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My child was born outside the USA, and is possibly a USA citizen according to the rules. She is a UK citizen and has a UK passport she has travelled on within europe already.

  1. Must my child travel on a USA passport (they already have a UK passport); and, therefore
  2. must I register the birth with the embassy (i.e. obtain a CRBA) before taking my child to the USA?

Links to the official documents that confirm/deny this are really what I need.

From the embassy FAQs (highlighting mine)

If your child has a claim to U.S. citizenship, s/he is required to enter and depart the United States on a valid U.S. passport. S/he should not enter the United States on a foreign passport with a visa, or visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.

The wording here is confusing - one sentence says "required", the other "should not" (as opposed to "must not" or "cannot").

I am asking as my child is under a year old and we have booked trips to see her grandparents in the USA for christmas. We were unaware of these potential rules and have not got her USA passport, SSN or CRBA yet. Does that therefore mean she cannot enter the USA on her UK passport? If so then we have a problem we need to deal with.

for the purposes of this question I will assume she is a US citizen

  • Update: we ended up booking an emergency passport appointment at the US embassy for the day before we travelled to the USA, and applying for the CRBA at the same time. Her US passport was issued on the spot and the CRBA arrived less than three weeks later as expected. However we also met another couple who did their first trip with a UK passport for the US/UK nationality child with no issues (both of them travelled, however, so it wasn't a case of a US citizen travelling with a baby on a non-US passport). – bejeb Dec 10 '15 at 14:36
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From travel.state.gov: Birth of U.S. Citizens Abroad (highlighting added for relevant parts):

The child’s parents should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America (CRBA) to document that the child is a U.S. citizen. ...

...

The child’s parents may choose to apply for a U.S. passport for the child at the same time that they apply for a CRBA. Parents may also choose to apply only for a U.S. passport for the child. Like a CRBA, a full validity, unexpired U.S. passport is proof of U.S. citizenship.

Parents of a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen or citizens should apply for a CRBA and/or a U.S. passport for the child as soon as possible. Failure to promptly document a child who meets the statutory requirements for acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth may cause problems for the parents and the child when attempting to establish the child’s U.S. citizenship and eligibility for the rights and benefits of U.S. citizenship, including entry into the United States. By law, U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States.

  • 1
    "By law, U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States." - now you see that's the bit that worries me, and I find it strange there is no dispensation for children as young as 8 months. I am still not sure which law it is, though, (and what the potential issues might be if she entered on a UK passport, but that would seem to be a follow up question). – bejeb Nov 9 '15 at 20:46
  • @bejeb 8 USC 1185 (b): (b) Citizens. Except as otherwise provided by the President and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may authorize and prescribe, it shall be unlawful for any citizen of the United States to depart from or enter, or attempt to depart from or enter, the United States unless he bears a valid United States passport. The law used to specify a penalty for violating this provision of the code, but that penalty was repealed in the 1970s. – phoog Nov 10 '15 at 7:50
  • I believe your should use the following resource travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/services/… – Jonas Nov 10 '15 at 13:57
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    @Jonas that link appears to help only those who are in the US. This question concerns a US citizen in the UK. – phoog Nov 10 '15 at 15:20
  • Having had time to review the answers, this is the (first and) strictly correct answer and so I have marked it as the accepted answer. It is worth saying that I think all 4 answers are very helpful, particularly user102008's answer with the link to an answer with a response from the US embassy in London. – bejeb Nov 21 '15 at 21:01
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  1. Must my child travel on a USA passport (they already have a UK passport);

According to US law (8 USC 1185(b)), it is "unlawful" for a US citizen to enter and leave the US without bearing a US passport, with some exceptions (e.g. enhanced driver's licenses, NEXUS cards, and children born in the US under 16 crossing a land border) which don't apply to your case. However, there is no consequence for violating this law.

If the child is clearly a US citizen (e.g. born in the US), or a US government has determined that the child is a US citizen (e.g. a proof of citizenship has been issued for the child), then traveling to the US without a US passport might raise questions. But if the child is born outside the US and a US consulate has not yet determined, or is in the process of determining, the person's US citizenship, it is okay to travel on a visa or visa waiver in the interim. See this question for a similar case. (This person was similarly a US citizen at birth, born abroad, and was in the process of applying for a US passport; the person's own answer contains a response from the US consulate saying it is okay.)

They are not going to try to adjudicate a child born abroad's US citizenship at the border because that depends on so many factors (e.g. the US citizen parent's periods of physical presence in the US prior to the birth) that involve a very long process to examine. Plus, even if we take the hypothetical assumption that they somehow can instantly know for sure that the child is a US citizen (which as above, is impossible to do at the border), what can go wrong? They cannot deny entry to a US citizen (they could give you a lecture, but they cannot deny entry under any circumstances if it is established that you are a US citizen). So in any case, the child would still be able to enter the US.

  1. must I register the birth with the embassy before taking my child to the USA?

You don't have to "register" the birth. But if your child needs to get a US passport, how is your child going to get a US passport without going to the US consulate?

  • Well, there is a consequence: an hour or two or four of being detained followed by a half-hour lecture from a CBP officer on the importance of having proper documents for crossing the border. – Michael Hampton Nov 14 '15 at 2:41
  • @MichaelHampton - "an hour or two or four of being detained" - that's what worries me as that won't be ideal after an 9 hour flight with a 7-month old child who will be exceptionally grumpy by that time. – bejeb Nov 21 '15 at 20:49
  • That helps a lot, especially the link to the other answer (though how they got to talk to someone over the phone I don't know - the London embassy just seems to have an automated phone system with nobody on the end of it). – bejeb Nov 21 '15 at 20:53
  • re: "You don't have to "register" the birth ... without going to the US consulate". I did not know the correct terms at the time of asking, but I now know I meant "must I obtain a CRBA before taking ...?". Your comment is quite right, though. – bejeb Nov 21 '15 at 20:55
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According to CPB's site if you enter the US by air as a US citizen, you have to enter it using your passport, even if you are a child. If you enter the USA on land, or by sea (from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean), then for a child aged 15 or less the following is also enough:

  • An original or copy of his or her birth certificate (issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where he or she was born)
  • A Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • A Naturalization Certificate.

If the child is a newborn and the actual birth certificate has not arrived from the Vital Records Department, we will accept a Hospital issued birth certificate.

Based on this if you only have a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), which might take less time to acquire than the actual passport, then you might get to the US with your child legally, if you take a detour and enter the States through Canada. This is because Flying to Canada with the UK passport should not cause any problems at all, and after that the "by land" entering applies, where a CRBA is enough.

If you want to fly to the US straight, or you won't have access to the CRBA, then unfortunately it is not possible to enter the States legally, according to currrent rules. You might try entering the states with the UK passport (which might work in case at least one of the parents also enter with a non-US passport, thereby making it less possible for having confrontations with the border guards), but it is not legal, and might cause serious issues at the border, or later once your child wants to legally obtain his/her US citizenship.

So if you want to remain legal, and taking a detour is not an option, the best thing would be to ask the local consulate in the UK for suggestions on how to proceed in the short timeframe provided, or how to expedite the passport process.

  • If child is indeed a US citizen, attempting to enter on a non-US passport, and even succeeding in doing so, will not change that fact. There is no future "obtaining" of the US citizenship. The negative consequence of breaking the US passport law is perhaps a fine, but more likely, in the case of a newborn, a stern talking to. I agree with the recommendation, however, about asking at the consulate. I suspect they'll most likely recommend an emergency passport application. – phoog Nov 10 '15 at 7:48
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    @phoog: There is no fine under the law. – user102008 Nov 10 '15 at 19:22
  • @user102008 That is true. See my comment to Jonas's answer. I have heard stories, however, of people being either charged, or threatened with, a fee. Presumably this is an administrative fee for the Department of State to invoke the "exceptions as the president may authorize or prescribe" clause. On the other hand, I've heard stories of people being let in without any payment after a stern talking to. I haven't found any definitive policies or regulations applicable to the treatment of US citizens presenting themselves for admission without a passport. – phoog Nov 10 '15 at 20:26
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From my experience, it is strongly recommended you submit the consular report of birth abroad (CRBA) with the consulate and get a passport before going to the US. It takes a few weeks but isn't difficult. (Unless the baby was conceived using IVF, but that's another issue)

However, since the child is already a UK citizen, the child can enter and leave the US using their UK passport as a UK citizen - so long as they are not registered as a US citizen. The question comes down to "Do I want the child to have US citizenship?" If the answer is yes, jump through the hoops. If not, then there is no reason to.

  • It sounds like you are saying that if you do not submit the CRBA and have the child travel on a US passport then it can cause issues when you later apply for the CRBA and US passport, rather than issues when the child travels. Is that correct? – bejeb Nov 21 '15 at 20:56
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    I'm very confused by the IVF statement--I could possibly see an issue if a surrogate was used to birth a child, but IVF? How would the authorities know? – mkennedy Nov 22 '15 at 1:55
  • The child may not legally enter the US with a UK passport. If the child arrives at the border with her US citizen parents, the guards might suspect that the child is a US citizen and cause problems for the parents. – phoog Nov 22 '15 at 4:40
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    That's a lot of comments! Really, I only know from my own experience - my daughter has a Thai passport (She was born in Thailand) and she could have travelled to the US as a Thai citizen, and I understand that we could have gotten a US passport by travelling to the US with a mountain of paperwork, but the CRBA and passport application from Thailand was a lot easier. My daughter was conceived using IVF, and because of that we had to have a DNA test done (sending samples to the US at great expense) to verify she was genetically my daughter. – rob Nov 23 '15 at 5:32
  • @phoog: Since the baby has a UK passport, I assumed that one of the parents was british. If both parents are US citizens, then yes, I would expect that the baby will probably need a US passport - or at least have a CRBA submitted - to get into the country without hassle. But I'm not a state department employee - anyone wanting to know for sure should contact the local embassy to get a definitive answer. – rob Nov 23 '15 at 5:35
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See: 9 FAM 202.1-2 https://fam.state.gov/fam/09FAM/09FAM020201.html 7 FAM 085 https://fam.state.gov/fam/07fam/07fam0080.html

If there is genuine doubt about a person's right to US nationality (or if it is "optional" because dependent upon an unmarried father's recognition of the child, that child can (or in the latter case must) travel on a foreign passport.

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