For some reason I have been under the impression that US law prohibits US citizens from retaining their citizenship if they ever obtain a new citizenship. Is this always, sometimes, or never true? If sometimes, when?

Or perhaps I have the situation reversed in my head, and US law requires new citizens to renounce their previous citizenship when acquiring US citizenship?

  • 2
    See answers in expatriates.stackexchange.com/questions/146/…
    – Karlson
    Mar 28, 2014 at 2:35
  • 4
    There are many cases where the other country's laws prohibits US citizens from retaining US citizenship if they obtain the new one. US allows dual citizenship, many other countries don't and require you to forfeit the previous one.
    – Peteris
    Mar 28, 2014 at 5:11
  • Also some countries do allow dual citizenships in some cases (e.g. by birth) but still require people to forfeit their previous citizenship in other cases (e.g. naturalization).
    – Gala
    Mar 28, 2014 at 6:44
  • Other countries' prohibitions on dual citizenship do not affect the US. In other words, even if you swear before the King of Bongo that you are no longer a US citizen, the US will ignore that and consider you still a citizen until you renounce your citizenship to a US official. See eg. japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-7118.html. Mar 29, 2014 at 11:41

4 Answers 4


For some reason I have been under the impression that US law prohibits US citizens from retaining their citizenship if they ever obtain a new citizenship. Is this always, sometimes, or never true? If sometimes, when?

Nope. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Afroyim v. Rusk in 1967 that someone who was born or naturalized in the U.S. was constitutionally protected from losing their U.S. citizenship involuntarily, "involuntarily" as in without their intent to do so. In Vance v. Terrazas, the Supreme Court ruled that this intention must be proven with "preponderance of evidence" -- Congress cannot set a lesser standard for the intention (e.g. Congress cannot say naturalizing in a foreign country is enough to show intention to give up U.S. citizenship).

Note that this constitutional protection does not apply to all U.S. citizens -- people who were not born or naturalized in the U.S. (e.g. people born abroad but were citizens from birth, derived through parents) are not protected by the 14th amendment, and Congress can take away their citizenship without their intention. (Supreme Court affirmed this in Rogers v. Bellei.) In the past, there have been "retention requirements" for U.S. citizens from birth abroad, that if not met would mean the person would lose their U.S. citizenship at a certain age. However, no such law exists now. So, as of right now, all U.S. citizens cannot lose their U.S. citizenship without their intention to do so, no matter what they do, including getting another citizenship.

Some people have had their U.S. citizenship taken away involuntarily prior to 1967 for things like naturalizing in a foreign country and other things, but I believe that if it were to come up in court today it would be found that they did not really lose U.S. citizenship.

8 USC 1481 is the current law for loss of U.S. nationality. It requires the performance of one of several "potentially expatriating acts", combined with intention to relinquish U.S. nationality, to lose U.S. nationality. One of the potentially expatriating acts is voluntarily obtaining naturalization in a foreign country.

Curent State Department policy makes it even harder to lose U.S. citizenship this way. With voluntary naturalization in a foreign country (and a few other of the potentially expatriating acts), the State Department will automatically presume that you do not intend to relinquish U.S. nationality. If you want to keep U.S. nationality, you don't need to do anything special. If asked whether you want to give up U.S. nationality, you can say no, and you will not lose U.S. nationality.

Or perhaps I have the situation reversed in my head, and US law requires new citizens to renounce their previous citizenship when acquiring US citizenship?

This is also not the case.

  • Does this mean that @EircLippert's answer is incorrect, or outdated?
    – Flimzy
    Mar 29, 2014 at 16:31
  • @Flimzy: There is a disagreement over the meaning of the oath.
    – user102008
    Mar 29, 2014 at 20:20
  • If I understand this correctly, as long as the U.S. citizen doesn't have the "intent to relinquish" their U.S. nationality, and says "no," one could potentially apply for and receive a 2nd, 3rd, etc as long as those other countries allowed for multiple nationalities? It has to be an overt, deliberate, voluntary act of renunciation?
    – mc01
    Sep 24, 2014 at 19:00
  • 1
    @mc01: Generally, the way you lose U.S. nationality when you get another one is when that country requires you to renounce U.S. nationality and provide proof of it as a precondition of naturalizing in that country. In that case, you voluntarily apply for and get a renunciation of U.S. nationality because otherwise you won't get that country's nationality. But in a case where the country didn't require this, where you didn't go and apply to renounce U.S. nationality yourself, and if you don't personally intend to lose U.S. nationality, there is no way you can lose it.
    – user102008
    Sep 24, 2014 at 22:50

From Dual Nationality:

In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality.

The page goes on to describe what intention means. Under normal circumstances, US citizens do not automatically lose their US citizenship upon acquiring a new one. To lose it in practice, it must be expressly renounced at an embassy or consulate.

  • According to the Supreme Court decision in Vance v. Terrazas, intention to give up U.S. citizenship must be established through "preponderance of evidence".
    – user102008
    Mar 29, 2014 at 3:46

perhaps I have the situation reversed in my head, and US law requires new citizens to renounce their previous citizenship when acquiring US citizenship?

When someone becomes a naturalized US citizen they swear an oath that begins

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen..."

However, the US government does not verify that you actually did what you said you would. The comment below arguing to the contrary is incorrect. Moreover, some countries simply do not allow you to give up citizenship however much you might wish to.

  • 3
    @Mzzl: Your statement is false. The US government does no such thing. Perhaps they did once, but they certainly do not do so today. Mar 28, 2014 at 13:57
  • @Mzzl Mr. Lippert is correct. I become a naturalized US citizen a few months ago and never once was I required to officially renounce my other nationality nor even show my non-US passport. Where did you even get this from? Mar 28, 2014 at 18:14
  • @CesarDV: The US government used to be quite opposed to dual citizenship and it wouldn't surprise me if this used to be the case. Mar 28, 2014 at 20:05
  • @EricLippert I agree, I don't doubt that they had draconian rules long ago... but this might be like back during the Red Scare or something! I just wanted to know how long ago Mzzl became a US Citizen, or where he got his info from... Cuz I think even if you state to USCIS that you wanted to renounce your other citizenship, one would probably need to go to the proper embassy and officially renounce it. There's always exceptions of course, but those are few! Most countries make it difficult to so easily lose citizenship. Mar 28, 2014 at 21:13
  • The U.S. never asks anybody to give up any citizenship when naturalizing. The oath does not say anything of that kind. The words "nationality" or "citizenship" do not appear in the oath.
    – user102008
    Mar 29, 2014 at 3:50

You are not required to renounce citizenship under any circumstance under current law and precedent. Indeed, any renunciation that is 'compelled' is automatically invalid according to several Supreme Court rulings. Even further, as Eric stated, even if you do attempt to renounce, the United States can simply say 'no'.

That said, there was a recent case where a naturalized Saudi Arabian agreed to renounce citizenship in exchange for freedom from Guantanamo Bay. The legality of this is still disputed as the law is quite clear in that in order to renounce, you cannot be compelled to, and you must do it in a foreign consulate or embassy. Neither of which was the case for this person.

  • Actually the law is not clear at all. The requirement on the affirmative confirmation is because of a US Supreme Court decision, not a law, and even then - the mere 50%+1 rule of likelihood of voluntarily made decision was deemed to be enough. See Vance v. Terrazas. Terrazas lost his citizenship even though he never appeared before any consular officer, and didn't renounce it in any consulate or embassy. The Supreme Court confirmed that he lost his citizenship regardless.
    – littleadv
    Mar 29, 2014 at 4:03
  • Terrazas gave statements, both written and orally, that he intended to give up his citizenship (and further did so as a U.S. Consulate). He only began to contradict himself when challenged. He was never compelled. This was enough to meet the standards of having 'intention' to give up citizenship, a standard that is not met by merely acquiring another citizenship.
    – ouflak
    Aug 30, 2015 at 10:42

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