How to Obtain a Second Passport—And Why You May Need One


Most people accept the passport as a legitimate, long-standing function of the State in its role as "protector" of its citizens. This may or may not be the case today, but the passport has a rather checkered history in facilitating the individual's freedom of travel, having been used more often to restrict than to enhance mobility.

In its earlier forms the passport served as a written request from the ruler of one state to safeguard the passage of subjects through another; it also identified the bearer as being entitled to the protection of his country's consular office. As such, passports clearly served a worthwhile function, but it was not long before they degenerated into an officially granted, or withheld, permit to leave one's native land.

Compulsory passports first developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in France and Germany, ostensibly as a control on vagrants, disease carriers, Jews, and other "undesirables." The French Revolution provides the first modern instance of passport issuance for the sake of State control per se, however. Although the Constitution of 1791 guaranteed complete freedom of transit as a natural, inalienable, and uncontestable right, by 1792 a severe passport system was enacted in order to prevent the emigration of dissidents, the expatriation of funds, and the desertion of soldiers. The laws were made successively stricter and punishments for breach more severe.

Although the French had created the passport to prevent the emigration of their citizens, other countries were quick to follow suit, both to prevent the spread of revolutionary ideas and for reprisal—a fine excuse to control their own citizens. By 1800 all European countries, with the exception of Norway, Sweden and England, had compulsory passports. (English common law has long held that any person may leave a country without cause. England has, nonetheless, passed numerous laws contravening this tradition—although it must be said, in fairness, mostly during time of war.) The passport had come of age, transformed from a discretionary paper—granted at the request and for the benefit of travelers—into a compulsory document intended to limit individual freedom for the benefit or protection of the State. The revolutionary activities that plagued Europe from the time of Napoleon until mid-century made travel a generally troublesome proposition, and the era's passport controls did not simplify the matter.

From the 1850's to 1914, however, Europe and the world experienced something of a golden age, whether evidenced by the presence of economic progress and freedom or by the absence of wars, political activism, and "men on horseback." During this time few world states required passports for either entry or exit. (Russia, in keeping with its traditional disregard of human rights, was one that did.) World War I resulted in the reimposition of controls of all types, however, and even individuals whose countries did not require them to possess passports to leave found that most other countries required the document for entry.

Freedom of travel entered a long period of decline. Today there is a very high correlation between the ease with which a passport is available to a citizen and the amount of freedom in the country generally. Obviously, police states are slow to issue travel documents since they might quickly find themselves without a citizenry. Nazi Germany, the Sino-Soviet bloc, and most of the Third World are all distinguished by a low volume of outbound (or inbound, for that matter) tourists, largely because of state controls. One hallmark of India's status as one of the world's totalitarian nations is to be found in its 1967 Passport Act. The act states that—among other reasons—issuance of a passport may be denied to any citizen "whose travel, in the opinion of the central government…would not be in the public interest." The law further specifies that the government cannot be forced to disclose its reason for denial, nor can its denial be appealed.

Let's not waste time with a regurgitation of how to acquire a conventional U.S. travel document; the passport office provides standard printed material giving a far more complete explanation than space allows here. What the office does not offer is an explanation of how to obtain what you really want—a diplomatic passport.

Most nations have two classes of passports—regular and diplomatic. The United States has three:

1. Regular. The common silver-green or silver-blue covered document available to all Americans, of which almost 3 million are issued each year.

2. Official. Maroon in color, about 75.000 are issued to Congressmen and government officials each year.

3. Diplomatic. Black in color with gold lettering, about 6,000 of these are issued each year—even though there are probably never more than 3,000 accredited U.S. diplomats at any one time. Most of these diplomatic passports are "courtesy" passports, issued to nondiplomats at the authorization of the State Department.

There are many advantages to having a diplomatic passport. First, it usually has no expiration date, which gives you much more freedom and less hassle. Second, presentation of the passport exempts you from most taxes in your foreign country of residence, and this feature alone is worth the price of admission. In addition, it is marvelous for intimidating customs inspectors, police or any other officials you may come in contact with. A bit of brassy attitude combined with possession of this document can result in special privileges, immunities, and favors.

The Passport Office has been attempting to abolish diplomatic passports for years, but those who are keen on having them are generally also high enough in rank to block these efforts. No doubt the office's efforts will intensify, but at present this passport is not only legal, but available. There are basically three ways of acquiring one.

1. At the direction of the State Department. This means you must have connections with the right people and give them a reasonable excuse for authorizing issue. It is a better bet, however, to become an honorary consul, or to "buy" one.

2. Honorary consul. Small, poor countries the world over may desire representation and connections in your geographical area or your field, of expertise. It is quite legal for you to represent them, and when their government issues a certificate attesting to your diplomatic status, the Passport Office is obliged to correspond with a black passport. Being an honorary consul brings with it most of the usual privileges of being a diplomat and generally involves little work—perhaps the direction of companies or citizens from the represented country to the correct local government offices of the city where you live. In order to ply the means of getting honorary consulship you will need to speak the language of both the home country and the country to which you are accredited and be able to provide some service to the issuing government (or have some connection with its officials).

3. Direct purchase. Once again we come back to the world's less-developed lands. It is only necessary to find an ambassador, consul, or legate who is willing to issue a Lettre de Chancelleries—a document indicating that you have been retained to perform services or consultation for the government—and once again you are home free. Honorary consuls are appointed by the government of the country itself, but Lettres are issued by the local embassy, at the discretion of the local consul. There is, of course, a wide variance in prices, but $500 is a reasonable level at which to start the bidding.

The U.S. diplomatic passport is worth going out of your way to acquire, and indeed the documents that allow you to demand one are very valuable in their own right.

There are basically two legal ways to acquire a foreign passport. For better or worse, they usually involve acquisition of the corresponding citizenship as well. In itself this should not put one off, since it is unlikely that you would ever spend much time within the borders—and control—of the countries in question.

The problem arises with the U.S. government, which reserves the right to revoke, or refuse to issue, a passport on numerous grounds—including: if the applicant is no longer a U.S. citizen. And this is where the problem arises. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1975, in combination with existing case law, lays down a number of specific parameters concerning loss of citizenship. Among other reasons, you can have your citizenship rescinded either for obtaining naturalization in a foreign state upon your own application or for taking an oath, affirmation, or other declaration of allegiance to a foreign state (which is usually required if they are issuing you a passport).

The bottom line is that if you go out to find a "flag of convenience" you risk losing your U.S. citizenship. Interestingly, although the passport is considered prima facie evidence of nationality, international law in no way stipulates citizenship as a requirement for having one. The United States, as a matter of fact, is able to issue passports to people who "owe allegiance" even though they may not be citizens. The principle of dual nationality is widely accepted in international case law.

Americans appear to be far more reluctant to give up their citizenship than are citizens of any other country when placed in a comparable situation. Nevertheless, it might be wise to view citizenship as a business proposition and to look at both sides of the balance sheet.

The first way legally to obtain a foreign passport is by acquiring foreign citizenship. As a rule of thumb, most countries require residence for five years (although it varies) before they confer citizenship with its attendant passport. Most require you to formally renounce your previous citizenship (Canada, South Africa, and Switzerland are three prominent examples); others notify your mother country; while others do neither (Taiwan, Israel, and Ireland among others).

In almost all cases, your marriage to a foreign national will significantly speed the acquisition process. The laws of most countries provide for the automatic, or near automatic, naturalization of women who marry male citizens, a circumstance where "sexist" laws clearly work to the female's advantage. This is not, however, usually the case for men, although usually the required period of residence is cut by at least several years if a foreign male marries a female citizen.

Direct or indirect purchase is another means of acquiring a foreign passport. Passports are not "for sale" anywhere, but hard currency in the right hands in the right countries can result in waiver of residence and other legal requirements for this acquisition. The countries offering passports as valuable souvenirs to foreigners are generally the same ones peddling their coins and postage stamps, and generally for the same reason—a depleted national treasury. Candidates are the small, poor, tropical lands of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. There are no official channels to go through; connections are all unofficial. In the poor lands of the world, however, just as in the wealthy ones, lawyers tend to pull the strings in political matters, and it is simply a question of finding the right one at the right price. The price is in the $5,000 to $25,000 area at this time.

The State Department estimates that "several million" Americans are legal holders of two or more passports, although almost all of them are naturalized immigrants—mostly from Italy, Greece, and Latin America. For obvious reasons, there are no estimates of how many surreptitious second passports are in the hands of Americans, but the number is unquestionably rising as fast as taxation, regulation, and the erosion of freedom in the United States.

Aside from taking out second passports with foreign governments (legally, but at risk of losing their U.S. citizenship) many otherwise law-abiding Americans have acquired false, strictly illegal, passports from either the United States or a foreign jurisdiction. The authorities are vitally interested in this issue.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that the desire to acquire false identification, and the "need" to do so, has spread from the ranks of smugglers, mercenaries, and other such international adventurers down to the level of the man in the street. This is not the forum for debating the moral issue of whether it is all right for a CIA agent to assume a different identity to flout the laws of a country but wrong for a private citizen to do so, or whether there is a difference between an American citizen getting a second identity in order to leave the United States, despite the fact the government wants to hold him for nonpayment of income tax, and a Soviet citizen's finagling in order to leave the USSR despite the fact that the government wants to hold him for nonpayment of emigration tax. There seems to be no more than an arbitrary and accidental correspondence between legality and morality on many such issues.

Anyway, there are basically three classes of false passport. The first consists of forged passports, that is to say, printed privately, without official government approval. The security measures exercised in the manufacture of passports in the United States is comparable to that used in the printing of currency. Customs officials are trained in the detection of forged (or altered) documents, and it would be a foolish fellow who would attempt to do this with an American passport, at least in an attempt to enter the United States. Forged American passports apparently have been successfully used abroad, however, as have the forged passports of other countries, especially the small, lesser known ones.

Then, of course, there are stolen passports. Well over 30,000 American passports were lost or stolen in 1975, and the number has been rising rapidly over the years, from about 17,000 in 1970. There are probably over 100,000 passports of all nationalities lost or stolen each year. It is impossible to say how many actually find their way into the hands of desperadoes, who then either alter the picture or the appearance of the buyer; but only 15 percent are ever returned to their owners. Since almost all foreign border officials usually only look to see if the picture and description roughly match the carrier and do not bother checking records to ascertain whether a document is stolen, these passports may circulate for years.

Because of the increasing number of lost passports, the U.S. government seems to suspect that some of its citizens may actually be selling theirs for a tidy sum and then claiming accidental loss. (Stolen U.S. passports bring up to $2,000 on the open market; the best guess is that 3,000 to 5,000 are actually stolen or sold each year.) Regulations regarding replacement' have, therefore, been tightened up considerably—which often means that only a "temporary" passport is now reissued until return to the United States.

"Alias" passports make up the third class of illegal documents and have come to be considered the most serious type of passport fraud and also the most undetectable, hinging around the acquisition of a new birth certificate.

The acquirer can, of course, use anyone's birth certificate, but this will lead to problems if the rightful owner has also applied for a passport or does so in the future. The applicant, therefore, searches the graveyards, the newspapers, or the local recorder's office until he finds a baby born at about the same time as himself, who died while still in childhood. This process is facilitated in the United States by the fact that Americans come in all sizes, shapes, races, colors, names, and so on. Inhabitants of a country such as England or Japan or Haiti are clearly limited in this regard, since their populations are far more homogeneous. Armed with the child's full name, particulars, and the identity of its mother and father, he may then proceed to the town clerk and get a certified copy of the birth certificate; this in itself is not an illegal act in most states. (The illegality lies in the use of the certificate to procure other, false, identification.) How hard this is depends upon how wary the clerk is and how convincing the applicant. The reader may be surprised to know that the process can often be handled via telephone.

The next step is the acquisition of a piece of supplementary identification "proving" the possessor of the certificate to be the one named. All states issue driver's licenses or some other official I.D. in lieu of the license—since the driver's license is considered the sine qua non of American I.D.'s. The situation varies from office to office, but normally the birth certificate accompanied by a verbal statement is sufficient to gain the license.

The last step is to take both to one of the 800 United States Post Offices that may take application for passports. Passport applications are also accepted at Passport Offices and by the clerks of any of the 2,800 courts in the United States. But since these officials have special training in apprehending fraudulent applicants, most phony applicants probably go the Post Office route. There are numerous cases on record of a sharp-eyed court clerk or Passport Office employee noting a hesitation in answering or an uncertainty in signing, leading to the apprehension of a near-perpetrator.

It is necessary to show the clerk a driver's license and to give him two pictures and, currently, a check for U.S. $13. The certificate is sent to the State Department and is returned, in anywhere from four days to two weeks, with the passport. The passport people only check the birth certificate visually for obvious signs of forgery and to insure that the raised seal of the issuing authority is present. They do not usually verify this fact with the issuing office, however. This means that a lot of fraudulent passports are probably acquired with phony birth certificates, since each of the thousands of local jurisdictions has its own form of certificate and it is impossible for the Passport Office to be sure any given one in real.

The process is, mechanically, quite simple and can be repeated any number of times—as some who have been caught and convicted have demonstrated. Since the only time when face-to-face contact is necessary is before a not-too-interested postal clerk, the risk is not high. Cautious professionals, however, always use an address of convenience for mail purposes. The address must not be a post office box, but such things as boarding houses, rented offices, and underground newspapers have been used quite successfully.

The number of passport frauds seems to be rising steadily. Frances G. Knight, director of the U.S. Passport Office since 1955, reports that 501 frauds were discovered in 1970, 604 in 1971, 614 in 1972, 738 in 1973, and 791 in 1974—not a substantial number when compared to the approximately 3 million passports issued each year, but, without a doubt, many frauds go undetected. At this point, however, the authorities know that the vast majority of frauds are aimed at securing I.D.'s for the illegal immigration of foreigners who cannot get legitimate visas. Each passport is valid for five years, and it is estimated that there are now about 14 million valid passports outstanding worldwide.

Not surprisingly, this type of thing also goes on in most other countries of the Western world and is easier in most of them. At this time a task force composed or representatives from a number of agencies, including State and Justice, is researching the problem. As possible countermeasures they are considering a mandatory national identification card, mandatory fingerprinting for issuance of passports, and the linkage of birth and death records on a nationwide basis. Some or all of these things—and more—are the likely wave of the future, but they will not serve to substantially diminish passport fraud.

A rather obvious effect will be to raise prices, and profits. Although the market for false I.D.'s is "illiquid", with prices varying widely on whatever the market can be made to bear, as of the mid-1970's, $150 might secure a birth certificate, $400 a driver's license, and $2,000 a passport—all minimum figures. The West Coast has long been the established center for this type of activity. Another "cost" is the penalty if caught: five years or $2,000.

A second effect will be to substantially increase the control government has on its citizens—thereby increasing their incentive to commit frauds of the very type it seeks to prevent. Like many official measures, it will be counterproductive even while serving the ulterior motives of its proponents.

In addition to known fraudulent passports, the U.8. government keeps what is known as a "Lookout File" of about 250,000 persons that the customs inspector checks each time a citizen enters the country. Included are defectors or expatriates wanted on criminal charges, those involved in child custody or desertion cases, those wanted on tax charges or any indebtedness to the government, AWOL military, and some subversives—including those who are no longer U.S. citizens. Nor does the search really stop at U.S. borders. In October 1973 a young man by the name of Gawin Naive was arrested and taken off his plane at Kennedy Airport in New York while on a temporary stopover on his way to Canada from Bermuda. Naive and his family, all avowed pacifists, emigrated to Canada in 1967, ten days before he was required to register for selective service at age 18. A warrant for draft evasion was issued on him, and six years later, despite the fact he had become a naturalized Canadian, U.S. authorities in Bermuda picked up his name on the plane's passenger list and reported him to the FBI.

A word should be said about some oddball travel documents that have been, are, or may be used for border crossing.

The Red Cross. After World War II, the Red Cross found, due to the literally millions of refugees and displaced persons flooding the globe, a need for a "laissez-passer" I.D. for people who could not prove their nationalities or whose totalitarian governments refused to issue appropriate documents. (A passport is issued only by a nation, whereas a "laissez-passer" is a travel document issued by a nonterritorial organization.) The International Red Cross supplied a travel document to scores of thousands in order to facilitate their crossing borders to return to their old homes or their emigration to a new one; over 30 countries eventually recognized it. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and there are no longer any in circulation. You will have to wait for some type of worldwide catastrophe, I am afraid, before you can take advantage of this organization's good offices.

The United Nations. In view of the United Nations' international character, it was felt that its officials should have a laissez-passer distinct from those issued by their homelands. The 60-page document so issued is valid for two years and remains the property of the issuer (as is the case with passports, a tenet recognized by international law). The possession of the document, by international convention, cuts through a great deal of red tape. Because of its peculiar advantages, extraordinary care is taken with watermarks, paper, and such to prevent forging; loss or theft is exhaustively investigated. Unfortunately, this document is issued only to officials of the United Nations or its agencies, and even then on a strictly "as-needed" basis.

The Vatican. Since the Lateran Treaty of 1929 ceded the Vatican to the pope, the Vatican (as distinct from the Holy See itself, which has long issued special laissez-passers to cardinals), has issued passports to citizens. The conditions of citizenship of this tiny state are unusual, in that a person automatically becomes a citizen under some circumstances.

The Order of Malta which has been in existence for more than 1,000 years, has issued laissez-passers since 1930; the documents are recognized by the Vatican, San Marino, Spain, Haiti, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Lebanon, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Austria, Costa Rica, Liberia, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Cameroon, Somaliland, Iran, Bolivia, Gabon, Uruguay, the Philippines, and Senegal on a de jure (official) basis. Belgium, France, West Germany, Monaco, and Switzerland do so on a de facto (unofficial) basis. The document is issued to those representing the order and other persons considered worthy of special consideration. This is a little known possibility, realistic only for those in exceptional circumstances. The order's headquarters are in Rome. World Service Authority. The W.S.A. was formed shortly after World War II by an American, Garry Davis. Davis would prefer to call to himself a citizen of the world, rather than of any of its countries, and toward that end renounced his U.S. citizenship promptly after printing the first W.S.A. travel document (fittingly numbered 000,001) in 1948. Since then he has been subject to numerous stints in jail, as well as deportation orders, arising from his internationalist activities. Most governments look upon him as something of a troublemaker, but since he is not a citizen of another state he cannot be successfully deported; indeed, Mr. Davis has often been shuttled back and forth and around the world for weeks on end in search of a place to light—a fact which would not seem to say much for his W.S.A. passport.

The document itself has not been recognized de jure by any major government, but, for what it's worth, Ecuador, Zambia, Upper Volta, Yemen, Kuwait, and Mauritius accept the W.S.A. document as a matter of law. It has been accepted and stamped in a de facto manner by a good number of border guards—generally those, however, in places like Afghanistan and the Cook Islands where any foreign passport at all is something of a novelty. Nonetheless, it is a very official-looking document and will, in combination with a brassy, confident attitude, get you into quite a few countries. (Application can be made to Mr. Davis at 1100 17th St. N.W., No. 1000, Washington, DC 20036.)

There is, of course, much more to be said about passports and dual citizenship in general as well as about the specifics for any given country—not to mention international business, working, tax, and investment ramifications. There is something to be said for doing one's homework early, so that if the time comes to move, at least one obstacle will have been overcome. The time is, more likely than not, coming—and it would pay to act now and beat the last minute rush.

A salesman by trade and an adventurer by avocation, Douglas Casey's book, The Expatriate's Guide, will appear this month.