Crossing the US Border on a non-US passport showing a US birthplace

There is a bit of anxiety concerning what happens at the US border once you have a CLN or once you’ve applied for one.  Or for that matter, if you have a Canadian passport that shows a US birthplace, have no US passport and don’t want one, and haven’t yet decided whether a CLN is a good idea for you.  If you’re one of any of these concerned people, this post and thread are for you.

My wife and I just returned from a week-long family visit to the US. We travelled by air, crossing US customs and immigration at pre-clearance at Pearson Airport in Toronto. My wife had applied for a relinquishment CLN several months earlier. She is still waiting for it, but in the meantime, the vice-consul told her at the interview that her CLN application file is now on the State Department website and is accessible to DHS staff at the border, if there is any question about why she is crossing the border on a Canadian passport that shows a US birthplace.  (If you have a CLN or have applied for one, there is no way you can possibly have a US passport.  If you had one before applying for the CLN, you are required to surrender it during the application process.  Once you’ve sworn either the relinquishment or renunciation oath, you cannot be issued a US passport.  So it would be absurd for a border guard to insist that you present a US passport at the border.)

Both of us have Canadian passports with US birthplaces. I have a CLN that was issued to me in 1976, based on my relinquishment upon becoming a Canadian in 1975. I would assume, in fact I would hope, that my CLN is flagged on the DOS and DHS computer systems; I’d be disappointed if it weren’t. But, I’m not going to ask a border guard or any other US official if it is. I don’t believe in kicking sleeping bears; such behaviour tends to be bad for the health.

Our border crossing last week was our first crossing since my wife applied for her CLN, so we were a little nervous, on her account (I always carry a photocopy of my CLN with my passport when I travel).  Needlessly, as it turned out.

The pre-clearance area at Pearson wasn’t very busy; we were referred to an agent almost immediately after we arrived in the area. The agent examined both our passports, then scanned both of them into his computer. He examined the computer screen. He asked us how long we would be visiting the US, the purpose of the visit, and the usual questions about what we were bringing into the US (no tobacco, no alcohol) and the value of any gifts we’d be leaving behind in the US. He then entry-visa-stamped both our passports, initialed the visa stamps, and wished us a nice trip. No questions about citizenship, about why no US passport, about CLNs, nor any reference to the T word. He didn’t need to ask where we were staying; I had to give the hotel name, address and phone number to the airline when getting the boarding passes (which information I believe is now routinely shared between the US and Canada and probably many other countries), and also had to give that information on the US customs declaration form.  No ogres awaited us as we got off the plane in the US. At no time during our week-long stay at the hotel were we ever contacted by any official of any level of US government. Our return to Canada was uneventful.

So, at least in our case, two Canadians born in the US, both of whom have relinquished their US citizenship, crossed the border together on their Canadian passports in mid-August 2012 without incident.

What if you have a Canadian passport that shows a US birthplace, don’t have a US passport and don’t want one because you don’t consider yourself a US citizen, and want to cross the US border?  Stories here are mixed.  My wife was in those shoes until a few months ago.  She’s been across the US border for decades on her Canadian passport with US birthplace and has never once been “cautioned” or “warned” that she “has” to have a US passport to go back.  But we have two friends who have been cautioned.  Both our friends want to keep crossing the US border, because they both have adult children and now grandchildren living in the US, whom they want to visit.   One has decided he wants to remain a dual US-Canada citizen, got a US passport, and spent thousands of dollars to become compliant with IRS demands (he hadn’t filed any US tax forms since becoming a Canadian).  The other friend has absolutely no desire or intention ever to get a US passport, never has had one, also hasn’t filed US tax forms since becoming a Canadian more than 30 years ago, and has been “warned” when crossing by land (never, so far, during air crossings).  Each time she has been warned, she smiled calmly and said essentially “I’m a Canadian, I’m not an American, this is my passport, and I want to cross on it.”  She’s had her name entered at least once in the US border computers over this, has then been let in, and has subsequently gone back across without any further problems, at least not yet.

The lawyer my wife and I consulted in my wife’s case has a client who so far has been “warned” four times and still crosses; the warnings have delayed his border crossings, but he still gets in.  As far as we can tell, so far these “warnings” seem to be random, at the whim of the particular border officer, and don’t (yet) have any serious consequences.  But that could always change.

On the subject of visa stamps: since August 2011, my wife and I have crossed the US border five times on various family visits, twice by car (in Vermont) and three times by air (twice at Pearson and once clearing US immigration in Newark NJ). All three air crossings netted us US entry visa stamps on our passports (as a matter of what seems to be routine now at the airports; we didn’t ask for the visa stamps nor did we need to); none of the car crossings resulted in visa stamps (we presented our passports at both those crossings). Thanks to the air crossings, we now both can prove beyond any doubt that we’ve been admitted to the US carrying Canadian passports that show US birthplaces.  Our feisty friend who keeps crossing in spite of warnings on land has also acquired a collection of US visa stamps in her Canadian passport, when she flies into the US.

Things can always change at the border. Lightning can strike at any time in the future. An incoming asteroid could destroy life or civilization as we know it on Earth. So far, however, the sky is not falling.  We will enjoy what’s left of the summer, and we look forward to the maple leaves turning this Fall.  We’ll be vigilant and prepared when we cross the border, but we aren’t losing any sleep over the issue of our passports and citizenships, at least not yet (if ever).

I invite other US-borns living in Canada (or elsewhere outside the US) who have Canadian (or other) passports showing a US birthplace, and who do not have a US passport, whether they have a CLN, have applied for one, or haven’t applied for one, to share their border-crossing experiences on this thread in the coming months, especially if anything disturbing happens.  When you report your experience, please identify whether you have or have applied for a CLN (and if so, whether it was a renunciation or relinquishment), or not, and also indicate whether your experience was at an airport or at a land crossing.  If you feel comfortable doing so, also indicate which airport or border crossing was involved.

I hope this thread can serve both to provide some comfort level (for as long as that’s appropriate) and, as needed, an early-warning system for things that may come, and perhaps some ammunition to use to try to nudge our government to take issue with the US over this if things start to get out of hand.  (Remember Blaine Washington …)

PS I just edited the title of the thread, which originally read “Canadian passport” instead of “non-US passport.”  Sorry for the Canada-centric tendencies; I am Canadian and that’s my perspective, but I recognize and respect that there are lots of US expats/former USPs (to use Johnnb’s point which I also have raised elsewhere) who live in countries other than Canada and who share some of these concerns.  Not sure whether people entering the US from, for example, Switzerland (to pick a country which raises some hackles in parts of US officialdom these days) will get treated differently from people crossing from Canada.  In theory everyone should be handled the same way, but we all know that there’s always a big gap between theory and practice.  If you reply to this thread with border-crossing examples, please indicate from what country you were coming into the US if it wasn’t Canada and if you think that may have made a difference to your treatment.

This entry was posted in Building Blocks, Citizenship, Relinquishment and Renunciation and tagged , , , on by .

About schubert

I've had a CLN (Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States) since 1976, quite by accident (DOS mailed me one after I wrote a long anti-US letter to Henry Kissinger on July 4, 1976, telling him I'd become a Canadian citizen several months earlier and why, then confirming on a form I got in the mail that I had done so willingly - duh! - and with the intent of relinquishing my US citizenship). I filed the CLN away and forgot about it until August 2011 when I first heard about FATCA and FBAR and realized I needed to find the proof I am not an American in spite of my birthplace. My wife, who came to Canada with her ex before I did and also became a Canadian citizen, believed she'd thereby lost her US citizenship but didn't write Kissinger, didn't know anything about CLNs or the need to get one (nor did I at the time), and applied for a relinquishment CLN a few months ago. Until August 29, 2012, we were waiting to get her CLN, and it has been in her interests that I'm monitoring and occasionally participating in this and the IBS website. However, joy of joys, wonder of wonders, my wife's CLN arrived in the mail on that date, so now we both have CLNs. I will continue to monitor and contribute to this website as I have time and when I think I have something constructive to add, but after 12 months of Hell we're going to get our sanity and lives back, and that means a prolonged vacation from anything related to CLNs, IRS, FATCA, or any other such crap, unless it rears its head and threatens Canada and Canadians to the point where I have to come out of my corner fighting again ...

269 thoughts on “Crossing the US Border on a non-US passport showing a US birthplace

  1. Larry

    I renounced in 2012. I was previously convinced that when I became a Canadian in 1978 I had ‘automatically’ renounced. I lived as only a Canadian (passport, etc.) for all the years in between.
    A newspaper article in 2010 caused me to believe I was still a US citizen, soon confirmed by a lawyer I consulted. He advised me to file US tax returns, that cost thousands in fees, not taxes.
    After this I visited the US Consulate in Toronto. The very nice agent told me he could have back-dated the renunciation to 1978, had I not filed any tax returns! I have no idea how they would react today.

    And from other posts here, I would confirm US departments do not seem to contribute to a massive database where a border agent can look you up. I reckon that will come sooner or later.

    1. schubert Post author

      Hi WhiteKat and Larry.

      Whitekat, glad to hear you got across with no hassles. However, you may have got lucky, or maybe my wife and I got unlucky about a year ago (or would have been unlucky without or CLN photocopies). It wasn’t a car crossing, we’ve never been challenged (yet) in a car on Canadian passports with US birthplaces, but going through US pre-clearance in Toronto two years ago flying to see my son and grandkids who live in the US, the US border officer asked us if we were US citizens on seeing our passports. We both said “no,” whereupon she specifically asked if we had CLNs. We both said yes (and both had copies of ours with us), which surprisingly (to me anyway) she just accepted our word for it and didn’t ask us to produce them, just grumpily said “have a nice visit.” I didn’t think to report this on the website at the time, because I didn’t actually have to show the CLN. FWIW.

      So far that’s the only time we’ve been asked about this, including last month when we drove into the States for US Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law’s family, travelling with another sister-in-law and brother-in-law, her travelling on a US passport and him on an EU passport. We had to go inside the building because my brother-in-law needed a visa form he didn’t know about (called an I-94, at first I thought they were talking about highway directions…) and all four of us had to surrender our passports and get them reviewed by a polite Hispanic officer who was at a computer and who was getting advice from another officer. The whole thing took maybe ten minutes, my brother-in-law got his form, and she said nothing about either my wife’s Canadian passport or mine, which were returned to us without comment. Frankly I was expecting to have to show our CLNs, given the special pull-over attention, but it never came up. I do strongly suspect that both my wife and I are on their database as having CLNs, given that’s what the US Vice Consul told my wife would happen when she applied for her CLN.

      So it may or not be risky to continue crossing without a CLN, but given all the times we’ve crossed the US border so far that one time two years ago at Pearson pre-clearance was the only time we were briefly questioned. The worst I think they are likely to do if you do get caught is to be cautioned that they won’t let you in again without a US passport, I’ve heard that’s happened but I’ve also heard in at least one case that they don’t follow through when the person crossed several times later without anyone bothering her.

  2. WhiteKat

    The last time I crossed the US border, pre-OMG, post-FATCA, was probably early 2012 by car. I’ve never traveled to the US (or anywhere else) on anything other than a Canadian passport, and recall the border guard making mention of the US birthplace on my Canadian passport and asking me if I was a US citizen. I didn’t think much about that conversation until fall 2012 when I discovered I was a ‘US tax cheat’. At that point, I decided not to enter the USA for an indeterminate amount of time like many other US chattel. Sadly that also meant giving up the semi-annual girls’ Seneca weekends in Niagara. But after 5 years of missing out on all the fun, my BFF finally managed to convince me to go again, this past weekend. The border guard didn’t mention a thing about the US birthplace on my Canadian passport. And I had a great time as usual. Did I just get lucky? Will I get grilled next time as to why I don’t travel on a US passport? Who knows? But now that I’ve done it once, post-OMG, I’ll likely do it again.

  3. North by Northwest

    So happy to have just discovered your website! You are providing a great service. I am a dual US/CAD citizen (US by birth). My current situation is a bit unusual in that I am currently in Australia, where both passports were stolen. I replaced my Canadian passport but have not replaced the US one yet, as I don’t have my birth certificate with me. I’d like to fly into Seattle but I’m wondering what will happen if I don’t have a US passport. Can I be refused entry? I’ve made it a habit up until now never to show US Customs my CAD passport, but now I will have to. I suppose everything is shared these days anyway and the US knows I am a dual citizen. But what’s the worst that could happen, not having a US passport?

    1. nobledreamer-Tricia

      Hi North by Northwest


      How unfortunate to have to deal with when not in either country! Question: How could you replace your CDN passport without a birth certificate?

      It is U.S. law, for several years now, that a U.S. citizen is to enter the U.S. with a U.S. passport. We hear of lots of people being hassled about not using one but I am not aware of anyone outright denied entry. Of course, the worst is you could be denied. But that would be it. You certainly would not have any issue entering Canada.

      I would not presume anything at this point. Unless you have renounced or something like that, there is nothing I am aware of that points to an exchange of passport info between U.S. Dept of State and CDN CIC. Even under their new system, unless I misunderstand, each country records and can share both entry and exit into either country. But if you use two different passports, I am not aware there is some sort of matching program………..

      Good luck!

    2. Lynne Swanson

      I also am unaware of anyone being refused entry.  However, some airlines insist on a US passport for anyone born in USbefore they will permit them to board a flight to US.

      UK’s Boris Johnson is the most high proflle person affected by that.  He becamse aware of his unwanted U.S. citizenship severalyears ago when he was denied boarding a f;ight with his famiy on a trip to Mexico with connections in the US.

      In another situation, Canada’s national airline, Air Canada insisted Stephen Kish give them his American passport to board a flight returning to Canada from the U.S. after he showed them his Canadian passport. 

      I have no idea how you might be affected ny all of this.  It mat be there are no problems.  It may be that your airline will refuse to allow you to board.  If you do board, it may be that the US immigration folks will advise you that you should get a U.S. passport but they will allow you to enter.  Or, they may refuse to allow you to enter.

      I’m sorry we couldn’t give you a more definote answer.  You may want to check with the American Embassy or Consulate in Australia but I suspect they will probably tell you that you must get an American passpport to travel to the U.S.

  4. Lynne Swanson

    Some people are reporting they were detained and questioned on their way to Washington protests. It appears this couple do not have U.S. citizenship.

    Other protesters were turned away at the border–including a dual Canadian-American citizen. He was trying to enter on his Canadian passport–but that does not seem to be the reason he was denied entry.

    More Canadians in pussy hats are planning to join the Women’s March in Washington today. It will be interesting to see how many actually made it over the border.

  5. Fredrich

    What is CLN and how do I get one? I became a citizen in 1974. According to the laws in both countries I lost my US citizenship then since I swore an oath of allegiance to the Crown and to Canada and willingly and knowingly made this oath realizing it would result in my loss of US citizenship.. I moved to Canada in the fall on 1968. I voted in elections, joined a political party, taught at both the university level and at the high school level. I have received a merit award from the Prime Minister of Canada and from the Truth and Reconcilation Committee. When living in Alberta I was a member of the Metis Nation there. This was before the patriation of the BNA Act. I think people like me would be subject to slightly rules. How far back can these people (IRS) go. Does what they are trying to do go back to 1867? The great grandchildren of thea generation are still alive? Fredrich a devoted Canadian

    1. DoD

      Fredrich. All the information you need is in the links to the right.

      Briefly a CLN is a certificate of loss of (US) nationality.

      You get one by making an appointment at aUS consulate to inform them that when you became Canadian you intended to give up US citizenship . That plus $3000 gets you a CLN . The process takes about a year.

      Whether or not you need one is another question.- you probably don’t.

    2. Lynne Swanson

      Frederich As DoD has advised, you may or may not want to get a Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN).

      You are correct that in 1974, neither Canada
      nor the U.S. allowed dual cutizenship. I became a Canadian citizen in 1973. Like you, it was with the very clear understanding that I was relinquishing American citizenship. In fact, my Canadian citizenship oath required me to renounce U.S. citizenship. (That was not required in 1974).

      I personally will not go anywhere near an American Consukate. I don’t trust them based on past experiences. I refuse to give them my name, address or any other information about me to pass on to IRS.

      Other people have made different decisions. Many have played the American game and applied for a CLN based on long agonrelinquishments.

      Why do you want a CLN? Is it to give to your bank? Is it for crossing the border? Is it for peace of mind?

      One very important point to understand is CRA does not and will not collect for IRS for any Canadian citizen. IRS does not have jurisdiction in Canadian courts.

      FATCA makes everything a whole new ball game. If your financial institution asks where you were born, FATCA regulations and the IGA allow them to accept proof of non U.S. citizenship and a “reasonable explanation” for why you don’t have a CLN.

      Do NOT–under any circumstances–get a U.S. passport for the purpose of entering the U.S. If you do that, you will be caught up in a never ending nightmare.

  6. BJ

    Born in the US and renounced in 2014 with a CLN. Just got back from a Canada/USA trip and crossed into the US twice on my Australian passport, border guards on both occasions were very friendly and neither asked any questions with regards to me being born in US, US passports or showing them my CLN.

    1. Lynne Swanson

      Thanks for letting us know BJ.  It’s good to hear that there were no problems at a Canada-US border with a passport that is neither Canadian nor American.

  7. Bart Heine

    I have a Canadian passport with a United States birthplace (Texas). Crossing into Chicago I was questioned very closely by U. S. customs and asked for my U.S. passport. I didn’t have one and still don’t. He let me through but warned me to get a U.S. Passport. I want to go to the states this summer to visit friends but I am now hesitant. What could happen either there or on the way back? And how could I prepare for it?

    1. Duke of Devon

      Bart. It’s a crapshoot. Only a few border guys seem to get excited by this but you never know when you will run into one. We have crossed the border hundreds of times over 30 years without problems. So have many others. A few of us have been coerced into obtaining a passport.
      Your course of action depends on the circumstances.
      E.G. If questioned, you might say you relinquished when you became Canadian and ,at that time, a CLN was unheard of. Then there is the question of taxes…. If you apply for a US passport after many years your name will be given to the infernal revenue society and then nobody knows what would happen. It’s a tough call.

    2. Lynne Swanson

      @Bart Several of us have been told to get a U.S. passport.  Some complied but then got caught up in the IRS nightmare.  I was told twice that I should get a U.S. passport.  The first time (2004), I debated it with the friendly border guard.  No one mentioned it again for seven years. (2011)  That time, I merely nodded and went on my way.

      It was never mentioned again in several crossings.  My last crossing into the US was for my mother’s funeral in 2014.  Since her death, I resolved never to travel to the U.S. again.

      We have not had any reports of anyone being turned away or having anything bad happen for not having a U.S. passport.  My personal feeling is a U.S. passport would cause more problems long term than not having a U.S. passport. But we don’t actually know what will happen over time.

  8. Chris

    My other half (we’re not married, just common-law) was born in the US and moved to Canada at age 3. She just recently got her Canadian citizenship certificate and is now applying for her passport. We haven’t started the process of renunciation or even dealing with the IRS yet (she’s been unemployed for a few years anyway).

    I’m just wondering if that’s something that may come up or if I shouldn’t be too worried and just keep moving forward? It’s on the to-do list of course, but if we want to travel the US in the next year on her Canadian passport should we be concerned at all?

    1. Lynne Swanson

      Based on reports here and elsewhere, I do not think there is much risk to your partner crossing the border on a Canadian passport.

      Most people have not encountered a problem.  I was told twice in over 40 years of crossing that I should get a U.S. passport. The first time, I debated it with the Border Officer.  The second time, I smiled,, nodded and went on my way.  It was never mentioned again in several more crossings.

      What are you referrimg to when you say “I’m just wondering if that’s something that may come up or if I shouldn’t be too worried…”

      Are you asking about renunciation, the IRS, the Canadian passport, or something else?


    2. Chris

      Hi Lynn,

      I mean without taking care of her taxes (or lack thereof) with the IRS, if that may cause issues. I have no idea.

      As mentioned, it’ll be taken care of when we start renunciation, just not yet.

      Thanks 🙂

    3. Lynne Swanson

      @Chris:  If your wife recently became a Canadian citizen, she can relilnquish her U.S. citizenship by reporting to the US Consulate that she did so with the intent of elilnquishing American citizenship.  She will need to pay the same $2350 US fee (about $3000 Canadian) but it another choice for her.

      The Consulate should not ask anything about taxes other than advising you to report to IRS.  Many people have filed several years of back returns after relinquishing or renouncing.  Others do it before they renounce or rellinquish.

      You may want to make an appointment now.  The last I heard, the Toronto Consulate had a waiting time of 10 months for appontments.  Other Consulates in Canada also have long waiting lists, but I think they are shorter than Toronto’s.

      Good luck.  Let us know how it goes or if you have any more questions.


    4. Chris

      No, she’s been in Canada for 37 years (moved here when she was 3).
      We didn’t know anything about taxes until quite recently, but we still want to travel.
      She just “officially” got her Canadian citizenship, though.

  9. FATCA-Oh Dear

    US born in the mid 60’s, to Canadian parents. Returned to Canada at one year of age and been here since. Still cannot believe the absurdity of this…
    Crossed into US at Vancouver international in the spring of 2014 on Canadian passport with US birth place. Polite agents, standard questions, “Have a good trip”.
    Crossed into Washington State by car, summer 2015. Horrendously rude agent, had me shaking as he yelled and barked questions. (I guess being obnoxious flushes out terrorists)
    I was already on edge (being a tax criminal) and this had me shaken and sweaty. I’m surprised I wasn’t taken away and executed. Through it all, no mention of the US birth place and daughter and I were tersely sent on our way. We had a fantastic time in Washington State and were reminded that the average American is the same as the average Canadian – everyone we encountered was fantastic, warm, welcoming and friendly.
    **Keep up the good work.. I send small PayPal donations when I can.

    1. EmBee

      @ FATCA-Oh Dear
      Thank you for sharing your border crossing experiences with us. That last one was a doozie. It’s so true — people on both sides of the border are mostly salt of the earth. It’s too bad you sometimes have to pass through a cloud of mustard gas at the border to get to the good folks on the other side. BTW, thanks for sending a donation.

    2. Lynne Swanson

      Thank you for donating.  Some of those border guards are on a real power trip.  I’m glad he didn’t make an issue of your U.S. place of birth. He must have thought general harassment was enough.

      Welcome to Sandbox.  You are among friends here.

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