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Top tips for anyone with two British passports

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We recently published a guide to getting a second British passport for business reasons (click here) written by reader Chris. It is a helpful overview of the application process and rules and proved very popular.

After that article was published, another reader – Ross – reached out with some of his top tips for holders of two British passports. As you will see below Ross has extensive experience of holding two passports. It makes a good companion piece to Chris’ article so we thought it was worth sharing.

Over to Ross:

“I work for a UK-based multi-national company. My work takes me to many of our global markets, some of which are in tricky parts of the world. Aside from the hiatus caused by the pandemic, I also travel the Europe almost weekly to oversee the teams for whom I am directly responsible.

Top tips for anyone with two British passports

Submitting a passport for complex visas can take days or even weeks, and the lack of certainty about when it could be returned can be a problem. My travel pattern also risks my work travel to sensitive areas making some other work trips (and future leisure trips) more complex. For both of these reasons I have held, and renewed, two concurrent British passports for the past fifteen years.

When I read Chris’ comprehensive article on the application process, I thought it might be useful to add some of the “dos and don’ts” that I have learnt for living with two passports over the past decade and a half. After all, the consequences of getting things wrong can be quite serious.

Is a second passport even legal?

As Chris pointed out, the ability to hold to concurrent British passports is not widely advertised. While in my business it is quite a common practice, the impression I get is that HM Passport Office has no desire for the holding of concurrent passports to become commonplace. It seems to want to maintain the procedure as a discretionary exception.

One downside of this approach is that the most common response that you will receive from people who discover that you have two British passports is almost universally: “Is that legal?” Many major countries do not offer the ability to hold concurrent passports, and while they understand that somebody may hold concurrent passports from different jurisdictions due to multiple citizenships, there is much less understanding about holding multiple British documents.

This is not a problem in the context of a light-hearted conversation at a Chipping Norton dinner party. It is a significant problem if you are trying to convince an angsty Kyrgyz border guard that you are not a spy in the small hours of the morning. This problem is exacerbated as there is no obvious official website or guidance from the UK government to show on your phone that explains that this situation is legal.

For this reason, there are a number of tips that will make your life significantly more pleasant.

Always exit and enter with the same passport

The golden rule of travelling with two passports is never to swap them while in a foreign jurisdiction. You should always enter and exit a country on the same passport. Entering and exiting on different British passports can lead to significant legal issues.

Exiting on a different passport – if it is not picked up on the border as you exit – can mean that you are never recorded as having left the country, and are recorded as overstaying your visa. This can lead to issues up to and including criminal investigation the next time you enter or transit the country. It is especially important that you have tight passport discipline at major transit hubs, especially when stopovers (and thus border crossings) are involved – i.e. a brief stopover in Dubai.

Those I know who have fallen foul of this rule have generally found it very difficult to correct the situation, and it has led to significant and long-lasting issues at major travel hubs. The UK government and its consulates are not always very supportive in such situations, on the basis that travelling with multiple concurrent British passports rather undermines the case for you needing multiple passports in the first instance.

Try not to travel with both documents at all

If at all possible, never travel with more than one British passport. It raises suspicions and risks among border guards and overseas authorities, it undermines the case for holding multiple passports and it increases the potential for confusion.

Replacing a lost second passport is also more complex than replacing a lost single passport. The HM Passport Office systems are all built to deal with single passport-holders, and sometimes struggle with even that.

There will, of course, be situations in which you need to travel with both documents. When I was assigned overseas for more than twelve months,  I took both with me – the second passport in a sealed envelope among papers in my hand-luggage, which then lived in the safe in my apartment unless I needed it.

Have a passport strategy

There is no theoretical limit why you could not have more than two British passports, although the burden of proving necessity would be high. Even if you only hold two, things can get very complex very quickly, so it is important to have a passport strategy. Here is mine:

  • I applied for my second passport half-way through the 10-year validity of my existing passport. This is because renewals – which involve another letter from our Company Secretary or C-Suite – come around only every five years.

  • I always apply for jumbo passports, with 48 rather than 32 pages. This is partly because I don’t want to fill a passport up with stamps (more common after Brexit) and thus break the cadence above, but also because if you are genuinely a frequent traveller, it would seem incongruous to order a thin one.

  • One of my passports is my “primary” or default passport. I use this everywhere I possibly can for most normal travel. This is the passport that is registered in my account with airlines, and the one I carry with me most of the time. For this reason, it also holds most of my e-visas, ESTAs, Global Entry, and similar for the US, Canada, and Australia.

  • The other passport is  my “backup” passport. I use this just for necessities: when I need to submit it for some long-winded visa process, or when I am travelling to some tricky jurisdiction. This one has all my interesting passport stamps in it!

  • I differentiate my passports as much as possible. I have a small red circular sticker on the back cover of my secondary passport, and a small green circular sticker on the back cover of my primary passport. I have different passport photographs in each. This is to avoid picking up the wrong document and ending up unable to fly, or in hot water with immigration authorities.

  • Other people who book travel on my behalf (my wife, my PA) know about the situation, and know that the default passport should be used in almost all cases.

Having a second British passport is not cheap. You are obviously doubling your application and renewal fees, and if you need to apply for ESTAs or similar on multiple passports, it can quickly add up. Nor is it a process that is without risk.

The ideal scenario for any traveller is simplicity, so perhaps in a perfect world a second passport would be a contingency that you never need. However, with the tips above it can be a very useful tool for the frequent traveller when used wisely.

Comments (99)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • LEWIS says:

    Yip good advice. I had interesting wait in South Africa. I had two passports, an expired passport- I have to keep as it still had a valid us visa in it and some coastguard certificates- which look identical to pasports except a differnt colour – from my job. Opened my folder at passport control had a few minutes wait as border guard looked panicked and called a supervisor.
    We had a laugh when explained why he was called turned out border guard seen all the passport and thought I was some sort of spy.

  • Patrick says:

    This may help 10% of UK residents. I have a British and (via my Irish mother) an Irish passport. The Irish also issue a passport card valid for entry throughout the EU & EEA. Size of a UK driving license. So handy. I now only bring this card when traveling within the 30 EEA countries plus the UK. 6 million British residents are estimated to be eligible for an Irish passport and passport card. You are eligible if a parent or grandparent was Irish or born in Ireland. Recommended as so convenient. Hope this helps if you are one of the 6 million.

    • QFFlyer says:

      Indeed, I live in Australia but also hold both UK and IE passports, the IE passport (and card) I applied for from the Irish embassy in Canberra, and was actually easier and cheaper than the UK one.

      There’s also (very few) differences to the visa free options available with each, alongside the obvious Brexit Insurance that it provides.

  • Darren says:

    I have had two UK passports for 10+ years with the main necessity being for work travel (my ex company paid for them) now I am working in the EU even though I am a resident in an EU country the rules have changed and now I can use the passports for the 90/180 EU rule by swapping passports every 90 days or so.

    As said in the article you need a valid reason to get one and usually a letter from your company will be sufficient as well as actually going to the passport office because you can’t do this by post. I also believe its possible to have 3 passports in total but maybe that’s just greedy 😀

  • Steve says:

    I hold two UK passports due to the regular travel. Since Brexit I’ve been using the same one for all trips inside the EU so all the stamps are in one passport and to help ensure I’m not exceeding the 90/180 day limit.

    However l need to send that passport off for a visa (the other one does not have enough blank pages) and need to travel for business to the EU while its being processed. Pre Brexit l would just use the other one, but l am little worried now that passport control may have stricter measures for concurrent (second) passports since the UK became a third country. Has anyone used two passports with(out) issue? PS l will be well within my 90/180 allowance.

  • JDG says:

    I have the UK and Irish pair, and the UK one is on my Eurotunnel account for API. When I went on a day trip to France at the end of last year I used the UK one to exit UK/enter France, and it got stamped. Returning later that day, the French border guard had trouble finding the stamp among the myriad of exotic visas and stamps. “Why didn’t you just use your Irish passport and save all this trouble?” he said. This was a surprise because I’ve never entered France on the Irish one so I wonder how it got onto their computer system?

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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