I am a US citizen and cant get my US passport just yet but have a British passport. I need to leave the US what options do I have for getting back into the US

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    Do you have any other proof of US citizenship? Are you resident in the US? Do you have any other proof that you are legally allowed to reside in the US, such as a permanent residence card? Dec 1, 2015 at 17:49
  • Are you leaving long enough to have time to obtain a passport from a US mission abroad ?
    – blackbird
    Dec 1, 2015 at 18:40
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    Under the law, you need a US passport. If you don't have time to get one, you should apply for expedited service. If you don't have time for that or can't or don't want to pay for it, you can try traveling on your British passport (possibly with proof of your US citizenship). If you do that, nobody can say precisely what will happen. (Please come back and let us know.)
    – phoog
    Dec 1, 2015 at 18:48
  • @DJClayworth US citizens cannot hold permanent residence cards. Using one as a citizen is probably a more serious infraction than attempting to enter the country without a US passport.
    – phoog
    Dec 1, 2015 at 18:50
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    It's generally possible to get a US passport quite quickly (as in while you wait if necessary) if you can obtain the necessary documents and go to a passport office. You'll need to pay an additional fee and have proof of your need to travel immediately (as in plane tickets in hand). If you don't have the documents you need to get a US passport, what documents would you use to convince CBP you're a US citizen when you return? Dec 1, 2015 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


Under US law, you are required to enter and leave the US bearing a US passport, but there are no consequences for violating this rule per se.

Nothing will stop you from leaving the US in any case, since the US doesn't have any exit checks. Coming back to the US is the real question.

The proper way to come back to the US is with a US passport. You haven't said in your question why you can't get a US passport. If it's because you don't have enough time to get one before you travel, there are various solutions:

  • Apply for a US passport in the US in person as a Passport Agency, which can issue it within days.
  • Apply for a US passport in the US and have someone mail it to you when it's received if you're abroad at that time.
  • Apply for a US passport at a US consulate while you're abroad.

As a US citizen, you cannot be denied entry to the US if you can satisfactorily prove your US citizenship. So if you manage to make it to a US border with satisfactory evidence of US citizenship (e.g. expired US passport, US birth certificate with photo ID, Certificate of Naturalization, etc.), they will eventually let you in. The problem is how to get to the US.

Airlines will generally not let you board without documents that let you travel to the US. Without a US passport, what documents will you have to do that? You can't get a US visa (you will be denied). I can think of several possibilities:

  • British passport holders generally qualify to use the Visa Waiver Program. VWP requires getting an ESTA beforehand (airlines will check that you have gotten it). You are not supposed to be able to get an ESTA if you are a US citizen, but maybe it will work since it's an automated system (who knows?), if it is not very obvious that you are a US citizen (e.g. if you were not born in the US). If you can get ESTA, you can take a flight to the US, and then present yourself as a US citizen to US immigration.
  • There are US preclearance facilities in various parts of the world, including Dublin and Shannon airports in Ireland, where you go through US immigration before boarding the flight. Here, you don't have the problem of the airline refusing to let you board. I am not sure whether the rule about CBP not being able to deny citizens entry also applies to preclearance facilities, but if it does, then you should be able to present evidence of US citizenship, and then go through and fly to the US.
  • You can first visit Canada or Mexico on your British passport, and cross into the US on a land border. Here, there's also no issue of a carrier refusing to let you board. You would again present yourself as a US citizen to US immigration.

With a British passport, you can go the the US visa-free. According to the US embassy:

Currently, many British citizens traveling on a valid, individual machine readable passport, with a return or onward ticket, and who are staying for less than 90 days, qualify for the Visa Waiver Program and can travel visa-free with only an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

During your 90 day stay in the US, you can collect your US passport. But if you do this, you'll need to exit the US with your British passport within 90 days, and come back into the US with your US passport when it's available.

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    US citizens are legally obliged to enter the USA with their US passport, entering under any other one isn't allowed
    – Gagravarr
    Dec 1, 2015 at 23:07
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    Furthermore, if a US citizen did manage to enter the country with a foreign passport, there would be no need to exit using that passport. What would be the point? To avoid being deported for overstaying? US citizens cannot overstay in the US and they cannot be deported from the US.
    – phoog
    Dec 1, 2015 at 23:46

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