Frequently Asked Questions: American Citizenship and Passports
I was born in the United States while my parents were there temporarily for studies. Do I have a claim to American citizenship?
Yes, almost anybody born in the United States is an American citizen regardless of the nationality or status of the parents. The only exceptions are children of foreign diplomats who have full diplomatic immunity. Anyone else can apply for an American passport by presenting an original birth certificate showing birth in the United States and adequate identity documents.
I am an American citizen. I recently had a child born in Finland. Does she have a claim to American citizenship?
Most likely. Whether an American citizen can transmit citizenship to a child born overseas depends on several factors: whether both parents are American, whether the child is born in wedlock, when the child is born. The most common case is a child born in wedlock to one American citizen parent, and one non-American parent. The American citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States for five years prior to the birth of the child. In addition, two of those five years must be after the parent reached the age of fourteen. For children born before 1986, the parent must have spent ten years in the United States with five years after the age of fourteen. The five years is cumulative so a few months here and a few years there can be used to add up to the five years. When both parents are American, they need only show that one of them has ever resided in the United States (no specified time). An American citizen mother of a child born out wedlock needs to show that she spent one continuous year in the United States. An American citizen father of a child born out of wedlock must have the five years and must have recognized the child and agreed to the child’s financial support.
My daughter has lived all her life in Finland and cannot give American citizenship to her children. Is there any way they can become American through their grandparents?
Yes. When American citizens cannot transmit citizenship to their children born overseas because they do not have the required physical presence in the United States, they have two options:
- They can apply for the expeditious naturalization of their children, if an American citizen grandparent has enough physical presence in the United States. This procedure must be done through the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. The process takes longer (up to 3 years) and the child must go to the United States to be naturalized, but the end result is that the child receives a Certificate of U.S. Citizenship and is an American citizen. The process must be completed before the child is eighteen.
- The U.S. citizen parent may file for an immigrant visa for the child. Under the Child Citizenship Act, once the child enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, the child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. The child must be under 18 and in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent at the time of entry. Immigrant visas may be obtained through the Embassy in Helsinki. The immigrant visa process usually takes no more than 2 months.
My son has both Finnish and American citizenship. At what age must he choose which citizenship he wants to keep?
American citizenship is for life. No child has to do anything at any age to retain, choose, affirm, or confirm American citizenship. In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court ruled that citizenship is a Constitutional right, which cannot be taken away from a citizen who does not intend to relinquish it. Therefore, such actions as naturalization in a foreign election, do not automatically jeopardize American citizenship.
If we don't plan to travel back to the United States any time soon, why should we renew our passports now?
- The passport is proof of American citizenship. Every American abroad should have valid proof of her or his citizenship at all times.
- Life is unpredictable. You will never know when you may need to travel suddenly to the United States. The last thing you need to do in an emergency is worry about getting downtown to get your or your child’s passport renewed. It is much better to do it when it is convenient for you.
- A passport is required for countless Finnish administrative purposes and you do not want to get caught with an expired passport
- If you wait too long, you cannot renew an expired passport by mail. You have to apply in person and pay an extra $30.
I travel frequently and my passport is always at some Embassy to obtain a visa. Can I get a second passport?
Generally, citizens are allowed to carry only one valid passport at a time. In some cases, the issuance of a second passport is possible: frequent travel and the delays due to visa applications; the presence of a stamp from one country that causes problems in another country. We will ask for justification from an employer or proof of compelling reasons for personal travel.
Can I renew my passport before the expiration date?
Yes. You may renew your passport at any time.
How long will I have to wait for the passport?
Passports are printed in the United States and mailed to U.S. Embassy Helsinki. Therefore, processing times can vary throughout the year. At peak times (e.g., summer, late December), you may receive your passport up to 21 days after your interview. Plan ahead!
Can I travel to the United States while waiting for my passport?
The U.S. Embassy has an obligation to verify that U.S. citizens only have one valid passport in their possession at any time. You can choose to travel with your current passport (if still valid) during processing, but you will have to return that passport to the U.S. Embassy (by mail) for cancellation prior to issuance of your new passport.
Can my child travel to the United States while waiting for the U.S. passport?
Unfortunately, no. Your child must be able to present a U.S. passport to enter the United States.
My passport only has a few water spots. Do I need a replacement?
This question is difficult to answer. Any official may deny you entry if he/she questions the validity of your passport. Standards may vary.
Can I replace my damaged passport through the mail?
Yes. However, if the damage is significant we reserve the right to require the applicant appear in person. We will contact you via email when we receive your damaged passport application and request you make an appointment for a personal appearance.
Does my newborn need a U.S. passport to travel to or from the United States if they have a Finnish or other country’s passport?
Newborns, like all U.S. citizens, must use a valid U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. See more information on applying for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad and a first-time passport here.