Can a US citizen leave and enter the US using a foreign passport?

  • I am a dual citizen. I have both a US passport and a non-US passport. I live in the US.

    My US passport is currently being processed for renewal. I am unsure whether I will receive my passport in time for a trip that I have scheduled.

    Could I use my non-US passport to leave the US and return? I have never entered the US with my non-US passport.

    There is no immigration leaving the US but I still need to scan my passport for ticketing. Will the airline refuse me a ticket?

    I know that in this situation returning with a non-US passport can be problematic as well, but will I be able to leave at all?

    Note that I am traveling to a country of which neither of my passports are from.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

  • Just a note from recent experience - you can actually get an ESTA for your non-US passport - and I checked with a US border person before doing so (I'd v stupidly left my US passport at home), when going through pre-clearance in Ottawa, Canada, in transit to Brazil - but that doesn't mean you should. I input details of all passports, incl the US one, and the system didn't stop me and nor did the US passport control. But I got taken away just before boarding the U.S.-bound flight on my way home. Had to go get an emergency passport (& the one I left behind has been cancelled) and spend an extra night to do so. Just don't try - you might make it one way but it's unlikely you'll make it both. The airlines get fined, too, so they are quite zealous!

    Did you actually answer all questions truthfully on the ESTA? It does ask if you are a US citizen from memory.

    Who took you away before boarding? Was it the airline, or did it happen as you went through US immigration preclearance?

  • Generally, airlines worry most about you holding a visa for the destination country. I have left the US many times forgetting to return my I-94, but I obviously had an entry record for that passport.

    However, it is illegal for US citizens to enter or leave the US on another than a US passport. Since you are a US citizen, you can not obtain a US visa (for your foreign passport) and you are required to enter with your US passport (as clearly stated on the US embassy website):

    If you plan to re-enter the US with a foreign passport, you might get into trouble! Of course, this is up to the immigration officer, but you will already have issues boarding your flight, as the airline will check for a valid visa/ESTA with the foreign passport you plan to return with.

    As a US citizen you can not obtain a visa/ESTA for your foreign passport. During the application process you will be asked if you hold or have ever held US citizenship and will therefore be refused a visa.

    You can generally acquire an emergency / temporary travel document or expedite the passport application:

    How do you know the OP is using a UK passport?

    Sorry, my bad - I probably confused Gayot's comment with the OP and will correct this. In the end it doesn't matter which country your second passport is from.

    It does matter, because people from some countries don't need visas or ESTA to visit the US. For example, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, etc.

    In the end it doesn't change the fact that the US still requires you to enter and leave on a US passport (even if you hold e.g. a Canadian passport). Therefore, it does not matter which second nationality you hold.

    It is impossible for someone to be refused entrance because they hold US citizenship but are trying to enter with a non-US passport. There could be othernegative consequences, but refusal of entry is not on the menu.

    @phoog I thought that's what I read on the embassy website, but after reading it again, I couldn't find any reference anymore.

    @Chris I've read a lot of incorrect things on embassy websites. It is certainly true, however, that a US citizen without a passport could be denied entry if unable to convince the border guard that he or she is a US citizen.

    "it is illegal for US citizens to enter or leave the US on another than a US passport.". It's illegal, but no penalty exists to punish for noncompliance.

  • I am a dual Australian American citizen living in Australia, I've gotten an ESTA for my Australian passport. It did ask about being American, I answered yes and it dutifully issued the ESTA.

  • There will be no problem leaving the US. The airline only wants to check your passport to see if you are have the correct documentation to get off the plane at your destination.

    However, it is illegal according to US law for a US citizen to enter the US using a non-US passport. So you'll have problems coming back home unless you make arrangements to have your new passport sent to you while you are away from home.

    Can you add how they know and/or how this is enforced? Did anybody ever get caught?

    I've never travelled with a dual nationality US citizen who attempted to try this, so I don't have first hand experience. I know that the USCBP knows about name/birthdate/etc for all citizens, so it may come up simply by matching details. I have certainly read about (including on this site) dual nationality US citizens getting at least a stern talking-to when attempting to enter the US using their non-US passport.

    @GayotFow When you return on a foreign passport, you obviously require a VISA. As a US citizen, you can not apply for a VISA (on a foreign passport). During VISA application they will simply ask if you are / have been a US citizen at any point and if you say yes, you can not get the VISA. If you on the other hand make false statements and they find out (and they likely would), you might get into big trouble during immigration.

    "However, it is illegal according to US law for a US citizen to enter the US using a non-US passport." It is also illegal according to US law for a US citizen to *leave* the US without bearing a US passport.

    @GregHewgill USCBP cannot possibly have the name and birth date of all US citizens.

    @phoog Why not?

    @NateEldredge Well, if we're playing the trivialities game, I'm pretty sure that a US citizen who was born in the last ten seconds won't be on any CBP database yet. But I'm hoping we're not playing the trivialities game.

    @DavidRicherby: Sure, any database will have omissions, and updates will take some time to arrive. But I don't see any reason why CBP couldn't have a reasonably complete database of names and birthdates of US citizens.

    @NateEldredge I'm not really playing the trivialities game. How would they get that database? We don't have a national registration system. Births are not reported to a central national database. They could have databases of people with passports, and of people who've been naturalized, but that's by no means a majority of US citizens. And, back to trivialities, there will be some people who never get a birth certificate.

    @DavidRicherby trivialities aside, I am pretty sure that births are not reported to a central national registry, so even my niece who is about to turn 3 would not be in a hypothetical CBP database of US citizens.

    @phoog, et al: Look, this is getting silly. Perhaps what I should have said is that USCBP has a database of all US *passport holders*. US citizens who do not have a passport and do not have a SSN and who have never paid taxes would not find themselves *entering* the US. Some edge cases might be: (a) a dual citizen born abroad who was never registered with a US consulate; (b) a dual citizen born inside the US but does not have a passport or SSN and who left using a foreign passport; (c) a US citizen without a passport who enters and returns from Canada by land. There are probably more.

    In any case, *this* question deals with somebody who *does* have a US passport. USCBP probably already knows that the dual citizen entering using a foreign passport also holds a US passport.

    "However, it is illegal according to US law for a US citizen to enter the US using a non-US passport.". It's illegal, but no penalty exists to punish for noncompliance.

    Dual nationals holding a diplomatic passport of a country other than the US are entitled to use that diplomatic passport for entry into the USA. For example, the current foreign secretary of the UK was born in the US (to British parents) and is therefore a US citizen, but he can enter the US on a UK diplomatic passport and is not required to use a US passport.

    @RichardGadsden Boris Johnson has renounced his US nationality.

    @NateEldredge Birth records in the USA are generally kept at the county level. I know of no collection program to assemble them into a national database, and privacy advocates would squeal if there were one. Perhaps the next Snowden can help us out.

  • To the original question I will add that I have travelled between Canada and the USA with my second-last expired US passport, while the last one was with the State Department or in the mail for renewal. No problem, not even secondary inspection.

    I have never entered the US with my non-US passport, as I knew it was not allowed. I don't remember about leaving the US. (I don't think the US checks that anyway, some countries do, but not the US). Note: it is not the same thing leaving the US as entering the destination or transit country.

  • Since this came up it might be worth noting that the actual administrative law being violated is 22 CFR 53.1, and 22 CFR 53.2 has the exceptions which can be trolled for loopholes.

    It appears to me that one might be able to legally get away without a valid US passport by flying via Canada with a valid NEXUS card (though I'm not positive; "NEXUS Air kiosks" are an anachronism and, anyway, if they don't like what you are doing they can invalidate the NEXUS card on a whim). Crossing the land border with a WHTI document and flying from and to Canada might be a bit more secure. Having a non-US passport is of no help to an American at all, however.

    "Having a non-US passport is of no help to an American at all, however." Nonsense. There are plenty of countries where Americans require visas but (obviously) nationals of that country do not. Being a national of country X gives you the automatic right to live and work there; being American does not give you the right to live and work in country X. There are plenty of places in the world where identifying yourself as an American is not, shall we say, the best way to make yourself popular.

    A US citizen can fly out of the US using a non-US passport. This violates the law, but there is no enforcement of the law, and there is no penalty for violating the law. The law formerly provided for a penalty, but the penalty was repealed in the 1970s (1978, if I recall correctly). I've flown from the US using a non-US passport on multiple occasions without anyone raising an eyebrow or saying anything. (I was not breaking the law on those occasions, because I also had my US passport with me, but nobody had any way of knowing that.)

    I would like to clarify my previous comment. The first clause of the second sentence is incorrect because the law requires the US citizen to "bear" the passport. So as long as the citizen has the US passport, the citizen is complying with the law, even if he or she checked in with a foreign passport; this explains the last (parenthetical) sentence.

    With all the people here who said it's illegal for a US citizen to enter or leave the US on a non-US passport, thank you for being the only person who actually _cited_ the relevant law.

  • Could I use my non-US passport to leave the US and return? I have never entered the US with my non-US passport.

    You could definitely leave the US without any issues whatsoever, as there's no immigration controls at American airports. Likewise there's no penalty for violating the law which forbids leaving the US without a valid US passport.

    Coming back would be a bit more tricky, as US citizens are generally not supposed to be issues ESTAs or visas. And without an ESTA or visa you wouldn't be allowed on the plane back home. However you can escape that issue by flying to Canada or Mexico first and then entering the US overland. US border guards won't be able to deny you entry as long as you convince them you're a US citizen, so at worst you would have to spend a bit more time while they verify your identity. Another option is to receive an emergency US passport at a consulate abroad.

    Overall the easiest solution is to simply wait for your passport to arrive and then proceed with your travels.

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