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Passports: What are the rules for dual-nationals travelling in Germany?

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Passports: What are the rules for dual-nationals travelling in Germany?
A woman scans her German passport at an electronic gate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports - so what are the rules for crossing borders and which passport should you show?

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For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled - but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long 'non EU' queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But when travelling there can be issues - put simply, which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Dual nationality

People often assume - not unreasonably - that dual passports are somehow 'linked', so that for example when you scan your US passport, the system knows that you are also a German citizen.

This is, however, not the case, and how you are dealt at the border depends on which passport you are showing, not any other passports that you might own.

READ ALSO: Who qualifies for German citizenship under the new draft law?

That means that the issue of which passport you show at the border is important.

For example, Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force "detained" his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport rather than her British one. 

 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her "and asked why she was travelling on her German one".

Likewise The Local has heard stories of American dual nationals refused boarding when flying from the EU to the USA because they had not completed the necessary ESTA visa (required for European tourists into the US).

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In short - if you're showing a German passport you will be treated as German, not German-American, German-Indian, or German-Australian, and so on.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no universal rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

However, under German law, if you have a German passport you must show it when you enter the country - even if you're a dual national. People who shirk this rule could be hit with a fine of up to €5,000. 

In other cases - for example, if you hold both an Italian and a Japanese passport - you will generally be free to choose which one you show when entering the country. 

One thing to note is that it's worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you'll need to research closely. 

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip - and you may be able to avoid visa requirements as well as benefiting from shorter queues at the border.

In the case mentioned above, for example, it would make sense to use the Italian passport that offers freedom of movement, even if the Japanese passport offers visa-free entry. 

READ ALSO: 8 reasons why German citizenship trumps permanent residency

Frankfurt border control

The automated border control at Frankfurt's airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

If you're entering Germany on a non-EU passport and you're not resident in the country, your passport will be stamped and you will be limited to 90 days in every 180 (unless you have a visa). If you enter Germany on an EU passport, then there are no restrictions. 

The same issues can apply when travelling to non-EU countries too. As in the case of Chris Giles' daughter, entering the UK on a German passport may result in you being stopped and required to show proof of where you are staying and asked whether you intend to work. Entering on a British passport will avoid this.

A spokesman for the UK's Home Office said: "An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present."

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The US has slightly different rules and American citizens - including dual nationals - are required to use their US passport when entering and leaving the country.

This also entitles you to a shorter queue and fewer immigration restrictions when you enter the country.

Do I have to carry both passports?

There's no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won't get the benefits associated with each passport if you're not able to show it. Again, don't assume that the two passports are 'linked' or that the official will know that you are a dual national.

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

In general, it's best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

A man presents a German and a British passport

A man presents a German and a British passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving - and they will either stamp or scan the passport - this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn't overstayed their time in the country. 

So for example if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter the EU or Schengen zone, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.

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If you enter the EU on a non-EU passport, your passport is likely to be stamped under the 90-day rule - providing you can't prove you're also a resident of that country. If you are a citizen of an EU country you are not, in fact, limited to 90 days and can prove your right to stay by showing your EU passport. 

You may, however, face questions when you leave the country if your passport has a 90-day stamp in it. 

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Comments (1)

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Chris 2023/06/28 19:54
So what is a USA-German dual national supposed to do since both countries require entry & exit with their country's passport?
  • Imogen Goodman 2023/06/29 15:23
    Hi Chris, thanks very much for your comment and question. The passport you enter and exit with at the border itself is the one that counts, so a USA-German dual national would show their German passport when leaving the country, their US when arriving in and leaving the USA, and their German upon arrival back in Germany. In other words, they'd need to bring both along with them. I hope that helps.

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