24 March 2016


I’ve just read the Globe and Mail, my home country’s leading newspaper. And then I went on to read the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, my home country’s leading newspaper. Such is my new life as a dual citizen.

Of course, citizenship is mostly associated with carrying a passport of whatever country one is a citizen of. When I recently became a subject of Her Majesty, I was told that I needed to wait at least 3 business days before I could apply for one of the little navy booklets sporting Canada’s crest. So on day four after the citizenship ceremony, yours truly arrived at a Passport Canada office, application form and supporting documentation in hand.

And once again, Canada impressed with its “under-promise and over-deliver” performance: After half the processing time I was told to expect, I found the much coveted 36-page, Maple Leaf-decorated document in my mailbox. It was, and is, the tangible embodiment of my recent accomplishment. In the company of a similar, bright red booklet, it makes me a secret agent dual citizen.

More intriguing, though, is the possibility to avoid visa hassles: According to a recent study, Canada and Switzerland both allow visa-free travel to 172 countries, though not necessarily the same ones. Showing the right color passport at the right border can spare you onerous and expensive bureaucracy. And if a visa application is really required, one passport can be used for continued travels while the other sits in some banana republic’s embassy.

Travel with two passports is not without pitfalls, however. Inattentive use of multiple IDs when crossing borders can mix up immigration control systems and in the worst case is illegal. The considerations are such that there is even a step-by-step guide on travel practices for dual citizens. Obviously, one should always enter a country of which one holds citizenship with that country’s passport. In my case, this means not just Canada and Switzerland, but the entire Schengen area of Europe – at least while it is still intact. Once inside a country, it is important to also leave that country with the same passport again, so as to ensure that there is a consistent entry and exit record. This is particularly important for third countries, where permitted stays are limited to a certain number of days.

All of which means that from now on, I’ll have to think a bit harder about which document(s) to carry where. A recent jaunt down to the United States for a skiing weekend, for instance, was the maiden voyage for my virgin Canadian passport on its own.

The true test comes with travel around the globe. Which brings us back to my present predicament, for I am writing these lines on a flight from my home country... to my home country, operated by – what else? – my flag carrier. In this case, it sports a big white cross on a red tailfin, a sight which still evokes the warmest of feelings (not to mention a giddy anticipation of a box of chocolate to be passed around the cabin after dinner). In a few hours, I will land in Zurich, exchange a Grüezi with the immigration officer scanning my red booklet, and be on my way. 

Yet soon my journey will continue, always due east. And in a fortnight, I will be boarding my hometown airline again. That time, there will be a maple leaf on the tail. I will sit back and relax, as this tale will come full circle – figuratively as well as literally. My navy blue booklet shall be ready for inspection when we land, for this flight, too, will have brought me... home.

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