How do I know if my kids are US citizens?

As many of us are trying to navigate the complexities and dangers of the US tax system, there’s a fear that we may have inadvertently passed our citizenship status on to our child. For many, the last couple months have been a scramble of phone calls and tests to see if we’ve doomed our children to dealing with the IRS as well.

Unfortunately, if your child was born inside the US (even if you just used a hospital on the “wrong side” of a border community), s/he is a US citizen. But for children born in our respective countries of residence, there’s still some hope.

According to the US Bureau of Consular Affairs, much depends on the parents’ relationship status. It’s unclear if legal unions recognized in Canada, such as common-law spouses or same-sex spouses, are also recognized by the US for these purposes. So if you have a “complicated” relationship (anything not recognized at the federal level in the US), you would do better to contact your local consular agent.

Another big consideration is that all these rules apply only if your child is genetically related to you. The US does not, apparently, recognize “alternative” family structures, which I would normally whine about but may actually be a saving grace in this particular case.

Something else to remember is that all of this is automatic. There is no “opt in” for kids. If your child qualifies, your child is a US citizen.

  • Married and both US citizens: Your child is a US citizen if at least one of you has ever lived in the US.
  • Married, but only one US citizen: Your child inherits citizenship if the American parent was in the US for a certain amount of time prior to birth. If your child was born on or after November 14, 1986, you must have lived in the US for at least five years (at least two of which were after the age of 14). If your child was born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, you must have lived in the US for at least 10 years (5 after the age of 14).
  • Not married, father is US citizen: Your child is a US citizen, but only if blood relationship can be proven between your child and the father. The father must have lived in the US at least 5 years prior to your child’s birth, at least 2 of which were after he was 14 years old. Unless he is deceased, the father must agree in writing to provide financial support for the child until s/he reaches 18 years. If your child was at least 18 on by November 14, 1986, things are a bit more complicated, but you can check out this page for more details.
  • Not married, mother is a US citizen: Mother must have been a US citizen at the time of her child’s birth, and she must have lived in the US for a continuous period of at least one year prior to your child’s birth.

If you have questions, there is an e-mail address provided (

Please note that many people feel that it is an honour to be a US citizen, and many expat groups lobbied for many years for the right to do so. This post is not to diminish their efforts, nor the feelings of expats who still feel allegiance to the US.

Instead, I write this from the perspective of someone who has no ties to the country, neither of an emotional nor of a financial nature. For many of us ‘accidental Americans,’ our allegiances are to our countries of birth or residence. So for many of us, a US citizenship is seen as a liability, and passing it on to our children means trapping them in the accounting fees and responsibilities of a foreign country from which they derive little to no advantage. It has been compared to a benign (or, to some, not-so-benign) genetic disorder.

We would be much happier if the above list of conditions made us eligible to pass on citizenship, and the process was “opt-in” rather than automatic. I believe that such a system would better serve both expat patriots and expats with no ties to the US.

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One Response to How do I know if my kids are US citizens?

  1. geeez... says:

    I don’t really believe that it is an automatic as this, only if the child is born within the US. If you have a child abroad to one American parent, but never register the birth abroad, then how can the US classify him as a citizen?? That child doesn’t exist in the eyes of the US Government. When I told a US consular officer I didn’t want to register my son, he seemed to get frustrated/pissed. I’ll leave it up to my wife to decide…. Dual is really not that bad though. You can enter on an American passport, but do everything else with a different passport. Who is really getting shafted with this legislation are the Americans living abroad who only have American citizenship.

    That language on the IRS website concerning “certain people” born to US nationals equates to nothing but fear mongering and another one of their under-handed tactics to scare some money out of innocent people. Someone who was born abroad to one US parent and has always lived abroad owes the US absolutely nothing!

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