• 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, even without 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?

  • 4
    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? Mar 2, 2014 at 0:02
  • 1
    @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. Mar 2, 2014 at 0:34

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 1
    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? Mar 2, 2014 at 19:02
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    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, 2014 at 19:09
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    @jwenting persons leaving the united states are not inspected by united states border guards.
    – phoog
    Sep 11, 2014 at 12:33
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    Citation for "it is illegal for a US citizen to leave the US using a non-US passport"? The US doesn't have strict exit controls. Furthermore, a dual citizen going from the US to the other country of citizenship may be required to enter that country using a non-US passport. Jun 22, 2016 at 4:36
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    22 CFR 53.1 only says that US citizens leaving the US must have a US passport. That is not the same as prohibiting the use of a non-US passport. Jun 22, 2016 at 6:23

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.

  • Interesting that it does not say "present a US passport"...
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 7, 2015 at 19:19

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?

If you drop by Canada or Mexico then enter the US by land, you can enter without a passport and without a compulsory trip to secondary, with e.g. a Global Entry card or an Enhanced Driver's License.

https://help.cbp.gov/s/article/Article-3618?language=en_US gives more details:

Land or Sea Travel: U.S. citizens entering the United States by land or sea are required to present a valid WHTI-compliant document, which include:

  • U.S. Passports
  • U.S. Passport Cards
  • Enhanced Driver's Licenses
  • Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
  • Trusted Traveler Cards (Global Entry*, NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST
  • Military Identification Cards (for members of the U.S. armed official maritime business)

* The Global Entry (GE) card is only an ENTRY document and may not be used to enter Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Island.

Military personnel traveling under orders may present photo ID and orders. Family members must present a passport (with the exception of children 15 and younger arriving by land or sea.)

Children: U.S. citizen children ages 15 and under arriving by land or sea from a contiguous territory (Canada or Mexico) may present 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, or 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.

Groups of Children: A U.S. citizen children between the ages of 16-18 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory and traveling with an adult supervised school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or sports team, may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.

For more specific information regarding passport documents, please contact the National Passport Information Center.

For documentation requirements regarding cruises, please see our FAQ on "What Documents do I need for Cruises "

FYI: What's the legal consequence of leaving the United States without using one's U.S. passport?


It seems clearly that any person without a passport will be denied to board the plane. HOWEVER, IF A PERSON applies to the us embassy for a temporary pass, then he or she will have no issue. This is just common sense and without reading any law, but emergencies happen and so many considerations may be taken by immigration Agents or airports to facilitate in such emergency situations. I have been in a situation where I witnessed people travel without any document in hand in such circumstances when the reason is known.

  • First, welcome to Travel! We sincerely hope you stick around and help when you can by answer questions (and asking some too!). However, I must point out that this does not really answer the question asked.
    – CGCampbell
    Jun 22, 2016 at 11:54

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