Ask LH: What’s The Best Strategy For Travelling With Multiple Passports?

I am both a US and Australian citizen, with an Australian wife and young children. Next month my family will be travelling to the US, and the information online about which passport I should use is quite confusing.

According to the US embassy site, “all U.S. citizens must enter the United States on a U.S. passport, regardless of any other citizenship claims”. Meanwhile, the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship notes that “Australian citizens who hold dual or multiple nationalities must hold an Australian passport and use it to enter or leave Australia, even if they use a foreign passport overseas”.

With this in mind, it seems dual US/Australian nationals are required to enter and depart the States using their US passport, and enter and depart Australia using their Australian passport. Is this possibly correct? Also, given there are separate lines for citizens and non-citizens (in both directions), how can I ensure that I can wait in the dreadful line with my family, and thus helping my wife juggle a jetlagged toddler and infant?

Thanks Pass The Port

Dear Pass,

That interpretation is largely correct in my experience, but the outcome isn’t quite as bad as you would think. Let’s look at what happens at each stage:

  • When you depart Australia, there’s only one queue regardless of nationality. You can all use Australian passports here, but even if you had to use your US one, it wouldn’t make a difference.
  • The most problematic area is arriving in the US. Firstly, make sure that you’ve applied for and paid for an ESTA for your wife and kids. While there are separate queues for US and non-US travellers, the staff can process either type of visitor (I’ve seen people redirected to the US citizens counters once all Americans have been cleared). So I’d queue with your family in the international line and then explain why you don’t have a form when you get to the front. If they do send you to a US citizens queue, you’ll still get processed very quickly. Make sure you have a copy of your return flight details in case they want convincing you’re not trying to return permanently.
  • There’s no formal immigration clearance process when you leave the US; that gets handled when you check in to your flight, so using different passports wouldn’t matter. (Also note that the US ruling you quoted actually relates to entering the US, not leaving it.)
  • On returning to Australia, everyone will have Australian passports so you can use the regular line. (As you’re travelling with young kids, you aren’t eligible to use SmartGate.

If any readers have succeeded or failed in getting through US immigration procedures this way, share your experiences in the comments. Good luck with the trip!

Cheers Lifehacker

Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send an email to [email protected], and include ‘Ask Lifehacker’ in the subject line.


  • I’m the holder of three passports. Canadian, US and Australian. It can be a bit of a nightmare trying to work through it all.

    The last time I went to the states I completely forgot about my US and Canadian passports and it was to late to get new ones. I explained the situation at the check-in and they told me to get my ESTA, which I did. When I then arrived in the United States I explained the situation and I was processed via my Australian passport.

    I then went through the same problems when I arrived in Canada (no visa or waiver required) I explained the situation again and it seemed that it was going to be a problem. As it happened the border crossing I was entering was the town that I was born in and my Aussie passport actually had it as my birthplace, so they let me through and told me to be smarter about it next time.

    I do know someone who is a dual citizen and tried to enter the United States on their other passport and actually got detained and questioned by US customs, eventually they let them in with a warning to bring their US passport next time.

  • I’d suggest that you also use the US passport to exit the US. When a friend of mine got British citizenship, the diplomat at the ceremony said that you should always enter and exit a country with the same passport, otherwise it looks strange – e.g. if you re-enter a country and there is no record of you leaving it last time. Also select the passport that provides better benefits, e.g. the one that means you can skip getting a visa in advance.

    • Yep, I’d agree with same passport for entering and exiting.
      A couple of years ago the wife and myself were transiting through Frankfurt en-route back to Australia. We both hold Australian and EU(UK) passports and I used my EU one to enter/exit. No problems for me. However, the missus decided to enter on an EU one and exit on her Aussie one. Immigration were quite perturbed that a non-EU resident was leaving with no record of entering!! Once she explained the dual nationality, all was resolved albeit with a hard stare from the German immigration dude!!

  • Why would he need to convince them that he’s “not trying to return permanently”? As a US citizen surely he can return permanently whenever he wants? (unless you were referring to the non-US citizen family members?)

  • I completely agree with sjc, make sure you enter and exit a country with the same passport and check beforehand which passport would provide benefits.

    I have both an Australian and a EU passport which comes in handy. When entering Argentina recently I used my EU passport to avoid being charged a US$100 ‘reciprocity fee’ that Australian citizens get charged when entering Argentina. The only problem I had was leaving Argentina on my EU passport. My travel agent had apparently given my AU passport number to the airline so I had to spend a couple of extra minutes at the check-in changing the passport info over.

  • Great advice everyone. Can anyone recommend a decent web site to get info on which passport one should use to then get better benefits.

    The example of entering Argentina and using the EU passport to avoid being charged a US$100 ‘reciprocity fee’ that Australian citizens pay is a great example.

  • I am a dual USA/AU citizen and went back to the USA in November 2010.

    1. Enter and exit Australia on your AU passport. This is preferred by AU.
    2. Enter and exit USA on your USA passport. This is required, or else you will be fined if they manage to match it up.
    3. In ALL cases go to the “citizen” line with your entire family. 4 years ago I waited in the “international” line because my wife and son aren’t US citizens, and they told me I was being silly, and next time go in the citizen/perm resident line.

    They will not let you on the plane without a US passport or an ESTA with a foreign passport.

    • Your point 3 is correct in Australia as well.

      Two years back coming back into Australia with my girlfriend, we went into the international line, since she has a Chinese passport. Rather then the AU/NZ line (I’ve got an NZ passport).

      The lady got quite grumpy at me saying that as long as one person is a citizen, then all group members should use that line. I just told her straight back, then put up signs.

  • Bill is correct, and has supplied the best information, my wife is American/Australian and I am just an Aussie, and whenever we go visit the USA she exits on the Aussie passport, then we BOTH go and line up in the USA citizens line (even tho I am only Aussie) and they process us quickly.

    Then we leave America on the USA passport.

    Enter back into Australia on our Aussie passports. Works every time, including 3 months ago. Quicker, easier, and we have never ever gotten into trouble.

  • I have UK/Aus dual citizenship.

    The key thing is to show the check-in staff the passport you intend to use to enter the destination country (that has the visa etc if you need one) as it’s often the airline’s responsibility to return you to your country of origin if the destination rejects you for not having the right visa.

    The passport you check in with doesn’t need to be the one you show Passport Control at the border to leave the country – you should use the passport that you used to enter that country when you leave.

  • I had a very similar situation to Cathy. I used my EU passport in Argentina and Chile to save money on reciprocity fees. Foolishly, though, I tried to check in to my flight home from Buenos Aires with the EU passport, and was told I needed a visa. I’m an Australian citizen…and needed a visa to board a flight to Australia? Took a while before it finally sunk in that I needed to use the Australian passport – that fixed things up. :p

  • “When you depart Australia, there’s only one queue regardless of nationality. You can all use Australian passports here, but even if you had to use your US one, it wouldn’t make a difference.”

    Au Contraire, Angus. It doesn’t matter for a US trip because of the 90 day visa-free period, but for places where you need a visa or you’re going through high-traffic airports, the “tier” of passport you hold has a large influence on how long it will take to get your application processed and how successful you will be. It all comes down to country ratings and how affluent / secure your nationality is socially, politically and economically.

    Case in point: my Australian passport gives me longer wait times than my EU passport, which gives even longer wait times than my Kingdom of Denmark passport. When travelling on my Danish passport, I’ve also never been singled out for additional security checks – with both my Australian and my EU passports, I’ve been singled out for pat downs and additional scans every. single. time.

    It sucks that they’ll profile you based on the passport you present to them, but it happens. I have a half-peruvian, half-swiss girlfriend that just burnt her peruvian passport and stuck with the swiss one, because in terms of usability she found in practice it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

    • I’m referring to the physical queue at Australian airports on departure — not how long the process of getting a visa takes. Major misinterpretation on your part to be honest.

      • Sorry, should’ve clarified – it can have an influence over how long you stand in line at customs waiting for them to check you out (and can be the difference between letting you in or not if they’re 50/50 on it) and whether or not customs in Australia will pull you aside for baggage teardowns too, not just on the scanners and wands.

  • I’ve got 3 passports. Leave the country on australian, and arrive in the country with the passport that has the least visa cost.

    Done it heaps of times, no issues

  • I would have thought it was obvious when you have more than 1 passport. Leave a country on the same passport you entered with (stops any awkward questions), and enter a country on the passport that is the most accepted that doesn’t require too much paperwork or visas.

    Entering a country for which you already have a passport is obvious. You’d be crazy to use a different passport.

    How hard is that?

  • Let’s say I have an Australian passport and also one from another country (where dual citizenship isn’t allowed).

    I leave Australia with my Australian passport, then arrive in that country with the local passport. What about when I leave? I’ll have to leave with my local passport but then I have no Australian visa attached to that passport (because there is no need for a visa since I’m an Australian citizen). Will they still let me board the plane?

    What do I do then?

  • I know I’m a little late to the party but…

    I’m a US/Irish dual citizen planning on taking a trip to Brazil. Rather than get a visa, I was hoping to board the plane in the US with the US passport and arrive in Brazil with the Irish (EU) passport. But when I come back, will it matter to US Customs that I have no evidence of being in Brazil (or having a visa) in my US passport?

    • I also have a question; my son’s AU passport has expired, but his UK one is fine. Will he have problems getting into AU on a UK passport (with a visa, obviously)?
      Thanks in advance,

      • this may be too late to help you,but be careful with the strategy of using british passport to come back into australia, even with visa, as your son will be seen as an overstayer if he doesn’t leave again within the terms of the visa. this happened to me and took a bit of fiddling not be sent out of the country. admittedly my other passport is NZ not Australian, but I’ve been here 15 years, own my own house and work for the government but nearly got chucked out for overstaying due to using my british passport.

  • Have US/AU passports.(never used the AU) Husband has US and has been offered work in AU. What sort of visa does he need? Does my AU citizenship help him?

  • I am travel with my wife to Europe. I am a duel citizen(US+Italy), my wife is just a US citizen.
    She has no choice, but which passport should I use?

  • My husband is a US/Aussie passport holder. Myself and our children are just Aussie passport holders. We are being told that we have to get all 4 kids USA passports to visit the USA because they are “American citizens” (because their father is one) yet we’ve never registered their births in America. Is this correct or can we non-americans just get a visa and enter on our Aussie passports? I thought that although they are entitled to american citizenship, they would be classed as aussies until we do this (which i would prefer not to do until i have dual citizenship). Any help would be appreciated.

  • Hi, Does anyone know if its possible for someone else to carry a person’s passport out of the country. For instance, you got a new passport in US, but you entered the US with a UK passport and leave with the UK passport. But now you need your US passport, can someone related to you carry it out of the US and bring it to the UK for you? And also can you use the new US passport from the UK?

  • I have a EU passport, born in England, and have a US passport through naturalisation. I intend to go back to England for several months. If I use my US passport for exiting the US and the EU passport for entering and leaving Britain will the US question me as to why I was out of the country so long without any entries in my passport when I return?

  • Our eight children have US and Aus citizenship and passports. I have US, husband has Aus. But this is about the problems with our children’s passports. They left Aus on their Aus passports. They entered US on their US passports. We tried to leave the US on our US passports but at the United ticket counter, we were bailed up for about an hour because “Australia” wouldn’t let them back in because (Australia?) was recognizing them as US citizens without a visa. The woman at the ticket counter in Baltimore had to call the head office of United and change all of the children’s passports that were listed on their tickets as leaving the USA on their Australian passports. It was the only way it would work she said. Now the US state department has a record of our children coming in to the US, but never leaving!!! I dread visiting the US again. The woman assured me that it was Australia’s problem. That Australia has the strictest immigration laws in the world. So now the United woman broke the law on my children’s behalf and we are toasted. Probably won’t be allowed back in the US. I just joined this forum to warn all of you. The woman said that it has been fairly recent that Australia has made new rules.

    • I know this was written a while ago, but am now wondering if this is true. We are going to Aus later this year, I have an Aus passport & my husband a US passport, our kids are dual citizens, so planned to use US leaving the country, showing Aus pp @ ticket counter and US pp at immigration, because of the visa we would otherwise need. They would go into Aus on Aus pp as required and we would leave again on Aus pp, but show US pp at ticket counter. etc etc. Will this work?

      • Tiffany — that’s exactly right. I’m dual US/Aus. I just made the trip doing exactly what you described. The only hiccup is online check-in within the airline. If you are checking in at the airport, what you described works perfectly. If you try to check in online, you have to give the US passport info to be able to check-in at all (if, say, you have a domestic US flight prior to your international flight) but you won’t be able to get boarding passes for your kids for the international flight(s) until you arrive at the departure city for the international flight and go to the check-in counter to have the US passport info replaced with the Aus passport info. At least that’s my experience so far! I’ve only flown twice with both passports but both trips have used the same process and it’s worked fine… only requiring a little extra time at the international departure point. On this most recent trip, I asked the SFO international check-in agent for advice on checking in on the website. They suggested I could try providing my Aus passport with my US Social Security Number or US Passport number as proof of US residency to see if either of those is accepted. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be traveling to Australia for a while so won’t get to test out the suggestions. If anyone knows of a better way to check-in online with dual US/Aus passports… would love to know!

  • Hi all,

    I have another curly dual-passport question;

    Does anyone think that it would not work, leaving Australia showing my aussie passport and ESTA visa waiver at check-in and immigration, but then transiting the US with my Irish passport, also with the ESTA visa waiver and on to Canada with my Irish passport?

    Should I be better off showing my Irish passport and ESTA visa waiver at check-in in Australia, go through aussie immigration with the aussie passport, not needing the ESTA visa waiver and then continuing on my journey on my Irish passport through the US and on to Canada?

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!