How to Determine When a 2nd Citizenship Obligation is a Dealbreaker
Updated: Oct 23
By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.
You should soberly consider benefits AND drawbacks in deciding which citizenship path is best for you
Not all drawbacks of a second citizenship are created equally.
When considering red flags of a particular second or third citizenship, there's a difference in the nature of obligations and burdens that the country poses only territorially (while you're in the country) vs. extraterritorially (whether you're in the country or elsewhere).
The two are different and should be treated differently in your weighing of citizenship options when looking to improve your freedom of movement.
In the excitement of pursuing second citizenship, it’s easy to forget that along with all the wonderful benefits of second citizenship, come a set of obligations and burdens attendant to becoming a citizen of a second country.
In other words, dual citizenship means having two sets of benefits and two sets of obligations and burdens.
Obligations & Burdens That Stay in the Country
Territorial obligations and burdens are less of a concern because you can release yourself from territorial obligations by leaving the country.
Examples would be:
adherence to restrictive dress-codes,
strict societal rules,
a poor domestic economy,
or even a high crime rate.
You can largely shed these burdens by leaving, or avoid their effect entirely by staying clear of the country for the period the burden is a) present and b) unacceptable to you. In these scenarios, citizenship in the country provides, at very least, a lifelong, low-cost call option one can exercise when a fallow land turns to fertile.
This is why I generally encourage clients who have a claim to citizenship in poor, high-crime, and third world countries to pursue it, even if they don't imagine wanting to ever live there. Aside from acting as a longtime call-option, an aspiring dual citizen can take advantage of many benefits of dual citizenship, without having to step foot in the second country.
Freedom of movement is the answer for self-sovereignty, prosperity and safety
Depending on the country, such benefits might include a second passport for travel or ID purposes, visa-free access provided by the second citizenship, country springboarding opportunities, satellite residency rights, and other benefits created by treaty, or otherwise.
The goal is to enjoy dual citizenship benefits extraterritorially, while steering clear of territorially-imposed disadvantages.
Obligations & Burdens That Follow You Everywhere
By contrast, extraterritorial obligations of a country follow you wherever you go, and should be treated more seriously as a reason to not pursue citizenship in a given country, whether by descent, investment, or otherwise.
The four biggest examples of red flag extraterritorial obligations/burdens I usually cite are:
citizenship based taxation,
mandatory military service,
a prohibition on renunciation of citizenship, and
Countries or citizens subject to heavy international sanction.
Some examples of countries that impose these extraterritorial obligations and burdens are Israel, the United States, Argentina, Iran, Switzerland, Singapore, and South Korea.
You cannot rid yourself of the legal effect of these obligations by geographic exit from the country.
Note: To what extent the country has the power to enforce the obligation on you is a related, but separate issue to whether the country can legally impose the obligation on you.
If you have a potential claim to citizenship in a country with one or more of these red flags, you should pause, make sure you're fully aware of the nature and extent of the obligations and make your decision after consulting with a professional mobility advisor.
Can the Country Enforce the Obligation or Burden?
Some people comment that an extraterritorial obligation, such as citizenship based taxation can be brushed off if it comes from a country perceived to have limited or weak ability to enforce the law. I find this suggestion typically comes from hobbyist commentators who are removed from the actual legal practice of international mobility and immigration.
While weakness in enforcement can be a point to note in your analysis, the strategy of flouting the given country’s law while relying on enforcement weakness is, over a long enough timeline, to have a sword of Damocles hanging over your head. It’s a latent personal liability, even if it takes years to manifest into a problem.
Don't walk into a trap, relying on misplaced confidence that it will not eventually spring
State enforcement capabilities are anything but static. Times change, and country capabilities change with it. Alliances shift. Countries sign treaties and information sharing agreements. Just ask any Americans who relied on vaunted Swiss banking secrecy coming into the 2010s.
It's better to do a proper evaluation of the citizenship obligations at the beginning, stay compliant, and sleep well over the years. So when considering drawbacks of obtaining a citizenship in a particular country, remember to ask yourself:
Does the drawback affect you only territorially or does it affect you territorially as well?