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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.

Top tips for anyone with two British passports

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.

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.

Top tips for anyone with two British passports

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)

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  • TimM says:

    Fascinating. I am sure I am not alone among the HfP readership in ‘second passport envy’. My own interest is due to the experience of losing my passport abroad but having read Chris’s & Ross’s articles, I am convinced I don’t need a second passport.

    “I have different passport photographs in each”. This line tickled me. How different?

    • John says:

      If you want multiple passports get another citizenship. I have 5 and I can’t get rid of 2 of them (which makes certain parts of the world no-go areas even for airside transit).

      A real spy wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be incompetent enough to let immigration agents discover they have several passports.

      Although this reminds me of the time when I had 2 ID cards from my university because one lecture theatre I had to attend (for the convenience of the lecturers) had an older style lock that needed a different type of magnetic strip. One day when I went to the gym, I stupidly let a security guard see the inside of my wallet with both cards and that jumped-up jobsworth “detained” me for 30 minutes.

      • cinereus says:

        Why on earth would you pay any attention to what the security guard said in that scenario?

        • John says:

          Well I was 18 and afraid of authority, and he wasn’t letting me into the gym until he had woken up his boss to confirm that it was legit to have 2 cards, but his boss had never heard of this before, so he had to call the head of security at the other campus.

      • Bagoly says:

        But a Russian spy might, especially if they have appeared on Bellingcat’s radar!

    • Ross says:

      Same face, even worse expression somehow! I just meant that I didn’t re-use the same pic (which you shouldn’t anyway, but many do), so there is some differentiation.

  • Iain says:

    Both are very helpful articles. Thank you Chris and Ross.

    One of the top reasons for requesting an additional UK ppt is because of difficulties if you have an Israeli stamp/visa. The golden rule for me is therefore one ppt for Muslim countries (and visa application crackpots like China and North Korea) and one for everywhere else.

    • Ross says:

      I’ve never had issues with transiting or entering UAE with my primary passport, which I used for Israel and “western” countries – but I use my secondary for Lebanon, Egypt, etc.

    • Ben says:

      You haven’t received a stamp for israel for maybe 7 or 8 years.. they give you paper slips that you can throw away at the end of your visit if you like..

      • Mr. AC says:

        Indeed, and North Korea is the same – separate paper slip is the default, very helpful. Although if you want, you can request a stamp in the passport as well for novelty purposes.

    • Ian says:

      Israel doesn’t stamp passports any more. I asked for a stamp as a “souvenir” in my second passport when I visited a few years ago but no, they don’t exist. You get a little entry form which you must keep safely until you leave Israel. However, at Ben Gurion security when leaving they stuck a number with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet on the back of the passport. When I got home I carefully peeled it off as I thought it was a bit of a giveaway.

  • Steve says:

    Very useful. I had 2 passports for similar reasons related to time without passport during visa applications. Because I live in France, and travelled into Switzerland everyday, up until recently (Brexit generated an ID Card ) the passport was my only means of identity for routine matters in daily life. In addition, having a passport devoid of certain visas / stamps makes frontier checks a little easier. USA and certainly Israel is less complicated if you don’t have stamps from Arabic countries.

  • Tim says:

    I’ve had two passports for a decade and although some of the advice is sensible, some is a bit dramatic. Unless it’s a really edgy country, sealing the second passport in an envelope is a bit much. I often travel with both, sometimes, I need both, not least that one is much better read by egates in the UK.
    The only time I’ve had an issue is when my PA booked a train in China with the wrong one, needing some faffing and a missed train.

    • Kowalski says:

      I agree. I nearly always travel with both in my bag.

      Recently when entering Poland they asked if I have a 2nd passport, I said yes, pulled it out of my bag and passed it to them. There were no issues there.

      I’ve found that my newer black (dark blue) passport doesn’t work with the egates in the UK at LCY and LHR. A couple of times I’ve tried with the black one a couple of times, then having failed, reached into my bag and pulled out the older one, scanned that and the gate opens no problem. So I’ve found it handy to travel with both

      • JK says:

        Similar experience for me when I had 2 Aussie passports. Some countries would clock that I’d been through recently on another and ask if I had it with me. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t, but either way it was never a problem.

        Side note that I used my second one all the way up to it’s expiry date, never had a country complain it was close to expiring.

      • Bagoly says:

        They must have had some reason for asking you, out of all millions of people who do not – presumably you had used the other to enter/exit Poland on a previous trip.

    • Bagoly says:

      My “dodgy countries” passport only spent a few weeks a year in embassies getting visas.
      The rest of the time it lived in my hand-carry in case
      1) I forgot to pick up my main passport for a trip (it was relevant once)
      2) my main passport got lost/stolen while on a trip.

  • strickers says:

    Similar for me, I needed an Indian Visa several years ago which involved being without my passport for several weeks. Letter from my employer saying I needed my passport for work and applied for a second. My main one is used for almost everything and the second is rolled out when I need to send off for a visa. It’s probably been used 3 times since I got it 9 years ago.

  • Mike says:

    “Having a second British passport is not cheap” – presumably your company pays ? Even the ever so stingy public sector pays the costs / expenses involved when it is needed for your role.

    • Ross Parker says:

      They do – but not every reader will be an employee.

    • Alan says:

      Oh if only that were true re public sector paying for costs associated with the role! Certainly not the same a colleagues that work in the private sector as lawyers, accountants, etc.

      • QFFlyer says:

        Ha agree, when I worked in the UK initially they paid my professional membership fees, but that was axed after a few years. Of course we still had to pay them, at least we could claim back the tax on them. About the only thing they did pay, towards the end, was mileage.

    • abc says:

      Also the cost of the sercond passport should be pretty much neglectible anyway compared to the cost of travel and visas if you need one.

  • paul sheeter says:

    Interesting article . I too use No 1 as primary but do travel with both in case one gets lost . Often i enter the foreign jurisdiction on No1 but on return enter UK using No2 because its hard plastic and is user friendly on barometric readers as opposed toNo1 which is the paper kind with the photo and it can be difficult to insert to the reader – i am about to renew No 1 so ought to be ok going forward
    A friend with a second jurisdiction passport entered Dubai using that and not the one he ad previously entered with – the border guards computer picked this up and asked about passport 2 – it almost led to an “interview process” although eventually after showing the No2 passport which he did have with him and a lengthy explanation he was allowed to enter – however if could have led to problems and anyway took up valuable time and anxiety – so lesson also must to always same passport to enter on future visits
    Hopefully my renewal will go smoothly

    • Lady London says:

      I was going to suggest with some of the more inquisitive republics always trying to do later trips on the same passport to save time being ‘interviewed’ etc.

      Most of us will have seen that after even a normal passport renewal, first time visit to a lot of places with the renewed passport seems to have a higher chance of auto system rejecting passport first time so a manual immi required, or the US immi officer seeming to take a bit longer, maybe to flip a screen to look at the entries on the preceding passport.

  • Dev says:

    Another suggestion I would make is that if you have 3 or more passports, try and keep one for personal travel only.

    Some countries (like India) have a myriad of rules not just depending on what nationality you are but also what kind of work you do, who your employer is, etc.

    Having a passport purely for personal travel also helps keep all that in check and hidden away from prying eyes.

    • Cranzle says:

      So do you lie/omit/forget on the visa application form when it asks you to list all the countries you’ve travelled to in the last ten years?

      • Dev says:

        Yep, as they have no way to actually investigate.

        • Ben says:

          Yep.

        • JDG says:

          Unless you were applying for a Russian visa, because they check the application form against the passport when you attend for the fingerprint nonsense – I only filled in the form with the countries for which there were stamps in the passport but even so the last time I went it covered four sides of the form… Another reason never to go back!

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