As of January 2024, U.S. passport holders can travel to 188 countries without a tourist visa. According to the Henley Passport Index, the U.S. passport currently ranks 7th for travel freedom.
Most naturalized U.S. citizens retain citizenship of their country of birth. Only a handful of countries don’t allow dual citizenship.
Each country has its own rules regarding Visa-free travel. Often, certain countries would require a Visa for a U.S. passport holders but not for holders of other passports. For example, an Italian passport holder can travel to Russia, Venezuela, and China without a Visa; but the same countries require U.S. passport holders to obtain an entry Visa.
Thus, for example, someone with dual Italian and American citizenship could travel to these three countries on their Italian passport and avoid going through the bureaucracy required to get a Visa.
The problem here is that every U.S. citizen must use his or her U.S. passport to return to the United States. It would not be possible, for example, for an Italian and American dual citizen travelling to Russia with the Italian passport and trying to return to the U.S. with the same passport, because an airline would not allow a passenger directed to the U.S. to board the plane without proof of being in possession of a valid Visa.
Thus, in such a scenario, the U.S. citizen at an airport in Russia trying to board a plane to the United States would have to “swap” from the Italian to the U.S. passport to board his or her plane. Disclosing to be a U.S. citizen while within a country that is not friendly with the United States is not advisable.
In the example above, one way to solve this issue would be to present the Italian passport to the airline along with a U.S. visa. But how can a U.S. citizen get a U.S. Visa?
When presented this issue by a client, we proceeded to apply on his behalf for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). In the ESTA application, there are 2 very important questions to look for. One question asks whether the applicant is a citizen of another country. The second question asks whether the applicant is in possession of a passport issued by another country.
In our case, we obviously disclosed that the applicant is also a U.S. citizen in possession of a U.S. passport. The ESTA application remained in “pending” status for almost 2 days but, to our surprise, it was ultimately approved.
In short, a U.S. citizen must leave and re-enter the United States with his or her U.S. passport, but there is no law prohibiting a U.S. citizen from using his or her second passport along with ESTA to board a plane to the United States that departs from a country that is not U.S.-friendly. And, more importantly, the U.S. Department of State does not seem to be concerned about this practice, having approved this client’s ESTA knowing he is also a U.S. citizen.