Traveling with Two (or More) Passports. Do it the Right Way. An Operator’s Guide to Your Italian Passport.
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The European Union is currently implementing the “Digital Green Certificate” to allow for Freedom of Movement for vaccinated citizens and travelers resident from outside the EU to visit quarantine-free.
Congratulazioni, you have your new Italian passport. Now how do you effectively and safely use both your Italian and U.S. passports together?
This guide will walk you through the step-by-step processing of traveling with two passports, from buying a ticket to returning home. For the sake of easiness, we will assume traveling between the United States and the European Union / Italy, but this method will work for any other country where traveling with your Italian passport may be advantageous (i.e. no visa needed for Italian vs. US passport).
Before you Start: CHECK YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRATION DATES!
You know how convenient it is that you have a 10 year validity on your passport? What if I told you that it effectively is not valid for 10 years? Since most countries you travel to with your US passport require a minimum 6 months validity of your passport past your estimated date of return (NOT departure from) to the US, the validity is effectively 9.5 years instead. The same is true for your Italian passport in many cases. If either passport is due to expire before 6 months past the end of your trip, you should apply for a new passport before proceeding.
Warning to British Citizens: If you are a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and your British passport has extended validity (i.e. was issued more than 10 years ago and the UK Home Office added remaining validity from your previous passport), you should apply for a new passport before proceeding. The European Union (and most other countries) do NOT allow travel on passports older than 10 years old. The United Kingdom is now treated as a third-party nation for all purposes of travel to the EU and Schengen Zone (excluding the Republic of Ireland, which is subject to the Common Travel Arrangement).
Why do I want to use my Italian passport over my US passport?
Your Italian passport allows you unlimited access to the European Union – you are European after all. One of the benefits extended to European Union, EEA, and Swiss citizens when passing through immigration in the EU/EEA/EFTA/Schengen Zone is the ability to use the eGates. This can potentially save you hours in line during busy tourist seasons. If you plan on staying in the EU or Schengen Zone for greater than a 90-day period, you should use your Italian passport to avoid potential questions of overstaying on your departure.
ETIAS. The European Travel Information Information and Authorisation System. Beginning in December 2022 / January 2023, the European Union will require American citizens to acquire electronic permission to travel and enter the Schengen Zone through a program known as ETIAS. Americans will need to request and receive formal approval to travel to the majority of Europe. An ETIAS authorisation issued will be valid for 3 years for multiple entries and will cost ~$8,00 USD to apply for.
Visa-free access to other countries outside Europe. Some countries also offer visa-free entry to Italian citizens where they might charge a fee to Americans (example: Thailand). Using your Italian passport may save you a few hundred dollars in visa fees you’d otherwise have to pay only as an American.
Finally, technically speaking, Italy requires its own citizens to enter Italy on their Italian passports, so it’s probably a good idea if you do. Besides, this topic is much less complicated than it seems.
The Three Basic Rules of Multi-Passport Travel.
1) Airlines care about seeing the passport that allows you to go where you’re going.
2) Immigration authorities care about the passport that authorizes you to be where your two feet are currently planted.
3) Never show both passports to immigration authorities unless you’re asked to do so (see example below). Thinking about it this way will help you remember which passport to use. As we go through these steps, think about how this rule applies to each step.
- ONLY SHOW BOTH PASSPORTS IF ASKED OR NEEDED. If you are asked by immigration authorities where you came from (and your Italian passport is blank with stamps) you should answer the United States. If asked how you were able to stay in the United States for so long, state that you are also a US citizen and show your American passport as proof. You should always show your US passport as proof of your American citizenship if needed.
Let’s get started.
Buying Your Ticket
When you buy an international ticket from an airline, it is that airline’s responsibility to ensure that you are legally able to enter the destination you are purchasing a ticket to. If an airline allows an ineligible passenger to board a flight for a country they do not have legal clearance to enter, they will face steep fees from the appropriate immigration authority and must return that person to their point of origin at their own expense. Thus, the airline is going to have a vested interest to ensure you can enter your destination legally and that you have the appropriate authorization to stay there for the length you intend to.
For this reason, you should purchase tickets to European Union, EEA, and Schengen Zone countries using the information from your Italian passport.
- Exceptions to this Rule
- You are a married woman and your maiden name is not the name in your US passport (remember, last names don’t change with marriage in Italy). In this case, book the ticket with your US passport. Make sure your married name has been added to Page 4 of your Italian passport. This will suffice for check-in purposes on both legs of your trip and allow you to continue to follow the same steps below.
- Your flight will connect to Europe via Canada (i.e. Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec, etc.). In this case, you should use your US passport to avoid having to get an eTA (electronic travel authorization) to Canada on your Italian passport.
The airline transmits a flight roster ahead of time to immigration authorities in the arrival country – this lets them know to expect an Italian, not an American.
Departure to Italy – The Night Before
Check In. You will be asked to verify your Passport details in online check in 24 hours before your flight departs. You should enter your Italian passport here.
WHEN TO NOT USE YOUR ITALIAN PASSPORT AT CHECK-IN: During online check-in the airline is asking you for ESTA or Permanent Residency (or other visa) information in order to facilitate your return to the United States. Some airlines, such as American Airlines, have begun asking for information of foreign nationals traveling round-trip from the United States. Obviously, as a dual US-Italian national, you do not have any Permanent Residency/Green Card or other information to provide. If the airline asks for this information during online check-in when using your Italian passport info, switch to your U.S. passport for on-line check in and then change the passport on file to your Italian passport at a check-in counter at the airport.
Departure to Italy – At the Airport
Check In & Bag Drop. If you are checking bags, the airline agent will ask to verify your passport through their e-verify system. This confirms you as having your documents verified on the airline roster for the arriving country’s immigration authority. Use your Italian passport here. If you are asked to provide proof of legal residence if you are on a return ticket, then show your US passport to prove your right to return.
TSA / Security. The TSA is not US immigration. They do not check for immigration status for foreign nationals when checking ID. However, they are much less likely to scrutinize an American versus a foreign national. Use your US passport for the ID check to clear security.
Boarding the plane. You will be asked to board the plane with your passport open to the picture page. You should present your Italian passport when going through the boarding scan.
Random US Exit Immigration. Unlike other countries, the US does not have formal exit immigration control. Instead, they rely on departure rosters and airline document verification to know which foreign nationals are leaving the country. Occasionally, US Immigration and Customers Enforcement (CBP or ICE officers) may conduct random exit checks inside the jet bridge as you are boarding your plane. It is VERY important that you be prepared for this eventuality, as you must always present to yourself to US authorities as an American. If you encounter one of these officers, be sure to present your US passport (keep your Italian one in your pocket to avoid any confusion). This has been happening more and more in major metro departure hubs such as Detroit (DTW), Dallas (DFW), Atlanta (ATL), New York (LGA, JFK, EWR) and more.
Arrival in Italy (or first point of Schengen arrival) – Immigration
When arriving in Italy (or your first point of entry into the Schengen Zone) you will be required to clear immigration before leaving the airport or going on to a connecting flight.
- Example of Schengen Connection: Flying to Rome via Amsterdam from Detroit. I would clear Schengen immigration in Amsterdam, NL before continuing on to Rome. I would not have any additional formal checks in Rome (unless random). Landing in Rome would feel identical to landing on a domestic flight in the US – simply walk to baggage claim and be on your way.
The Schengen Area or Schengen Zone (/ˈʃɛŋən/) is an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. The area mostly functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. The area is named after the 1985 Schengen Agreement.
22 of the 27 EU member states participate in the Schengen Area. Of the five EU members that are not part of the Schengen Area, four—Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania—are legally obliged to join the area in the future, while the other—the Republic of Ireland —maintains an opt-out. The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) have their own open-border agreement under the Good Friday Agreement to allow for no-hard border on the Isle of Ireland between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (U.K.), amongst other provisions the Agreement provides.
The four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, are not members of the EU, but have signed agreements in association with the Schengen Agreement. Three European microstates that are not members of the European Union but which are enclaves or semi-enclave within an EU member state—Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City—are de facto part of the Schengen Area.Wikipedia – The Schengen Area
🇬🇧 Brexit Notice 🇬🇧
The 🇬🇧 United Kingdom 🇬🇧 officially departed the European Union on 31 January 2020 at 23:00 GMT and is no longer an EU member state. British nationals are now considered third-country nationals to the European Union member states and likewise EU citizens are now third party nationals inside the United Kingdom. The Transition Period which allowed Freedom of Movement ended on 31 December 2020. Additional bilateral immigration controls are now in effect, including customs and duty-free changes, between the European Union and the United Kingdom. This may include future requirements for British citizens to obtain an ETIAS authorization when it goes into effect in December 2022.
Using the eGate. If you and everyone in your party are EU/EEA citizens and are all over the age of 16 (18 in some countries), you may use the eGates. These are automated immigration control gates where you scan your passport and look at a camera to have your face scanned. Your face scan is compared to the biometric data in your passport. When accepted, your passport will be spit back out to you and you may walk through the gate across the border. No stamps, no officers required. Note that some airport eGates will display instructions to you such as in Italian (“guardare qui“) instead of English (“look here”). The below video is for the UK, but describes the eGate procedure for all EU airports that have them.
How to Use the eGate
Use the EU/EEA citizens line. If you have someone in your party under the age of 16 or someone related to you who is NOT an EU/EEA citizen (ex: your spouse), you may still use the expedited EU line, but must speak to an officer to have your passports manually inspected. If you are a parent traveling with your child without the other parent present, it is good practice to keep a notarized letter from the other parent in your possession stating their permission for you to travel alone with the child and the dates of travel (this is to prevent child abduction). Keeping copies of the children’s birth certificates with you as well will help you avoid headaches. This practice is strictly enforced in London Heathrow (LHR) if you happen to travel through there.
Congrats, you’ve arrived in Europe! Go enjoy all it has to offer.
Returning to the U.S. – The Night Before
Check In. Check in for your US-bound itinerary using your US passport. US immigration will receive this roster from the airline. Using your US passport allows you to board a US-bound plane. Foreign nationals require either an ESTA (electronic visa waiver) or a physical visa to enter the US. Be sure to use your US passport.
Returning to the U.S. – At the Airport.
Check In & Bag Drop. If you are checking bags, the airline agent will ask to verify your passport through their e-verify system. This is confirming you as having your documents verified on the airline roster for the arriving country’s immigration authority – in this case the United States. Use your American passport here. You should use your US passport here even if you will connect in a another Schengen Zone country first before leaving the Schengen Zone.
Security. You may use either passport for the EU airport security. Like the US however, they might be more inclined to be less scrutinous of a European, so I would use my Italian passport here.
Exit Immigration. If you are leaving Italy (or your departure country) directly for the United States (or another non-Schengen country like the UK), you will clear exit immigration in your departure country (in our scenario here, we would clear exit control in Italy). If you are connecting in another Schengen Zone country before continuing to the US, you will clear exit immigration in that country (i.e. flying to US from Rome via Amsterdam, I would clear exit immigration in Amsterdam). You should use your Italian passport for exit immigration – this marks you as having left Europe (i.e. one entry, one exit). You will clear exit immigration before you reach your plane gate departing for the United States. You may use the eGate if it is open (see above for video and age restrictions), otherwise you will use the general EU/EEA line to see an officer.
Boarding the Plane to the US. Show your US passport to the picture page to board the plane. Occasionally, agents will come around and ask screening questions to all passengers before the plane boards (common in Amsterdam and Paris) and sometimes select people for random additional screening. You should present your US passport to these agents.
- Note for departures to the US from Dublin, Ireland. Dublin Airport participates in the US CBP Preclearance program. You will actually clear US immigration before boarding your plane. It will be very obvious that you are clearing US immigration at that time. They are US officers and you are subject to all US laws at that time.
DUTY FREE and EU TAX REFUNDS: If you are NOT a resident of the European Union, you may still claim the EU tax refund at your last port of departure from the EU, regardless of your citizenship..
Arrival in the United States
Use your U.S. passport to clear US Immigration and Customs. If an officer questions why you do not have a stamp from your trip, simply say you did not receive a stamp. If they probe further than that, you should present your Italian passport as proof that you legally traveled. It is your legal right as an American to enter the United States, an officer cannot deny you entry.
If you are a member of Global Entry or NEXUS, you may use the eGates/kiosks as normal to proceed through immigration.
US CUSTOMS REMINDER:
You are still subject to US Customs limits on duty free items and restrictions for import. US Citizens are generally exempt on $800 USD in valued items bought abroad. Anything in excess of that amount should be declared. IMPORTANT: Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, etc. are expressly prohibited for entry! This includes any fruit that may have been given to you as a snack on your plane ride home! You may be fined up to $500 USD and have your trusted traveler status in Global Entry or NEXUS revoked for violating the law. For a full list of prohibited items, see the Customs and Border Patrol Website.
Congratulations, you have successfully completed two passport travel!
Italian Consular Services Abroad
The Italian consular network is extensive around the world and can help provide you assistance in an emergency.
As a citizen of a European Union member state, you are also entitled to Consular assistance from other EU member states in countries where Italy does not have a consular mission.
“Article 23 of the Treaty on the Function of the European Union:
Every citizen of the Union may, in a third-party country in which the member state they hold citizenship with is not represented, access diplomatic and consular services from any other EU member state under the same conditions of the citizens of that member State.“