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 …

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

  1. Penny

    Crossed into US by air having renounced 5 months ago. Haven’t received a CLN but consulate told,me to carry my receipt from consulate with me. No questions about US place of birth. Just how long a stay? Where to? Bringing anything in? Have a nice trip.
    However, In last 3 years I had been warned twice about US passport required, I applied and got one. Although cumbersome it removed the bullying tone from conversations with customs staff.
    I renounced in April and although anxious on this last trip, I had no issues.

  2. OutragedCanadian

    thanks for sharing your experience, GeorgeNotBush. While I agree with Lynne that it’s a shame we all have to know so much, it’s great to hear that there are still rationale human beings out there, even on the US border side

  3. Lynne Swanson

    Thanks GeorgeNotBush I think you are new here, Welcome to the Sandbox.

    It sounds like you had a reasonable border guard–but it’s disturbing to know people have to know such details about the law just to travel.

    Have you had any issues with your bank?

  4. GeorgeNotBush

    Over the last few years, entered the US by air and twice by land with no questions about US birthplace on Canadian passport.

    Crossing by land, got asked this time and explained parents Canadian, moved back when a kid and US citizenship lapsed when I turned 25 in Canada.

    That provision of the INA was repealed effective October 10, 1978 — works for me.

  5. Lynne Swanson

    @Harry: Welcome to Sandbox. we are nicer than US border guards.

    I was told in 2004 at the border I should always enter the US as an American citizen. I debated it (friendly) with the border officer because, like you, I believed I was no longer a U.S. citizen because U.S. consulate told me I was “permanently and irrevocably” relinquishing U.S. citizenship in 1973.

    I continued to enter the U.S. as a Canadian citizen with no further mention until 2011 when another border guard told me to get a US passport. This time, I nodded, smiled and went on my way. I did not get a U.S. passport. It was never mentioned again in numerous crossings. Since my mother`s death last year, I plan to never travel to the U.S. again.

    Do NOT get caught in the trap of being bullied into getting a U.S. passport. If you do, you could get caught up in the nightmare Calgary411 went through.

    Are you aware of the whole IRS and FATCA nightmare we are now living because of our place of birth and the betrayal of our own Canadian government?

  6. Harry Qualman

    I became a Canadian citizen in 1978, at which time I was told by the U.S. Embassy that I had lost my U.S. citizenship. I told all my relatives in the States that I was becoming Canadian and would be losing my U.S. citizenship. Time passed and all was well. But recently I traveled to the U.S. and a customs officer, seeing my US. birthplace in my passport, told me that I was still considered a U.S. citizen and I should not come back without a U.S. passport. I found this quite upsetting after so many years. I still have a few relatives in the U.S. and would like to attend their funerals. I am looking into getting a CLN before things get worse. Have not attempted to go back to the U.S. since the incident.

    1. Duke of Devon

      Harry, Welcome to the sandbox. The border guy was mistaken. Unfortunately it doesn’t pay to argue with them. He was mistaken because , when you became Canadian, you knew you would lose your US ness and it was your intent to do so. Therefore you haven’t been an American since. Don’t be bullied into applying for a passport.
      Intent is all that is required to establish relinquishment. You will be able to get aCLN. It will take months to get an appointment and a few months after that to get it in the mail. You have NO tax obligations. All the info,you need is on this and the Isaac Brock website

  7. OutragedCanadian

    @Maz57, thanks for this. I think it will help Mariposa sleep a bit better at night. My last trip to the US was in Feb and I also experienced no problems, by air. Not even a comment about my birthplace, just a ‘have a nice trip’


  8. Lynne Swanson

    @maz: Based on what we have heard here, only a few border guards at land crossings have made an issue about a U.S. birthplace. Twice in eight years I was politely advised to get a U.S. passport. I ignored the advice both times and never again had an issue in multiple crossings.

    Interestingly, the first time was in 2004. That was the year the IRS rule about reporting to a U.S, Consulate came into effect. The guard, however, did not mention anything about taxes or IRS. I had been a Canadian citizen for 31 years then.

  9. maz57

    Crossed into the US yesterday on my Canadian passport with US birthplace:

    Guard: Where do you live?
    Me: M——. (Town near the border)
    Guard: When did you leave Texas?
    Me: Huh?
    Guard: It says here you were born in Midland.
    Me: That would be Midland, Michigan, not Midland, Texas. There are Midlands all over the place. We’ve even got a few in Canada.
    Guard: Oh, I didn’t know that. I come from Midland, Texas. Where are you going?
    Me: Portland.
    Guard: For what purpose?
    Me: Family visit.
    Guard: What are you bringing back, er, taking down with you?
    Me: Some clothes, and my golf clubs.
    Guard: Have a nice day.

    So the guy clearly noticed my US birthplace and made no issue of it at all. Is it possible they have been given instructions to back off on this? This was by car at a land crossing. Maybe airports are different. It sure wasn’t a problem for this guy.

  10. Lynne Swanson

    @Mariposa: Check out Arctic Greyling’s comment. He renounced, but only had a few questions in a U.S. airport.

    Monalisa had a few more problems and had to answer several questions and be fingerprinted. However, I learned from that all non-U.S. and non-CAnadian citizens must be fingerprinted to enter the US. I was shocked at that. Monalisa is British, so that was why she was required to fingerprint.

    Some members of Congress want to ban renunciants from ever entering the U.S. ever again. We don’t know if that will happen or not.

  11. OutragedCanadian

    @Mariposa, we can’t know what will happen in the future, how all of this will shake out. But I personally think that losing the US noose around your neck is worth a bit of bother at the border, if that did happen.Everyone’s situation is different though, and only you can weigh it all out and decide what’s best for you.

    Any renouncers out there have any stories to share with Mariposa?

  12. Mariposa

    I was born & raised in Canada, never lived a day in the US and don’t have plans to. I have US citizenship through my father who received his as an adult. Don’t ask me how but he’s sadly since passed away and the history of why with him. I have a US passport & social insurance card. Both my US & Canadian passport have Mtl, QC Canada as my birthplace and I am deciding whether or not to renounce my US citizenship as it serves me no purpose. My concern is that once I renounce and even with a Canadian birthplace on my CDN passport that I’ll have trouble travelling to the US, that somehow I’ll be flagged at the border…

  13. Duke of Devon

    PET airport Montreal to USA. Scanned passport with the new scanner-you answer the questions by touching ‘no to all’. It takes your photo & prints a receipt. You hand it to the very pleasant lady who asks ‘how long will you be in the states? Then she says ‘have a nice trip’. C’est tout!

  14. ArcticGrayling

    I crossed the border into Washington State last week. The official noticed immediately the previous entry stamps into the USA along with my US birthplace. He asked me straight out if I had renounced, to which I immediately replied “yes”.

    He then advised me that I only have privilege of entry rather than right of entry. If I have any police record whatsoever, such as a DUI, he could refuse me entry. So he asked me if I had ever had dealings with the police, such as a DUI. I replied that, years ago, the police phoned me one time after a neighbour complained about me urinating on my front driveway, but that was about it. It was after my entire family and I had returned from a long trip, and there was a mad dash to the available bathrooms. He burst out laughing, stamped my passport, and wished me a pleasant trip.

  15. David

    @schubert – I just wanted to say that I find it fascinating reading comments like yours on this blog (and IsaacBrock) by Canadians who left the USA during the Vietnam war (70s in general).

    Additionally, it illustrates that at one time borders and sovereignty meant something. I suspect we live in a world today where Canada/Europe would just send everyone back to Uncle Sam.

  16. kermitzii

    KalC/C411– My son got a summer job with Facebook which has a new branch in Seattle. I am proud of him. He is a US citizen as I was, but he never had a US passport just a Canadian birth certificate and passport. I did fax the consulate report of birth abroad which I filled out when he was 3. He should have brought that. He will stay right next to Pike Place market so he will have a distorted picture of the US. He should live in eastern Oregon. He will have to get a US passport in case he comes back to Vancouver briefly during the summer.


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