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Two Passports: What dual nationals in Switzerland should know when travelling

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 5 Sep, 2022 Updated Mon 5 Sep 2022 16:40 CEST
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When arriving in Switzerland, this passport is best. Photo by: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Holding two citizenships can be an advantage but is also sometimes subject to some rules. This is what Britons, Americans, and other dual nationals should know when travelling from and to Switzerland.

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For many readers of The Local, gaining Swiss citizenship helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long queues reserved for foreigners when arriving in Switzerland.

Citizens of the European Union can also enter Switzerland freely, through the same quick line.

This no-hassle access has especially been an issue for British citizens. Before Brexit, they could whizz through the CH / EU passport control line at the airport. Now, however, they have to queue up with third-country nationals.

What if a UK citizen is also a Swiss national?

Then it's much easier. They, as well as all dual citizens (of Switzerland and another country), are obviously much better off travelling with both passports — presenting the Swiss (or EU) one when arriving in Switzerland for a quicker, headache-free entry, and showing the British one when passing through immigration control into the UK – for very same reasons.

This was made clear recently when 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 – and not her British one. 

https://twitter.com/ChrisGiles_/status/1565019063566438400?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1565019063566438400%7Ctwgr%5E6e6d9caeadaa9416aa0fab98b969e66612386a3f%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.thelocal.com%2F20220901%2Fexplained-what-are-the-post-brexit-rules-for-dual-nationals-travelling-in-europe%2F

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”.

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So the lesson here is clear: even though you are not breaking any laws (at least not Swiss ones), if you travel with your ‘other’ identity papers when arriving in Switzerland, presenting your country-specific passport is much simpler.

There is also another reason why a dual national is better off showing the Swiss passport when entering Switzerland.

As one reader with the American / Swiss nationality told The Local, she once inadvertently showed her US passport when arriving in Geneva from the United States.

While there is nothing illegal about that, the immigration officer asked her how long she plans to stay in Switzerland. When she said “I live here”, he asked for her residence permit. When she replied that she is also a citizen of Switzerland, the man asked for her Swiss passport, telling her she will find it easier in the future to automatically present her Swiss ID when arriving in the country.

READ MORE: What the latest statistics tell us about dual nationals in Switzerland

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The United States is an exception to the rule

While the dual US-Swiss citizen is better off, for practical reasons shown in the above example, presenting the Swiss passport when entering Switzerland, that choice doesn’t exist when travelling to the United States.

According to the US State Department, “US nationals, including dual nationals, must use a US passport to enter and leave the United States".

The reason for this rule is not given, though the US has a conflicting stance on Americans willingly applying for another citizenship.

While it accepts that people born abroad may be automatically considered a citizen of that country, the US government balks at anyone voluntarily applying for another passport.

“A person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose US citizenship", the State Department says. "In order to lose US citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up US citizenship".

Judging by Switzerland alone (though the situation is likely similar in other countries as well), while some Americans do give up their US passports when becoming Swiss, many others don't.

So never show any other passport than the American one when coming to and leaving the USA.

The State Department doesn’t mention what the penalty for this “infraction” could be, but it’s better not to find out.

READ: How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/09/05 16:40

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