deduce from my non-US passport that I am probably a US citizen because it shows I was born in the US. They never care to ask whether I have a US passport; for all they know I am leaving without holding one, in violation of the law. And CBP knows nothing about any of this.

    @jwenting I forgot about the TSA. They are entirely and solely interested in your identity and whether you present a security risk. That said, I've never tried showing them my non-US passport. I'll do it the next time I fly to Europe, and see what happens. I reckon nothing.

    @jwenting I've now done it twice, and I was right. Nothing happened.

    Citation for "it is illegal for a US citizen to leave the US using a non-US passport"? The US doesn't have strict exit controls. Furthermore, a dual citizen going from the US to the other country of citizenship may be required to enter that country using a non-US passport.

    @200_success 22 CFR 53.1. (Google it)

    22 CFR 53.1 only says that US citizens leaving the US must _have_ a US passport. That is not the same as prohibiting the use of a non-US passport.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM