Passport politics | Dual citizenship and travel safety

Approx read: 3 mins

Two passports: which one to use?

Your passport power depends on where you are. Knowing when to show which passport can save a lot of hassle when travelling in foreign countries, or even your own.

As someone with dual citizenship, I don’t just fan out my documents and ask the security agent to pick-a-card-any-card.

When travelling in the US, I don’t want to look like a dang foreigner, so I use my American passport. Even better, my state-issued driving license, because folks in the sticks get a bit hinky when they see the big blue book.

Popping south of the border, the US credentials disappear, and I become an Irish citizen. Because, no offense to my Celtic brethren, and though we’re fantastic at parties, Irish people aren’t that interesting to politically- or financially-motivated evildoers.

The switcheroo

But say I’m in Costa Rica. Or Peru. Or any country that doesn’t have access to the Irish government. How do I know if there’s embassy access? Easy: Argentina, Brazil and Mexico have Irish embassies or consulates. The rest of Latin America, you’re on your own.

But I’ve done my homework. Or Wikipedia has.

Sure, my Irish id keeps me under the radar, but if things start to heat up, I know that the US offers consular access throughout Latin America. I don’t need a phone booth to change my identity if I need help. I can just go to the nearest US consulate and present my American documents.


Each country has specific rules about citizenship. For example, US law requires American citizens to enter and leave the US with an American passport. Know that travelling under a different passport may limit services available from consular offices available under a second nationality. Check into the rules of your particular pocketful of comingling countries. Good sources with the small print you need include state-sponsored travel sites and consulate sites. Don’t trust the pretty pictures of Wikipedia, as the info may be outdated or incomplete, as above.

And always keep both documents handy when on the road.

What do the colours mean?

In a long security queue, what do you look at? Other than mentally issuing citations from the Fashion Police, I like to look at travellers and try to figure out where they’re from. One clue is the passport a passenger is holding.

Passports come in various shades of blue, red, green and black.



What colour is it? Blue: mostly the New World. And North Korea.  Red to Burgundy: Switzerland, Western Europe and Aspiring Western Europe (that means Turkey).  Green: Mohammed’s favourite colour, often used in Muslim countries. And Mexico. Black: New Zealand, the Vatican and some African countries.

Colour sleuths can view all the colours of the passport world in the 2016 Passport Index.

Colour bias

Random security checks presumably aren’t based on ethnicity or country of origin. Hmph. If you’re carrying a baby blue passport from Afghanistan or the deep green of Pakistan, you may disagree.

Keeping your travel documents in a passport wallet can at least prevent profiling from afar, based on the colour of your passport. As for passports with the least visa-free access to the world, you’ll probably need an extra wallet for all those travel documents.

I used to think those wallets were a waste of dang money, but as a woman who often travels solo, keeping my country of origin discrete is a simple way to stay safe. Prophylactic scarfing, a smattering of German and no indication of the colour of my passport keep hustlers from targeting and chatting up the ditzy American.

Who needs two passports?

Those unhappy with recent elections. Business owners who find it easier to navigate local laws as a citizen. Expats who want to explore the world, teach English and write about travel.

The real question is: if you can acquire dual citizenship, why haven’t you done so?

Dual citizenship isn’t just about travel. It opens up access to education, jobs, and investment.

In today’s globalising society, this kind of access is a commodity, up there with speaking multiple languages and security clearance.

And a second passport is good for a speedy exit. Who knows? The new US passports may be issued in orange.

Maps and Trump’s pumpkin: Wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

Read more about consulate help here.

Sarah is a blogger, writer and amateur palaeontologist from New Orleans. When not writing or digging dinosaurs, she teaches English.