In kindergarten I learned I could never be president because I had dual citizenship—and it broke my heart. As a little girl, I didn’t quite understand what it meant to be born in another country and immigrate to the United States so young, but that restriction felt like it limited my chance of living out the classic American dream. Of course, there are also benefits to dual citizenship that I didn’t know or understand either at the time.
It’s important to note that I’m discussing dual citizenship for children of United States citizens. This post is for educational purposes, written from personal experience and research meant to give parents additional context and consideration when deciding whether to obtain dual citizenship for their children when possible.
Dual citizenship or dual nationality is when a person is a national of two countries simultaneously, sharing the responsibilities and privileges of the citizens in both countries. This often happens when children are born in a foreign country to national parents. In my case, I was born in Bogotá, Colombia and became a dual citizen after my parents adopted me into the United States and nationalized me thanks to a Colombian ruling in 1991 that stipulates Colombian nationality cannot be lost when another is required. If you’re considering dual citizenship for your child, here’s more information on the process.
How Do You Become a Dual Citizen?
There are two main ways to become a dual citizen in America: through birthright and parentage and via naturalization. Certain countries also allow citizenship based on ancestry, which means that in certain countries (Italy, Ireland, Greece, and many more) a child or grandchild may be allowed dual citizenship if their biological ancestors come from a certain country. For some, it can be automatic through birthright citizenship, while for others you can obtain dual citizenship for yourself by marrying a citizen of a different country (your child would then need to pass certain criteria for their visa).
Each country has different laws and policies about dual citizenship, so when considering dual citizenship it’s always important to consult with an immigration attorney or government official. For some, dual citizenship is a very personal choice to be made as a family. While my sons have the ability to become dual citizens in Colombia, it’s something my husband and I haven’t yet been able to come to a decision on due to the array of pros and cons we’ve discovered through experience and research. Here are a few key takeaways we’ve discovered through the process.
Pros of Dual Citizenship for Children
Some countries only allow nationals to own property, but dual citizens often have the ability to own property in either country they have citizenship in. For example, my mother-in-law, who also has dual citizenship in Colombia, owns property there and in the United States.
Work Benefits and Educational Opportunities
Having dual citizenship means a person can work in either country without needing employment authorizations. As with work, citizens can also have the opportunity to attend school in either country. My sister-in-law was able to go to high school in Colombia and finish her degree in the U.S. her senior year.
One of the best benefits of dual citizenship is that it allows you to carry two passports, which in turn can allow you to travel to a wider array of places without the need for a visa. For United States dual citizens, it’s very important to remember to carry your U.S. passport when entering and leaving the United States.
Connection to Culture and Ancestry
Having dual citizenship as an adoptee has made me feel more connected to my culture and family than I expected. As a child it was really hard to conceptualize what it meant to be part of two countries like this, but as an adult and parent I’m very appreciative that I can pass that along to my children.
Cons of Dual Citizenship for Children
Twice the Obligations
While there are an abundance of benefits for dual citizens, there are also twice the obligations. For instance, dual citizens may be liable for taxation on income they earned in any country, while some countries only tax income earned in that specific country. Depending on the situation, income can also be taxed at a reduced rate in foreign countries, which is why it’s important to thoroughly research tax treaties before committing to dual citizenship.
While there are certain employment benefits, there can also be some barriers to employment when a person has dual citizenship. For example, there are certain federal jobs that only allow U.S. citizens to fill certain positions.
I didn’t personally have to go through an arduous process to obtain dual citizenship, but it can be long and drawn-out for some families—for example, if you or your child didn’t obtain birthright citizenship in the United States or another country.
Mandatory Military Service
It’s vital to research whether or not mandatory military service is required in either country. If some situation would arise wherein you would have to engage in combat for the other country in which you have citizenship against the United States, or vice versa, you will likely lose nationality in the country you fight against.