As travelers, we spend a lot of time in parts of the world that aren’t our home country. And yes, we often dream about what it might be like to pack it all up and live life on the road, or spend a few years in a foreign place. But what it’s like to actually undergo the process of becoming a citizen of a nation? Whether you were born into a passport, or picked one up as an adult, or felt connected and rooted enough to a place to apply for naturalization, the feeling of home can come from many different paths. We asked a few people with dual—and sometimes, triple—nationalities from around the world to share their stories of how and why they came to adopt another country as their own.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ahmad, 31, is from Syria. After fleeing the conflict there early on, he has finally found a permanent home in Canada. A university graduate, he is an experienced web designer looking for work in his new home.
“When I left Syria, I moved to Dubai and then Istanbul. Now, I’m in Canada after living in limbo for almost eight years. The topic of citizenship is very emotional for me. The limitations, the discrimination, the hate, and many other problems I faced just because I was born in Syria have been unbearable. My goal and purpose has always been to find a way out of this nightmare.”ADVERTISEMENT
“I’m a web designer and help build online presences for businesses and nonprofits. I love working on my computer. The Syrian crisis started in 2011, the year I graduated, and so I moved to the UAE, where I couldn’t reside, and then went on to Turkey. I borrowed the money, and just booked my expensive flight to Istanbul—where I didn’t know anyone—on a rainy day. It was a very tough start in a massive city. Istanbul has over 3 million Syrian refugees, and my legal status was fluctuating from one thing to another. The topic of refugees is at the center of politics there and you’ll always hear people debating whether Syrians should be expelled [from the country]. With no end in sight for the Syrian war, I couldn’t see any certain safe future for me anywhere. I always wished and dreamed of having a citizenship that would make my life better.”
“Now I’m in Canada, one of the best—if not the best—countries on earth. [Living here] is a dream of so many people who want a better and safer life, with rights and freedom. Whenever I tell Canadians that I’m new, they say ‘Welcome to Canada.’ I didn’t hear those words before that. It’s a great feeling to be welcomed.”
“I have permanent residence here. It was a long, two-year process, and definitely wasn’t easy, but it’s well worth all the effort. I’ve heard that getting citizenship takes a long time, too, but it’s a very special and personal process, I assume.”
“In the future, when I become a Canadian citizen, I’ll be able to travel, something I could never do before. But more importantly, I’ll have a future ahead of me, I’ll see where I’m heading. My dream is to write a book about my journey toward a new life and new citizenship, but right now, given that I’m starting from zero again in a new country, I’m too busy trying to survive and thrive.”
Jayme H. Simões, 51, works in marketing and lives in Concord, NH. He is a dual U.S.-Portuguese citizen.
“I was born in Chicago to a Portuguese father and an American mother; they met in Coimbra where she was studying. I lost my mother at a very early age, so I spent summers in Portugal as a child. It felt like going to another planet in the late 1970s. The nation was just emerging from a revolution, and life was very different and hard: There was just one TV station, no one spoke much English, and they ate things like brains and tripe. But I didn’t hate it. In fact, it was cathartic; it made me whole again, and changed my life. I learned Portuguese and cried when I listened to fado music.”https://900c467be8bb6deb221449e1fef912b3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT
“My father became an American citizen when I was two years old, but I qualified for Portuguese citizenship because he was still a [Portuguese] citizen when I was born. And last fall, I got a new passport: it’s reddish maroon, with the symbol of the Portuguese Republic on it. The reason was complex: I have a son of my own now, who is 17 and excels at math and science, and my wife and I want the best for him and his brother. The outrageous cost of U.S. universities made us look to Europe, where the fees are a mere fraction. As an E.U. citizen, it would be a lot easier [for him] to study there, so two weeks ago, I went to the consulate in Boston to confirm that both of my sons are now Portuguese citizens, too.”
“To get my passport, we went to the town hall in Vila Nova de Poiares, our ancestral hometown, where I was fingerprinted and photographed. I cried a bit that day when we went out for lunch to celebrate—not over finally being a citizen, but over seeing my family home, where our people had lived since the 1830s. It had just burned to the ground in a wildfire. All that was left were ruined walls; all our memories and links to the past were swept away.”
“I am blessed to be a citizen of two amazing nations—so different, also sharing many common values. I am a proud American—a Cubs fan—and love the opportunities the U.S. gave my ancestors when they first came here. As for Portugal? You would be hard pressed to find a kinder, more honest people.”
Caroline Conner, now 31, was born in Redwood City, California. She received her U.K. citizenship nine years ago and now lives in France as a wine educator.
“We moved to London when I was really little. When my parents got divorced, my dad stayed there—he works in investment banking—and got his passport. It was a last resort to move back [to London] and live with him when I was 16; I was really unhappy in the U.S. and failing at school. I fell in love with London and thrived there, and went on to study for my undergrad at the University of Oxford. I managed to get my residential visa through [my dad], just two weeks before my 18th birthday, after which I would not have been able to claim dependency. The citizenship ceremony was actually pretty sweet. I had a choice between swearing an oath to God or the Queen; I chose the Queen.”
“I did return to the U.S. for four years, between 2013 and 2017, but I just did not fit in. I am an expat, and that’s who I am. Being an expat means I get to be my interesting, dynamic self without feeling out of place. Making friends as an adult can be hard, but I think it’s much easier if you’re an expat; there’s just a willingness to take a leap and make new friendships. After Trump got elected, I decided to move back to Europe—this time, to Lyon in France, where I run wine tastings for tourists in English. I am still close to London and I love it, but I am American before British, always.”
Rashid Fehmi lives in Rochester, Minnesota, and works in healthcare, including running the app My Travel Health. He was born in Delhi, India, in the early 1960s and became a U.S. citizen in his early 30s.
“Growing up, we were very lucky as we belonged to the upper middle class, but it was a dream of mine to take my first plane ride. No one [in my family] thought of moving to another country, however, once I got my higher education, reality started hitting—so many job applications, and so many rejections. In the end, I landed a job in Saudi Arabia. I was crying [when I moved], even though I knew it was the right decision.”Trending Stories
“As time passed, I started realizing the world was much bigger, and I decided to travel to another country. I’m not sure why I decided on the U.S., and I soon realized how difficult it was to get a visa: I got my passport back with a rejection the first time I applied. The man standing next to me [at the U.S. embassy] had come with 15 or 20 passports of different nationalities; he represented a Prince who was going with his entourage to the U.S. I remember all the maids and drivers got a visa and I was left standing there with my passport in my hand. Getting a visa for any country with an Indian passport was very difficult at that time.”
“Several years later, I decided to go to the U.S. to complete my professional education, and I [eventually became a citizen]. But the process was laborious. The day I went for my swearing-in ceremony was so daunting—you usually only go to court when you have done something bad. The only thing I remember, other than saying ‘I do,’ was what the judge said: ‘You have chosen to be a American Citizen but that does not mean that you have chosen to do away with your culture’.”
“After I got my U.S. passport, I needed a visa to enter the country I was born in—India does not allow dual nationality. It was a strange feeling when I had to choose a different line at immigration. Is the American Dream an adage or a reality? I think it is still a reality.”
Lola Mendez’s father left Uruguay during the military dictatorship, walking to Mexico and moving to America. The travel writer has become an Uruguayan citizen at the age of 29.
“My father left Uruguay during the military dictatorship and walked from Uruguay to Mexico when he was just 24. He left not knowing if he’d ever be able to live in Uruguay again. This week, my parents retired and left the U.S. for good to reside in Punta del Este, Uruguay. They flew back on my father’s 72nd birthday, and his permanent move back to Uruguay is incredibly meaningful.”
“Meanwhile, my sister, Rachael, and I both obtained Uruguayan citizenship this summer. It’s very beneficial as a traveler: I now have visa-free access to several countries that I didn’t before, and can travel more easily throughout the Middle East. I’ll be able to visit India without a visa, and see Iran without a guided tour, which is a requirement for Americans.”
“But it’s also very important to me to have the citizenship of my father. To finally, formally and legally, be Uruguayan means the world to us. We both feel validated in our Latinidad identities—something that has been questioned and ridiculed throughout our lives. It’s a very humbling experience for us, to be both the daughters of an immigrant, and Uruguayan citizens. We’re proud to hold this citizenship in honor of our father’s plight and our ancestors.”
Irina Kneller was born in Moscow, Russia. She became a French citizen five years ago at the age of 30, and works as a tour guide at various art museums.
“I know many Russians who worked hard to get a citizenship from an EU country, because they didn’t want to live in Russia. That wasn’t my case. I hadn’t left my home country just for the sake of leaving—my family still lives in Moscow, I have wonderful friends there, and, politics aside, there are many things about Russia that I love. But France is more than home to me—it’s my chosen home, my absolute love. I came because I wanted to be here. French people are messy (bordélique), unorganized, and bureaucratic. They go on strike for everything, and when there is no strike trains are messed up anyway—but I love them with all their flaws, just like you love a person who is ‘right for you’.”Trending Stories
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“I voted in France, while I had never voted in Russia. I can hum the Marseillaise in the shower, while I would never call myself a Russian patriot. I don’t collect autographs, but I have two that I cherish: one from my favorite French writer, Michel Tournier, whom I had a chance to meet, and another one from the French president, on the letter granting me the French citizenship.”
“Arranging my passport involved some stressful paperwork, and an eight-month long wait, but I was confident. I hadn’t even been asked to take a French [language] test—instead, we talked about Jacques Derrida at the interview. Later, I went to Moscow for the New Year’s holiday, and on the way back, I overtook the entire line of Russian travelers who had to go through the passport control for non-E.U. visitors, and walked straight up to the empty window for E.U. citizens. The Russian line probably didn’t care, but I still felt like I was privileged.”
Alice Bedward, 29, lives in Shanghai, China, working in cryptocurrency. She was born in Cornwall, England, but lived around the world as a child. She now holds dual British and Australian citizenship.
“I was 13 and stroppy [when I got my second passport]. It was a decision my parents made for me at the time. I argued against it: I’d been in Australia for less than two years and at that stage actively, and vocally, disliked it. Everything was too small, too average, too boring compared to Abu Dhabi where we had just been living.”
“Most of my childhood memories are based in Abu Dhabi. The world stopped five times a day with the call to prayer, and men carried their mats onto the pavement. I’d watch them from the balcony sometimes. Our flat was on the 10th floor, and on the weekends I could see Sri Lankan house maids exchanging news on the street below, and Pakistani and Indian workers loitering on benches and around pay phones. There were always used phone cards on the floor, which I’d pick up and collect. Almost everyone in Abu Dhabi was from somewhere else.”
“I didn’t like Australia, but that was okay in a sense, because I wasn’t from there. I was British, so everyone kept telling me, and therefore I could leave Australia at some point. Australian citizenship, in my angry, sullen teenage mind, meant diluting my British citizenship. My parents did it primarily for practical reasons and I strongly resented them at the time. I argued with them in the days leading up to the ceremony.”
“We had to sing the national anthem and take an oath. It was a little like a high school assembly in that respect. At some point we were all handed a certificate and a potted tea tree. Someone from the local paper wanted to take a photograph of my family. My mother later told me that it wasn’t used because I scowling; none of the tea trees survived being replanted.”
“After I tried living in London for a year to complete my Master’s degree, I realized that I didn’t actually like the U.K. as much as I thought I would. I felt very little connection to the place and was in some respects a tourist. I realized that I had created an imaginary alternative to Australia in my teens, one that was ‘better’ in indefinable ways. In reality, the U.K. seemed just like Australia, without the sun.”
“When I lived in Dubai I was a Western expat. In China, I am a foreigner. I’m more likely to be mistaken for an American than to be seen as British or Australian. My nationality is simply defined by the fact that I’m not a local. I’m always slightly outside of things.”
Kathleen Porter Kristiansen moved from her native U.S. to the U.K. for law school in 2005. Married to a Norwegian, she was pregnant with her first child when she became a British citizen five years ago.
“It was very important to me that my children become British. I held the status of Indefinite Leave to Remain—it’s the equivalent of a Green Card in America—but I wanted my red [British] passport. As someone who didn’t leave the U.S. before I was 19 and is an eighth generation Mainer, it felt important to make Britain part of my family tree.”
“I wanted to become a lawyer and I couldn’t take on any more student loans because my undergraduate loans were already a huge burden. With some research, I discovered that law firms in London would sponsor me for four years to come to England, pay for law school for two years with a small stipend, and then train me as a lawyer for two years at a decent salary. I googled the best firms and started applying, flew out for an interview and received an offer. I was 25 when I moved.”Trending Stories
“Being British created lots of opportunities for me. I think being an American with the right to free health care and the right to work and live in the U.K. is one of my greatest life hacks. I had two children with full, year-long maternity leaves in Britain. And when I was laid off last year from my job as a tech lawyer, I was able to finally take a leap to be a freelance writer.”
“After five years there, I was eligible to become a citizen. The ceremony was a simple affair with approximately 20 people, led by a Lord Mayor of our borough in Islington. She said they would check to make sure we sang all the words to God Save the Queen. Standing with a hand on my belly with my future son inside singing that? It felt like I was forging my own path—and not the one laid out for me.”
After living around the world, British-born Jeffrey Cammack settled in Sweden in 2006. He took citizenship there this year. He works in the safari business.
“I was born British, to an American mother and a British father. But those nationalities are just passports, nothing more.”
“My parents met in Johannesburg in the mid ’70s, and while hitchhiking around Africa found out that they were pregnant with me, and made a plan to get back to the U.K. They worked in the humanitarian aid sector so I bounced around the world growing up—a life of limited friends, strong family bonds, and a psychological chip on my shoulder created from being a third-culture kid. A TCK is a person who, when asked where they are from, gives you a story and not a place.”
“But now, as a 40-year-old adult father of three, married with a house and car, I’ve been faced with Brexit. I live in Sweden on my British passport, and while it would be very hard to get ejected from Sweden after living here for 13 plus years, I felt that it was time to ensure that I could stay here—even if that meant that I needed to give up one of my passports.”
“There was no ceremony or language test: just an online form, $200 and a signature. We don’t draw attention to ourselves here—it’s not the Scandinavian way. We are one with each other, and no one is better than anyone else.”