The second passport

Jess Semaan
3 min readSep 1, 2020

A Lebanese tradition

When the war with Israel broke in 2006, I recall watching on TV big ships transporting Lebanese folks, away from the Mediterranean who look like me, some of them my age, some my classmates, away from death and into hope and life. I wondered what is wrong with me. I was angry with my parents for not getting us a second passport. So we can escape the calamities. Instead we were locked up between the home and the malja’ (shelter).

The second passport is a Lebanese tradition that was born from war trauma, and lack of trust in our system to keep us safe.

The second passport is often a privilege, that Lebanese love to brag about. They even say on their bios on social media, French / Lebanese, even though their DNA is 100% Lebanese and even though they may have never spent more than a week vacation in Paris.

If you are on top of the socioeconomic privilege ladder, you surely have the second passport through well your wealth. It is typically American, Canadian, French or British. Some immigrated during the civil war to “first” world countries, got passports and soon returned to raise their children back home. Others, studied abroad and hired expensive lawyers and made it happen.

Then there are those who got their passports through marriage. My neighbor “fell in love” with the study abroad Australian girl, and next thing I know her proposed and moved to Australia. Now he has a second passport, an Australian one.

Then there is the second tier passports. They can be from non major European powers, or South American, and often acquired through a foreign grand parent. For example, my friend has a passport from Malta, for his grand-mother is Maltese, though he never really lived there neither does he speak the language.

Then there are third tier passports. The passport is usually from an African country, that you can buy for $10,000 — $50,000. While this passport will not allow you to be evacuated, it can get you into some European countries, or other African countries without visas.

Speaking of visas, if you have a Lebanese passport you need a visa almost anywhere you go. So technically any other passport can be better.

To have a second passport in Lebanon is attractive. To have a third one is sexy. It makes you more marriage friendly and more welcome in the world.

I have one passport. And every day, since I moved to the USA, I have been plotting getting the citizenship. But I failed. And my anger towards my parents for not honoring the tradition has transferred to me. I failed at keeping the tradition, because it is hard, it is expensive and because of my own personal issues with commitment.
I still scheme day in and day out, about how am I going to get a second passport. And the explosion added one criteria to my dating choices. Do they have a passport that is tier 1 they can pass on to me? And nowadays the American passport has been downgraded to tier 3 or 4.