Learn by Lionel Messi’s Mistakes When Crossing National Borders with Multiple Passports

Have you recently acquired a second passport? Are you planning to acquire one soon? Are you going to use your second passport when traveling to foreign countries? If your answers to these questions are affirmative, you should be interested to learn what happened to Lionel Messi, a famous soccer player when he recently traveled to China.

Lionel Messi

The incident with Lionel Messi, a careless traveler

Lionel Messi, a soccer star, arrived in the Chinese capital on June 10, 2023 to take part in a friendly match with the Australian soccer team. However, the sportsman had to face an unpleasant surprise: he was disallowed to exit the airport and join his teammates. Photographs later appeared in social media showing Messi surrounded by Chinese police officers. What had happened? Apparently, Messi had problems with his passport.

Few people can match the Argentinian player on the soccer field. However, the performance of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in the geographical arena proved unsatisfactory.

On arrival in Beijing, the world soccer star had to wait for several hours in the airport because he did not have a Chinese visa. You can find photos and videos on the Internet showing Messi holding the passport in his hand and talking to Chinese customs officers. His teammates Ángel Di María, Leandro Paredes, and Enzo Fernández were trying to help Messi solve the problem.  

What was the problem? First, Messi did not supply his passport of Argentina at the checkpoint but the Spanish passport instead (he had had the Spanish passport since 2004). This took the Chinese customs officers by surprise. Second, Messi did not realize that he needed a visa to China. He mistakenly assumed that citizens of Spain were granted visa-free access to mainland China. In reality, however, a Spanish passport gives visa-free access to Taiwan, Macao, and Hong Kong but not to mainland China. When talking to the Chinese police officers, Messi asked a (politically charged) question: “Isn’t Taiwan part of China?”

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Normally, the aviation company will help the traveler to avoid this sort of nuisance: the personnel checks the passengers’ passport before they board the plane. Messi and his teammates, however, had arrived by a private jet and this was probably why their passports had not been checked.  

Thank goodness, everything ended well for the Argentinian. The police authorities kept him in the airport building for a couple of hours and then they let him enter China. Messi did not have to wait for the permission for too long because he is a true international superstar.

As a result, the Argentinian soccer team beat the Australians 2:0. Messi scored a goal in the second minute of the match. It was the fastest goal in his professional career. It’s a good thing indeed that he was able to acquire a Chinese visa and contribute to the success of the Argentinian team.

Expert advice on traveling with multiple passports

Such a lucky outcome would have probably been impossible if Messi had not been a hugely popular soccer star. An ordinary person would have faced much greater problems in all likelihood. And ordinary bipatrides (people who have two national passports) do face similar problems at times. Sometimes they fail to make sure that their passport gives them visa-free access to the country that they are visiting. At other times, they make unwise decisions when choosing what passport to use when entering a certain foreign country. Below we describe the types of problems that a traveler with multiple passports may run into and discuss the ways to avoid the problems.

  • Interaction with transportation companies: Airline staff check the passengers’ passport when the aircraft is flying to a foreign country. This same is true for other means of transportation. You have to realize that the transportation companies do not do so in order to collect the passengers’ personal information for their own use. Neither are they going to pass the information to the authorities of the foreign country. They simply want to make sure that all the passengers are going to be given access to the foreign country. The transportation company does not care what passport you are going to use but they want to be certain that they won’t have to carry you back home if access to the foreign country is denied to you.
  • Going through immigration control: On the other hand, the immigration services do care about the passport that you are using when entering the country. Every country will apply its own rules to foreign visitors. For example, a citizen of the United States of America has to enter and leave the country using his/ her American passport exclusively. Even if you hold a German or a Norwegian passport, for example, in addition to your American passport, you have to act like an American citizen when you are on the territory of the USA. Full stop. The same holds for many other countries even though not for all of them. This means that you have to learn the rules before the trip.
  • Transit through foreign countries: Both the transportation company and the immigration service will want you to supply a passport that allows transiting through the foreign country. An American citizen, for example, cannot enter China on his or her home country’s passport but if he/ she has acquired the passport of Grenada by investment, he/ she can supply it at the customs checkpoint. The Grenadian passport gives visa-free access to China, Great Britain, Schengen zone countries, and dozens of other national states and territories.  
  • Residence permit in the foreign country that you are visiting: Do you have a legal residence permit in the country that you are visiting? If so, you will be well-advised to use the residence permit/ residence card when entering the country. For example, a citizen of the USA is free to visit Malaysia on his/ her American passport without applying for a visa. However, if the US citizen also has a passport of St Lucia with a ten-year residence visa to Malaysia, he/ she had better use the St Lucian passport when entering Malaysia. Why? Because if he/ she uses the American passport, his/ her Malaysian visa in the St Lucian passport can be annulled. As far as the transportation company is concerned, it’s going to be happy with any passport that the American citizen shows to them: the American or the St Lucian one. Mexico is another country where you might face similar problems. If the traveler has a Mexican residence visa in one of his/ her passports but uses a different passport when entering the country, his/ her Mexican residence permit will be instantly annulled. You have to learn about the immigration regulations when entering certain countries. Both Malaysia and Mexico will let you in on an American passport, for example. But your visas to the countries that you have in a different passport can be canceled.
  • Restrictions on dual citizenship: Some countries allow dual citizenship while others disallow it. Some national governments make it obligatory for you to inform them if you acquire second citizenship while others don’t care. Some countries are strict about their citizens following the dual citizenship regulations while others are more relaxed about it. For instance, India allows only a few selected people to hold dual citizenship. Thus, if you are an Indian citizen who has acquired citizenship of another country in a ‘confidential’ manner, you will be well-advised not to board a non-stop flight to the country of your second citizenship. This will let the Indian authorities to find out about your second citizenship and you might be stripped of your Indian citizenship as a result. Use your Indian passport to fly to a country that has a visa-free regime with India, then change flights and use your second passport to get to your final destination. In this way, your bipatride status will remain unknown to the Indian authorities. The same advice can be given to citizens of China and Ukraine as these two countries also officially prohibit dual citizenship. You have to realize that when you travel, your personal information is shared a) with the authorities of the country whose passport you are using and b) the authorities of the foreign country that you are visiting. The confidentiality issue is going to arise in connection with any international travel that you make but in the transparent world of today, this should not surprise anybody. In any case, you have to make certain that your dual citizenship is efficiently protected when traveling to foreign countries.  
  • Two passports of the same country: The phrase ‘second passport’ usually describes the situation when the person holds passports of two national states. However, you can have two passports issued by the same country too. For example, you may have left your passport with a visa agency and now you are temporarily using another ID. When traveling abroad, you have to make sure that the identification document that you are using has all the necessary visas stamped.
  • Use of second passport for visa run purposes: Some people who hold passports of two different national states choose to alternate the passports when performing visa runs (border runs) being in a foreign country. Let us suppose that you have a US passport and a St Lucian passport. Both passports allow staying in the EU for 90 days within any 180-day period. You could enter the EU on one passport, leave after 90 days, and immediately re-enter the Union on the other passport. In this way, you can spend almost half a year in Europe. But you had better abstain from doing so. Some countries already use biometric passports and those that do not, keep track of foreign visitors anyway. They scan paper passports, take travelers’ fingerprints, take their photos, and so on. Thus, if they find out that you have been using two passports to legalize your stay in the EU (or in Columbia, for example, where the same rules apply), you may face unpleasant consequences. You should bear in mind that many countries have various residence programs for foreigners so you don’t have to cheat on the immigration authorities of a foreign country. Instead, you can acquire residence there in a legal way.
  • Choice of passport for geopolitical reasons: If you hold two (or more) passports of the countries that have diverse political positions (for example passports of Montenegro and Serbia), you can gain visa-free access to practically any country of the world. However, you will have to choose the right passport every time you travel abroad. For example, holders of American passports are not welcome in many Middle East countries. At the same time, if you use the passport of Grenada or a former Soviet republic, you will be welcome to visit that part of the world. If you have a visa to Israel stamped in your passport, this may also become an obstacle to entering Middle East countries. The opposite is also true. Therefore, you have to use the right passport when visiting a country that belongs to a certain geopolitical block. It will be interesting to note that smaller things may also depend on the passport that you are using to enter a foreign country. For instance, both a US passport and a St Lucian passport give visa-free access to Armenia but you will have to go through a lesser amount of formalities if you choose to enter Armenia on your American passport rather than the Caribbean one.  

Whatever passport you use to enter a foreign country, you have to be able to plainly show to the customs officer who you are, where you come from, and what the purpose of your visit is. If your story confuses the officer, you might face longer security checks at the border.  

How to acquire a second passport without ever visiting the foreign country

Some people believe that it is possible to become a citizen of a foreign country only by naturalization, marriage, or by providing military services to the country. This is not so. There are several ‘golden passport’ programs that allow acquiring foreign citizenship even without visiting the foreign country.

The number of countries offering citizenship-by-investment opportunities to foreign nationals has grown to nearly a dozen. They offer various investment opportunities and obtaining foreign citizenship is going to take only a few months if you are prepared to invest into the economy of the host country.

Moreover, the competition in the investment immigration market is tightening and this makes the countries administering citizenship-by-investment programs come up with various attractive offers. For example, five countries in the Caribbean (Grenada, Antigua, St Lucia, Dominica, and St Kitts) allow acquiring their passports remotely. You can also acquire citizenship of Vanuatu by investment without leaving the comfort of your home.

Thus, you can save both time and money when applying for citizenship of a foreign country without going there. All the six countries listed in the previous paragraph accept donations from foreign nationals wishing to acquire their citizenship. You have to make the donation only after your application for citizenship has been approved. When the passport is issued, the local immigration agent can send it to you to any place in the world.

In some other cases, a personal visit to the host country is required, however. For instance, if you would like to acquire citizenship of Turkey by investment, you have to visit the country at least once. Turkey does not accept donations but you can purchase a piece of property there worth at least US$ 400,000 to qualify for citizenship of the country. You can buy property by proxy, which will let you spend only a short time in Turkey. We have helped a number of clients to acquire Turkish citizenship in this way. Although some of our customers like to exercise full control over the process of purchasing property in Turkey. The choice is yours.

Therefore, if you have a six-figure sum of money to donate or to invest, you can acquire citizenship of a foreign country within three to six months. A collection of national passports will improve your freedom of movement and open new investment and banking opportunities to you.

Professional assistance in acquiring a second passport

Some people will think of dual citizenship as something exotic. However, this is a practical opportunity available to many. If you would like to freely travel around the world, our experts will be happy to advise you on the matter. Please apply for a free detailed consultation on acquiring foreign citizenship!

We understand that each person will have his or her own primary goals and preferences when applying for citizenship of a foreign country. We will help you make an action plan that will be fine-tuned to your needs. We have a network of international partners in different parts of the world including the Caribbean, Vanuatu, and Turkey and we offer a wide spectrum of immigration services. Please do not hesitate to contact us and request a free consultation! 

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