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Should You Become a Dual Citizen?

Embarking on a path to dual citizenship can present benefits and drawbacks, and deciding which outweighs the other should be done on a case-by-case basis. However, there are a few general considerations to be aware of, regardless of where an individual is looking to become a citizen.

The Benefits of Dual Citizenship

For some, becoming a dual citizen offers concrete benefits that span multiple areas, including tuition, travel, property ownership and politics. Dual citizenship can be a solution for individuals who live in different countries during different months of the year, or will be studying in another country for several years, says Ben Herzog, a William Lyon Mackenzie King Research Fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Benefits of dual citizenship can include lower tuition for educational institutions, and having the right to reside, vote, work and open a business in that country. Regarding lower tuition costs, Herzog says, “This changes all the time, but in general, EU members pay lower tuition for higher education in most European countries.”

However, Herzog notes that in some cases being a dual citizen can be disadvantageous because “several countries still oppose the idea of dual national allegiance.”

Thorough planning in regards to bank accounts, properties and businesses should be addressed early in the citizenship process.

For those who wish to purchase a home abroad, citizenship may be the answer. Depending on the country, the right to own property can be exclusive to citizens, says Peter Spiro, a professor at Temple University Law School in Philadelphia. “In Mexico, in some regions, only citizens can own property,” Spiro says. “In India, you cannot own agricultural land as a non-citizen. In the Philippines, former citizens are restricted in the size of property they can own.”

For individuals who frequently travel to a particular country, a home of their own offers the comfort of familiarity and privacy, and in the long term, it may be a more economical option than a hotel. Beyond cost savings, becoming a citizen guarantees right of entry to that nation, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have family to visit or business to attend to in the country, Spiro says. 

And according to Lenni Benson, a professor at New York Law School, dual citizenship generally ensures the right to participate in the country’s political system.

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While there are many tangible benefits to dual citizenship, for some individuals, it’s more about strengthening a connection to one’s ancestral roots.

In the past, immigrants to the United States renounced their native citizenship to eliminate their previous ties and show that they were genuinely American, Herzog says.

Today, immigrants have a very different mindset regarding their heritage. “For a lot of people, it’s a matter of identity,” Spiro says. “It’s because they’re proud of their ‘fill-in-the-blank’ heritage.”

Drawbacks of a Second Citizenship

Every country varies on its requirements for granting citizenship, so it’s essential to conduct thorough research before beginning the application process. Some countries, such as South Korea and Israel, require compulsory military service for citizens that fall in a particular age range. Acquiring new citizenship is an important legal process, so people should obtain competent legal advice before they undertake an application.

Other drawbacks include the fact that U.S. citizens who obtain a second citizenship are still required to pay federal income taxes in the States, even if they are no longer living there, Spiro says.

The application process for citizenship can also be a drawback in itself, as some countries have “bureaucratic hoops that need to be jumped through” before they grant citizenship, Spiro says. For example, individuals who wish to become citizens of Switzerland must reside in the country for 12 years and be sufficiently integrated into Swiss culture, which is determined by members of the individuals’ communities.

Have a Plan in Place

For an individual who wants to become a citizen of another country and feels they no longer need to be a U.S. citizen, it’s vital to have a definite plan before making such a significant change. “You don’t want to be stateless,” says Ted J. Chiappari, a partner at Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke LLP, a law firm in New York. “Before you renounce your citizenship, you need to be eligible for and have obtained another one.”

Thorough planning in regards to bank accounts, properties and businesses should be addressed early in the citizenship process. For example, if an individual with citizenship in both the U.S. and Venezuela dies, beyond the logistical issues of arranging and paying for a funeral, it can also be complicated to determine which country has the right to claim the individual’s assets.

Among all the other considerations one must weigh, it’s important to factor in the difference in cost of living — including the exchange rate — between one’s native country and the secondary country. Planning for the financial impact of living and banking overseas can ensure that individuals are prepared to meet their financial obligations, regardless of where they hold citizenship.  

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