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  • Suppose I am a naturalized citizen of the US, but also a citizen of another country, "XYZ".
  • I then boarded a plane and left the US to another country (maybe not necessarily to XYZ), without first getting a US passport, but using my old, but valid XYZ passport.

In this case what would be the best documents to have for me to gain entry back into the US as a US Citizen without a passport?

Would I need to contact the US Embassy for help in order to be able return?

If the airline does let me aboard to return to the US, with the US passport, what are the best documents could I show at the border to prove I am a US citizen but that I just don't have a passport, for whatever reason?

share|improve this question
when you became a naturalized citizen, were you given any kind of papers, and in this thought experiment, are you assuming these papers are eligible to be "the best documents" to have with you? – Kate Gregory Mar 2 '14 at 0:02
@KateGregory Well naturalized citizens get a Certificate of Naturalization. But I guess I'm not sure if that's ALL one would need... or if the Border people would even accept it at all. But yes, I'd imagine that would be the top docs to have to show either the US Embassy or the Border people. – unknownprotocol Mar 2 '14 at 0:34
up vote 10 down vote accepted

As a US citizen you can not be denied entry to the US once you are on US soil, with or without a passport. Other than a passport there is no set list of documents required, however you will need to be able to convince the immigration officials that you are a US citizen and/or prove your identity so documents such as a Birth Certificate, Green Card, Drivers License, etc will all be helpful. If you follow this path you WILL be taken to secondary screening, and you can expect the process to take at least 1-2 hours longer than normal.

However your initial problem is going to be making it to US soil. Without a US passport the airline will not let you board your flight to the US unless you have suitable entry documents, which means that you'll need either a Visa or an ESTA (if your other passport is from a country that is a part of the US Visa Waiver Program).

If entering under the VWP, or most types of Visas, then you will also need to hold an onward/return air ticket as proof that you will be leaving the US at the end of your trip. Obviously once you arrive and enter the US as a citizen this will not be required, but without it it's highly likely that the airline will refuse boarding without it.

Also be aware that as a US citizen you MUST enter the US as a citizen. ie, even if you have obtained a ESTA and a return ticket, you can not legally use your foreign passport to pass through US immigration. These will be required to allow the airline to carry you to the US, but must NOT be actually used to enter the country.

In general, your best option is going to be to contact the local US Consulate and obtain a US Passport. This will save you a lot of trouble not only before your trip, but also when you actually arrive in the US.

If you intend to leave the US again in the future you will also need a US passport for that - it is illegal for a US citizen to leave the US using a non-US passport.

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thank you! great answer! But can you explain what exactly an "ESTA" is? And also expand on the "it's illegal to leave the US using a non-US passport" part? I was not aware one had to show a US passport to leave? I usually think one just had to show whatever "doc" proves I am allowed (i.e visa, etc) to go to my destination... Where does this law/illegality come from? Why would they care about what passport I use to leave? – unknownprotocol Mar 2 '14 at 19:02
Search this site for ESTA and you'll find answers to what it is. Officially US citizens must hold a US passport when leaving the US. It's not necessarily enforced, but it is the law. – Doc Mar 2 '14 at 19:09
I know you're supposed to have a passport to travel, but that law strikes me as 'odd'... So I guess a dual citizenship person w/o a US passport, who is in an urgent need to leave the US (say for medical/emergency reasons) would have to break the law, and leave using their other passport...wierd. The reason I came up with this question in the first place, is that I observed that for immigrants becoming naturalized citizens one can obtain a waiver for the $700+ costs it takes to actually become naturalized nowadays. No similar fee waiver exists for US passports, only gov/military get no fees – unknownprotocol Mar 2 '14 at 19:30
Would you even get an ESTA if you have dual citizenship, one of which is US? – jwenting Mar 3 '14 at 8:28
@jwenting persons leaving the united states are not inspected by united states border guards. – phoog Sep 11 '14 at 12:33

I would recommend that you do contact US Embassy and get issued a passport or a travel document that will let you cross the US border.

There is a site from Department of Homeland Security that shows the necessary documentation to cross the US border for the US citizen, which states:

Air Travel

All U.S. citizens including children must present a passport or other approved travel document when entering the United States by air. U.S. citizens can present a passport, NEXUS card at airports with NEXUS kiosks, U.S. military ID with travel orders, or a U.S. Merchant Mariner Document when on official business.

The land crossings have a slightly different document requirements then Air gateways but even then it's better to have a passport when you cross the border.

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Interesting that it does not say "present a US passport"... – CGCampbell Mar 7 '15 at 19:19

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