What is dual nationality
Many Australians hold two nationalities. In addition to Australian citizenship, they are also considered citizens, or nationals, of another country.
The terms national and citizen mean the same thing, and can be used interchangeably.
If you are a dual national, there may be implications if you travel to the country of your other nationality.
- you might be liable for military service
- you might be liable for prosecution for offences under the laws of that country, even if they were committed outside it
- the Australian Government may be limited in its ability to provide you with consular assistance should you seek it.
How do you become a dual national?
Whether you're a dual national depends on the interaction between the laws of Australia and that of the other country. You could be considered a national of another country even if you don't accept that nationality. The common ways Australians become dual nationals are:
- an Australian citizen automatically becomes a national of another country - through having a parent who is a national of that country or through marriage to a national of that country,
- a permanent resident of Australia acquires Australian citizenship by application and retains their previous citizenship,
- an Australian citizen acquires the citizenship of another country and retains their Australian citizenship, and
- a child born overseas to Australian parents is eligible for Australian citizenship and may also automatically acquire the citizenship of their country of birth.
Many countries have laws that prevent their citizens giving up their nationality under any circumstances. A number of countries have laws that prevent citizens giving up their nationality except by a formal act of renunciation. Others do not accept dual nationality and expect their citizens to hold only one nationality.
If you suspect you may be a national of another country, you should check with the embassy or consulate of that country well before you travel.
The importance of travel insurance
We strongly recommend you take out travel insurance, even if you are travelling to your country of other nationality. Being a national of another country does not mean you will have automatic access to the services provided to nationals, particularly if you do not usually reside, or pay tax, in that country.
See the CHOICE guide to buying travel insurance.
Passports and visas
Entering and leaving Australia
All Australians, including dual nationals, should leave and enter Australia on their Australian passport. If you have a passport from another country you can use that for travel once you have left Australia.
People trying to enter Australia as an Australian citizen but without an Australian passport will face difficulties and delays. An Australian passport is the preferred and most conclusive proof of Australian citizenship when travelling.
International airlines have an obligation to carry only appropriately documented passengers to Australia. Appropriate documentation for Australian nationals is an Australian passport. Appropriate documentation for a foreign national is a visa to enter Australia. If an Australian national attempts to board a flight to Australia without an Australian passport, airlines will likely be unable to verify their claim to Australian citizenship at the time of check-in and may refuse boarding. See the Department of Home Affairs website for further information on citizenship and travel.
Entering and leaving your country of other nationality
Dual nationals may choose to enter and leave the country of their other nationality on that country's passport. If planning to do this, dual nationals should be aware that some countries impose specific restrictions on their departing nationals, such as the requirement for an exit visa in their passport.
Be aware that, if you enter your country of other nationality on that country’s passport, local authorities might not recognise your Australian nationality, even if that country recognises dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian government to provide consular assistance.
Dual nationals may be liable for military service in the country of their other nationality. Some of the countries which may require dual nationals to undertake military service include Egypt, Greece, Iran, Israel and Lebanon, but may include several others.
Some countries allow nationals who have been living abroad to enter and stay for a limited time before incurring obligations for military service.
In other countries, the military service obligation is imposed immediately upon arrival. In these countries, dual nationals may be 'called up' and if they don't report for duty, may be regarded as defaulters whether they were aware of the call-up or not. They could be imprisoned, or inducted into the military forces when they next arrive in the country or attempt to leave the country. Even dual nationals who have passed the age for military service may be considered defaulters for failing to report at the required time.
Authorities may not accept ignorance of obligations as an excuse for failure to comply.
If you plan to visit a country where you may be considered a national, check your military service obligations with that country's embassy or consulate in Australia. Seek this advice in writing before leaving Australia and take a copy with you.
Relationships and family issues
Australia recognises marriages performed overseas, provided they meet Australian legal requirements. However, some agencies will not accept an overseas marriage certificate as evidence of a name change. You may therefore need to apply to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in your state or territory, for a formal change of name.
Marriages performed in Australia may not always be recognised in other countries. For example, a marriage performed in Australia between an Australian citizen and a person who holds another nationality may not be recognised in that second country. An Australian in that country might find the marriage is not recognised and any children considered illegitimate. We recommend that you contact that country's embassy or consulate before leaving Australia to clarify local laws regarding marriage or see the Attorney General's Department marriage page for more information.
Some Australian families seek to arrange the marriage of a child in an overseas country where the legal age to marry is lower than in Australia.
Under Australian law, a child under the age of 16 cannot marry in any circumstances. A child aged 16 or 17 requires a court order, issued by an Australian court, in order to marry. These laws apply to marriages in Australia. If a child under the age of 18, who is living in Australia, marries overseas without having first obtained a court order, the marriage will not be legally recognised in Australia.
Individuals who coerce, threaten or deceive another person to enter into a marriage may be prosecuted in Australia, even when the marriage takes place overseas. Forced marriages are not recognised under Australian law. See our forced marriage page or for further information.
The recognition by a foreign country of a divorce settled in Australia is a matter for that country. If you're concerned about the recognition of an Australian divorce by another country, you should seek advice from the relevant authorities of that country.
If you have concerns about the recognition of an overseas divorce in Australia, you should seek legal advice in Australia.
Some countries require both a civil and a religious divorce to be filed.
The Family Court provides further information about divorce, including for marriages which took place overseas.
Some countries do not recognise dual nationality. If a child’s birth is registered in a country that does not recognise dual nationality, that child's Australian citizenship may not be recognised by that country. This can affect decisions related to custody of the child, as decisions about child custody can be based on local law.
Parents travelling with children who may be considered nationals of a foreign country should seek legal advice to resolve child custody issues before travelling.
International child abduction
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction operates to return wrongfully removed or detained children to their country of habitual residence so that issues of parental responsibility can be resolved by the authorities of that country.
Before you leave Australia with your children, you should ensure that you have the consent to do so from any person, institution or other body that has a right of custody in relation to those children, or a court order permitting their departure.
Getting help overseas
DFAT provides assistance to all Australians, including dual nationals, who find themselves in serious trouble overseas. However, we expect all Australians overseas to use the resources available to them before turning to the Australian government for assistance. Well-prepared and appropriately insured travellers can solve most problems themselves.
In your country of other nationality, you should first look to the services available to you, as a national of that country. You should seek assistance from local authorities or emergency services in the first instance.
The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and cannot do to assist Australians overseas.
When Australian consular assistance is not available to dual nationals
Some countries do not recognise dual nationality. Such countries may not permit Australian consular officials to provide consular assistance to an Australian who is also considered a national of the country concerned.
If you travel on the passport of your other nationality, you may not be regarded as an Australian national by the country that you are visiting. This may also limit the assistance Australian consular officials are able to provide.
The extent to which we're able to help will be determined by the government of the country of your other nationality.
The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 (local call cost within Australia).
Final tips before you go
As with all travel, the better prepared you are, the safer and more enjoyable your travel will be.
- Read and subscribe to Smartraveller travel advice for the destinations you plan to visit. The Laws section of each of our travel advisories has detailed country-specific information for dual nationals.
- If you are, or think you may be, a dual national, check with the embassy or consulate of that country before you leave Australia.
- Check whether you will be required to perform military service by your country of other nationality before you leave Australia. Contact the embassy or consulate of that country before you travel.
- Confirm details of local laws at your destination on the recognition of a marriage, divorce or custody rulings made in Australia. See the Attorney General's Department Marriage page for more information.
- Research other local laws, particularly those with extra-territorial application, to determine whether they might apply to you. Guidebooks and online forums can be useful resources for information about specific laws relevant to dual nationals.
- If you've previously been expelled from your country of birth, you should check with that country's embassy or consulate in Australia to confirm whether you will be permitted to enter the country.
- If you have any questions on Australian citizenship, contact the Department of Home Affairs.