How to Get Dual Citizenship in the United States and Canada

Dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship is legal and possible, through the means described here.

By , Attorney UC Law San Francisco
Updated 1/10/2024

There are a number of reasons why people might seek dual citizenship between the United States and some other country. For example, dual citizens need not worry about being barred from U.S. entry after spending lengthy periods of time in the original home country, whereas U.S. lawful permanent residents who stay outside of the U.S. for too long could be charged with "abandoning" U.S. residency. And in the United States, only citizens are eligible to vote, which motivates some permanent residents to take the next step and apply, even if they'd like to keep their original citizenship.

This article will examine the process by which one may obtain dual citizenship in the United States and Canada, as well as some issues that could arise by virtue of such dual citizenship.

What Does Dual Citizenship Mean, and Is It Permitted?

Simply put, dual citizenship means that you can possess two different countries' passports and owe your allegiance to both countries: the United States and, for purposes of this article, Canada. Neither United States nor Canadian law prohibits citizens of either country from becoming citizens of other countries simultaneously. Thus, dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship is permitted.

But this isn't the case with every country in the world. Some countries prohibit dual citizenship; in other words, their prospective new citizens or departing citizens must "choose" whether to keep their original citizenship or to relinquish it in order to gain citizenship there or elsewhere. (If you are interested in obtaining dual citizenship in countries other than the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. State Department offers some guidance on its website, but it would be best to inquire about the details with an embassy or consulate of that country.)

Ways to Obtain Dual U.S. and Canadian Citizenship

There are generally three ways to obtain dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship:

  1. by automatically acquiring citizenship of both countries at birth
  2. in the case of a child born in Canada, through a non-U.S. citizen parent's naturalization in the United States prior to the child's 18th birthday, or
  3. as an adult, by taking steps to add either U.S. or Canadian citizenship to your existing citizenship in one of those two countries.

Automatic Dual Citizenship for a Child Born in Canada

Canada affords citizenship to all babies born there. Meanwhile, the U.S. currently affords citizenship to children born in other countries who have at least one U.S. citizen parent. Thus, people born in Canada to a U.S. citizen parent might automatically have dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship at the moment of their birth.

One has to look closer at the legal details, however. They depend partly on whether the child has one U.S. citizen parent or two. Also realize that the law on acquiring U.S. citizenship has changed over the years, so you'd need to check the law that applied on the date the child was born.

Under current law, a child born in Canada to two United States citizen parents, at least one of whom had a "residence" in the United States at some point, automatically acquires dual citizenship at the moment of birth. The term "residence," under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, has special meaning. The simplest definition is that a residence is one's principal dwelling place. However, whether a parent had, legally speaking, the "residence" to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child born abroad should be discussed with an experienced immigration attorney.

Also under current U.S. law, if a child is born in Canada to one U.S. citizen parent and one foreign-born parent (that is, to a mother or father who is neither a U.S. citizen nor national) and if the U.S. citizen parent had at least one year of "physical presence" within the United States, the child would also automatically acquire dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship. Like residency, the term "physical presence" has special meaning under U.S. immigration laws. Broadly speaking, it refers to time actually spent in the United States, even if the U.S. citizen was only paying a visit to the country.

A child born out of wedlock in Canada (to unmarried parents) may also acquire dual citizenship at birth. Special rules apply, depending on whether the child's mother or father is a United States citizen at the time.

Proof of Canadian citizenship can be demonstrated via the child's birth certificate. There are various ways a child born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent may obtain proof of United States citizenship.

Automatic Dual Citizenship for a Child Born in the United States

Similar to Canada's birthright citizenship law, children born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. And, if a child is born in the United States to at least one Canadian parent, it is highly likely the child also automatically acquired Canadian citizenship at birth. The U.S. birth certificate may be used for proof of United States citizenship, and the person may apply for a Canadian certificate of citizenship.

Automatically Derived U.S. Citizenship Based on a Parent's Naturalization

There is one more way a child born in Canada can automatically become a dual citizen under current U.S. law, under a concept known as "derivation." If a Canadian-born child is born to two non-U.S. citizen parents, and if at least one of the child's parents naturalizes to become a United States citizen while the child is under the age of 18 years, and if the child became a permanent relative of the United States (a green card holder) and lived in the U.S. with the naturalized parent while under the age of 18, then the child may automatically derive U.S. citizenship. Because of having been born in Canada (and thereby being born a Canadian citizen), the child becomes a dual citizen as of the date that that all of the conditions are met for U.S. citizenship.

In such a situation, the child's Canadian birth certificate would serve as proof of Canadian citizenship, and the child or parent may apply for a Certificate of Citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services by filing a Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

Keep in mind that if you were born prior to February 27, 1983, an earlier version of the above law (and different requirements) would apply to you. Indeed, because of difficulty navigating this area of U.S. law, it would be helpful to consult a U.S. immigration attorney.

By contrast to the above, Canada does not recognize citizenship for a child born in the United States to parents who—after the child's birth—naturalize to become Canadian citizens. There are limited circumstances where someone born outside of Canada, prior to various dates in the 1940s, can receive Canadian citizenship through their parents' receiving Canadian citizenship. An experienced Canadian immigration attorney could help you explore these possibilities.

Becoming a Citizen Through Naturalization in the United States or Canada

If none of the above circumstances apply to you, you may still take steps to obtain citizenship in both the U.S. and Canada, and therefore dual citizenship. In the United States, the process of applying for citizenship is known as "naturalization."

The rules to apply for Canadian citizen and to naturalize to become a United States citizen are similar. Both countries require, at a minimum, that the foreign-born person:

  • first obtain permanent residency
  • spend a period of residency in the respective countries where they hope to become citizens
  • submit an application for citizenship
  • pass a citizenship test
  • pass a language competency test, and
  • have paid taxes in the country where they're seeking citizenship.

Needless to say this is a long process, particularly if you don't have residency in the country where you weren't born.

Which Passport Should a Dual U.S.-Canadian Citizen Use?

Upon obtaining dual citizenship, assuming you wish to travel internationally, you will want to ensure you have a valid entry document for return to the country where you live.

While you might have obtained a U.S. Certificate of Citizenship (by USCIS approval filing a Form N-600) or a Certificate of Naturalization (by approval after filing an N-400), neither of those are enough to allow you to enter the United States as a citizen. You will need to apply for a United States passport.

Likewise, a Canadian passport will ensure your admission into Canada as a citizen, as a passport is evidence of both your identity and your immigration status. Canada may also accept other documents of citizenship, such as a Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, Certificate of Naturalization, Registration of Birth Abroad Certificate, and others, but you will need to also travel with an approved government photo-ID document to confirm your identity.

Should You Hire an Attorney to Help in Your Quest for Dual Citizenship?

A licensed, competent, and experienced immigration attorney attorney will be able to help you evaluate your rights and options in gaining and maintaining both U.S. and Canadian citizenship.

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