Being married to a Chinese national, I’d assumed that our kids would have dual nationality until they were old enough to decide which one they wanted to keep. Growing up, I knew several military kids had two nationalities, and while it was naive to assume that every country had the same policies, it never crossed my mind to check this out. Until I was three months pregnant.
I won’t lie; I felt sick to my stomach when I read on the American embassy’s website that China doesn’t recognize dual nationality. We’d have to pick one or the other for our little one. Luckily, we were in agreement that our future kids should go to the USA for high school and college, to be spared the all-day-and-well-into-the-night study sessions which are the norm for Chinese teens. So it was quite easily decided that we’d give them American nationality.
Check Your Country’s Embassy Website Regularly
I continued to read the then-current regulations about getting American citizenship for kids born abroad and it’s quite straightforward. They have it outlined for couples who are married, not married and by which partner is the American citizen. I went about obtaining the required information which included things like marriage certificates, birth certificates, passports, proof of American citizenship for me and the baby’s application forms.
With our son, we were questioned at length during the application process, but our daughter’s interview four years later went very easily. It really depends on the official who is helping you. In fact I assumed hers would be more difficult because of the way the hospital wrote her name on her birth certificate and that it’s different from how it should be on her passport (if you’re curious, they wrote her name like this: jane. elizabeth. smith. Lowercase letters and periods after each name). I simply typed a note explaining that she was the first non-Chinese baby born at the hospital and that the nurses typed it incorrectly from what we’d handwritten for them. No questions were asked; I’m guessing things like this aren’t rare.
Do check back with their requirements regularly, just to be sure nothing changes. I didn’t check the requirements during the first trimester of my second pregnancy and I found that they’d added the requirement of pictures documenting the pregnancy. This was a slight problem for me since I dislike having photos taken of myself, and I had just one from the whole three months. From then on I made sure to take monthly pictures to prove that the baby was indeed mine.
I just noticed there’s been another change since then, as well. The requirements certainly don’t change often, but better to be safe than to miss something because you relied on outdated information.
Find Other Couples Who Are Like You
I didn’t know of any other Chinese-American couples when I had my son; even when I had my daughter, I only knew of a handful, mostly through blogs. These days I’m part of several We Chat groups and blogging circles that are geared at Western Women with Asian Male partners. I’m among the older women and would have loved to be in these groups as a new, young mom, so I’m usually quick to share what I know with younger women who have questions about their baby’s citizenship or other issues that come up with raising kids abroad.
Likewise, couples where both parents are foreigners should find someone who has been through the process with their own country’s embassy in recent months to better understand the process.
Hearing about the process and actually doing it are never the same, but I believe it’s good to know what to expect so that you can be prepared. For example, with my son, the woman scrutinized every single piece of evidence I brought in, proving I was American (I’m a pale, curly blond, so there’s no way I could’ve even been mistaken for a Chinese). After that I told friends to take in plenty of evidence and be prepared to answer lots of questions about where they live and why they’re in China. But with my daughter, the man who interviewed us only looked at our family photos and commented positively on them.
Apply for the Baby’s Passport and Report of Birth Abroad As Soon As Possible
There is a challenge for Chinese and American couples to get the citizenship done quickly, since Chinese women (and thus the wives of Chinese men) are supposed to take it easy for the month following the birth, observing the Moon Month (zuo yue zi, 坐月子). With my first child we went to Beijing when he was three months old, with my second we went a few days after I finished my month-long confinement. Before my daughter’s birth, I talked to someone in the American Citizens Services office and they said that it’s best to come right away, but they understand Chinese customs and that not everyone lives close to the embassy. But it’s better to register the birth sooner rather than later, and this isn’t much of an issue for non-Chinese couples in Beijing who usually go to register on the way home from the hospital.
Learn Whether or Not You Need A Visa in the Passport
Non-Chinese couples need to wait until their baby’s passport is processed and get the proper Chinese visa in the child’s passport, but couples in which one partner is Chinese don’t need to do anything. The child is still considered Chinese by the government, so no visa is required unless you renounce the Chinese citizenship (this is a process that takes over two years to finish). My son is on his second passport and both are empty. When we leave China, he uses his Chinese travel document or his Exit and Entry Permit. We’ve been told by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago that there’s no way for my kids to get a visa until they have finished process of renouncing citizenship. Until then, they get the best of both worlds, having foreign citizenship but also being viewed as a Chinese national. This will be a problem if you want your child in an international school that requires a visa, so if that’s in your plans, start the renunciation process as soon as possible.
Some Chinese-Foreign couples do indeed get both Chinese and foreign passports, but it’s not advised. Once it’s discovered by either country, one will have to be gotten rid of, and, aside from the administrative hassle of getting both sets of documents and keeping them straight, it could cause troubles for the child down the road. So no matter what your buddy tells you, about how he got both an American Social Security Number and a Chinese hukou for his kid, I do not advise going this route.
Overall, getting foreign citizenship for your baby born in China is not difficult, as long as you’re prepared with the documents that your country requires.
Share your experience, or ask questions, in the comments below!
Charlotte Edwards Zhang is a contributor to havingababyinchina.com and has spent 11 years in Hebei province with her husband of nine years and their two school-age children. She’s and educator and freelance writer. A story from her pregnancy with her son is featured in Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby bumps, twists and turns from around the globe, the second in a series of stories about expat moms around the world.