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

The Local Spain
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Passports: What are the rules for dual-nationals travelling in Spain?
Which passport should you show when entering or leaving Spain if you're a dual national? Photo: mana5280/Unsplash

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? 


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 realises that you are also a citizen of Spain.

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.


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 - and not 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 dual French-US nationals being refused boarding at Charles de Gaulle airport because they were travelling on a French passport but had not completed the necessary ESTA visa (required for European tourists into the US).

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

Keep in mind as well that Spain only allows dual nationality with a number of countries it has cultural and linguistic ties to, meaning that technically speaking British, American, Canadian or Australian nationals who gain Spanish citizenship through residency are expected to give up their original nationality.

READ MORE: Do I really have to give up my original nationality to become Spanish?

According to  the website of Spain's Justice Ministry, Spanish nationals who are not nationals by origin (for example, those who have acquired Spanish nationality through residence) shall lose their Spanish nationality if after acquiring Spanish nationality they use the nationality they renounced during a period of three years.

There are no reports of this happening, but perhaps factor in that three-year deadline before using your old non-Spanish passport.


So which passport should you show?

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

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But 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.

For example, if you're entering Spain on a British passport, your passport will be stamped and you will be limited to 90 days in every 180 (unless you have a visa). If you enter Spain on a Spanish, French or other EU passport, then there are no restrictions. 

Likewise if you're entering the UK on a Spanish passport you may be 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.

COMPARE: Which European countries have the strictest rules on dual citizenship?

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."

In a 2022 article in the Daily Mail, UK MP Michael Portillo explained how he leaves the UK on his British passport and arrives in the European Union with his Spanish passport, although his case is different to many in that he's a dual national by birth because he has both a British and a Spanish parent.

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.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons to get Spanish nationality (and four not to)

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.

If you enter the EU on a non-EU passport, your passport is likely to be stamped under the 90-day rule. 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.

FIND OUT: How foreigners can get fast-track citizenship in Spain



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