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I've checked many old threads here but nobody has approached this specific scenario.

I recently became a naturalized American, it happened within 4 weeks of applying so was shocked and never considered the implications. Not least being offered the a naturalization ceremony 20 mins after the approval interview.

I'm a French and now a US citizen who had a greencard and Global entry, the day I "became American" I had my greencard taken away, but had a flight to Germany that night. Which I had to take for family reasons.

That day, while in the US, I rushed to get my passport processed over the holidays, but expect it will be done in 5 weeks time.

So I'm now in Germany, as a French passport holder, as a US citizen, with no US Passport, and I'm due to return to USA for a vital business meeting in 2 weeks time.

It seems LIKELY I can apply for an ESTA, say I'm not a US citizen, get the ESTA, board the plane and try global entry to sneak in, or the worst case, get denied on Global entry, speak to a CPB border official, show my passport application and copy of my naturalization certificate, and it seems while I've broken the law, there is no penalty possible. Is there a penalty for lying on my ESTA?

If I try this, what is the worst that can happen? Pay a Fine? Denied entry and attempt later? - seems unlikely as I have good documentation? Citizenship taken away? etc

My other option is to try to get into Embassy in Paris, get urgent appointment, show a copy of naturalization certificate (not allowable) and get my first passport issued urgently, and then travel on this. This seems unlikely.

Or wait in US for first passport to be sent, with means missing out on vital business meetings which will impact my company a lot.

EDIT/UPDATE Thanks for all your help, in the end I got an emergency travel appointment in the US embassy and got awarded my first passport, an emergency passport in about 15 mins. I was amazed.

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  • 7
    Among the alternatives, you could travel to Canada, where you'll be in more direct contact with CBP from the start (either at a land border crossing or at a pre-clearance airport).
    – jcaron
    Dec 22, 2022 at 13:01
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    You can get a granted ESTA even if you state you are a US citizen. I recall many questions here with that, it is not as clear-cut as with a Canadian eTA for example. You can try that and the worst that can happen is you lose a couple of dollars, and you have to get an emergency passport (or go through Canada at a land border) Dec 22, 2022 at 13:01
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    @jcaron They wouldn't even touch the Pre-clearance because they will be denied checkin from the outset. Land border crossing are a good bet though Dec 22, 2022 at 13:03
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    The worst case scenario for lying on ESTA is a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 5 years. This is an exceedingly unlikely punishment even in the exceedingly unlikely event of a conviction under 18 USC 1001, but it is theoretically possible, so qualifies as a worst-case scenario.
    – phoog
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:34
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    Fly through Shannon, Ireland or other point that has US Customs Preclearance. That way, you sort it out on YOUR side of the pond, and if you get on the plane you are golden. Also, US immigration will be right there to tell the airline "nah, he's cool". Also lying to immigration does not suddenly become a good idea. Dec 23, 2022 at 4:18

5 Answers 5

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Instead of trying stunts like lying on your ESTA which have potential consequences, contact the nearest US embassy and seek advice. You are not the first US citizen to be abroad and need to get back quickly without a passport.

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    @newbie1001: I understood you're question, but your framing is an XY problem. Solve the problem you actually have - a US citizen abroad who doesn't have their passport and needs to get home for a set deadline. Dec 22, 2022 at 20:10
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    @newbie1001 do what you want, but you’ve got an answer: lying on an ESTA is still a crime, probably with no consequences. Going to a US Embassy seems like a very obvious first step.
    – Tim
    Dec 22, 2022 at 23:41
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    @newbie1001 ESTA, as the name implies, is an electronic document stored in CBP database. No one shows ESTA to immigration officers since CBP already has it... The offence of making false statement was committed the moment you submit the application form with knowingly incorrect information.
    – xngtng
    Dec 22, 2022 at 23:42
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    @newbie1001 *there 🙃
    – Oliphaunt
    Dec 23, 2022 at 7:06
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    @YanickSalzmann ha! You may well be right! But the reason for my comment was OP's own "*your", which came across a little overly pedantic, at least to me.
    – Oliphaunt
    Dec 23, 2022 at 19:49
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You can also try applying for ESTA and disclosing your US citizenship, which protects you from accusations of lying to the government (which is potentially a felony). If your ESTA is granted, then you can fly to the US with your French passport and present yourself at the US citizens' line when you arrive. Show your French passport and your naturalization certificate and explain why you didn't get an emergency passport to return to the US.

Another option is to go to the US embassy or consulate in France and get an emergency passport, but this might cause your pending passport application to be abandoned.

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So far, the existing answers offer frame challenges, but your actual question has only been addressed in comments. So let's compile those comments into an answer (because comments are ephemeral).

What kind of bad stuff can happen when lying on an ESTA application?

  • Your ESTA gets denied, you get denied boarding by CBP, you get a long talk with CBP on arrival, you have to wait for hours on arrival for them to check your documents. (@jcaron)
  • As to being denied check-in with an approved ESTA, it's possible that the CBP system that evaluates the APIS record sent by the airline will notice your US citizenship and send a "do not board" response because of 8 USC 1185(b). I don't think they do this, but who knows if they'll start at some point. (@phoog)
  • The worst case scenario seems to be a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 5 years. This is an exceedingly unlikely punishment even in the exceedingly unlikely event of a conviction under 18 USC 1001, but it is theoretically possible, so qualifies as a worst-case scenario. (@phoog)
  • The main problem with a conviction under 18 USC 1001 is not the penalty or imprisonment (which may be unlikely), but a felony conviction, which is an indefinite stain which can cause a whole lot of troubles to the person. Ask Michael Flynn. (@littleadv)
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Update: looks like OP reported that getting an emergency passport was super quick. Updating my answer accordingly.

What I would do is:

  1. See how fast you can get an emergency passport. If it's quick enough, go get it. Otherwise...
  2. Apply for ESTA, specifying you're a US citizen. Some people on this site have reported it works.
  3. If the ESTA is approved, you're good to go.
  4. If the ESTA is rejected, buy a ticket to Canada (Vancouver or Toronto are a good bet) or Mexico (Tijuana), then take the bus, train or drive a rental car to the US. If you go to Tijuana you could also just walk across the border very easily thanks to the Cross Border bridge.
  5. Since October 1st 2022 VWP-eligible passports are required to apply for ESTA in advance, so taking public transit might be a little more tricky, as some bus operators verify your documents in advance, though it's not clear if they now also check that you have a valid ESTA. So if you don't want to drive a rental car, your best bet would be to use an operator that doesn't check IDs, take the Amtrak from Vancouver (where there's CBP officers at the station) or go to Tijuana as mentioned above.

Once you're at the US border the CBP officer will pretty much have no choice but to let you in. As an absolute worst case scenario you'll have to wait a bit in secondary inspection while they verify your naturalization details.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 23, 2022 at 18:44
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    Just to clarify that Jonathan agreed with me in the chat that there's a risk in this proposition. The OP may end up being stranded in CBP detention for prolonged periods of time or sent away back to the nearest consulate to prove his identity. As I have shown in the chat, there are multiple examples of ICE and CBP deporting or denying entry to US citizens, which include months and years of incarceration. So while Jonathan suggests to be "legally right", the OP would be better served with other suggestions to be "smart".
    – littleadv
    Dec 23, 2022 at 21:34
  • Thanks for this and enjoyed the extended chat. I was wondering now if things have changed since VWP members now need to get an ESTA to cross "Effective October 1, 2022, all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers intending to enter the United States by land will be required to obtain an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to application for admission at land border ports of entry" help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-1258?language=en_US. Seems like in order to get on a bus to travel to the border from say Montreal, I'd need to show an ESTA anyway?
    – newbie1001
    Dec 27, 2022 at 11:31
  • @newbie1001 it depends on the bus operator. But you could always do a one-way rental or use the Tijuana crossing which is easily accessible by public transit.
    – JonathanReez
    Dec 27, 2022 at 13:34
  • How is it that using certain bus operators would allow people to sidestep the new requirement to have a valid ESTA to cross the land border?
    – phoog
    Dec 29, 2022 at 22:41
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The best solution would be to get an emergency passport from the nearest US consulate.

If you cannot for whatever reason, you can travel through Canada or Mexico, and use the Global Entry card to enter the US through the land crossing. Given the documents that you said you currently have, this is the only way the CBP would let you in without an emergency foil from the consulate.

For reference, see the CBP guidance here. If the CBP inspection raises a question as to why no US passport is linked to your Global Entry card despite your naturalization, you may explain the situation to them. While it is very unlikely, they may still send you back to the nearest consulate for an emergency document. I doubt that would happen, since the Global Entry card is an acceptable document to enter the US by land, and your Global Entry card continues to be valid. You'll update it with your US passport once you get it at any Global Entry service center.

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