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Where do I need a passport?

Do I need a passport to go to Mexico? Canada? Caribbean?

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Rosarito Beach, Baja - no passport needed

Rosarito Beach, Baja - no passport needed

© Kathleen Crislip
For what countries do US citizens need a passport for travel? Returning to the US from all of them by air, land or sea required a passport* from US citizens as of June 1, 2009, though Mexico and Canada can still be traveled to (returned to the US from) by land without a passport and with a PASS card or high tech driver's license (the latter's only available to residents of certain states). Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, among other island areas, are US territories** and no passport is required from US citizens for travel between them and the US whether by air, land, sea or spaceship.

*Scroll down to see all documents acceptable for entry into the US by US residents.

**US commonwealths/territories: American Samoa, Baker Island, Howland Island, Guam, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands (St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas), and Wake Island.

Passports and Western hemisphere travel are an issue because historically US citizens have been allowed to travel between Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda and Panama bearing only US citizenship proof like an "official" birth certificate (usually embossed with state seal) and a government-issued id (like a driver's license); new passport rules now (as of June 1, 2009) require a passport when returning to the US by air, land or sea from those countries, although a passport substitute or other guv document*** may work.

Do I need a passport to travel to Mexico and Canada?

The answer is yes if traveling by air: you need a passport to return to the United States from Mexico and Canada by air as of 2007. The answer might be no if crossing borders by land or sea, because other documents specifically intended for land and sea crossings (like a PASS card) may be used. Yeah, complicated, but the gist is that you can no longer do it with a regular driver's license and birth certificate. History:

Recommendations made by the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) caused passport rules to change in 2007, when travelers began needing passports if returning to the US by air from Canada and Mexico. DHS has also been requiring passports from US citizens crossing Mexican and Canadian borders by land or sea as of June 1, 2009. Some things happened by the legislated mandatory date of June 1, 2009 (issued by Congress in order to allow the Department of Homeland Security to make WHTI changes smoothly):

Do I need a passport to travel to the Caribbean?

If you are returning to the US from foreign nations in the Caribbean by air, then the answer is yes.

Some Caribbean islands are US territories -- you do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands by sea, air or spaceship any more than you need a passport to drive from Manhattan to Montana. Guam, US Samoa, Palau and other Micronesian islands are also US territories (complete list above).

In order to travel to and from US territories in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands -- St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John) from the mainland US by air, you will need:

  • Official government issued picture identification like a current driver’s license or a photo ID card, which can be issued to non-drivers by your state’s motor vehicles department, or a passport (of course) or two forms of non-photo identification (one needs to be state-issued)
  • Proof of US citizenship -- like a birth certificate -- may make leaving the USVI for the mainland USA easier (learn more) because the USVI is considered a "port of entry"

A passport is definitely needed to leave and then return to the US Virgin Islands (like hopping to the British Virgin Islands).

You can get more information from the Puerto Rico State Department at 787-722-2121, or the US Virgin Islands' tourism department at 800-372-8784 or Bureau of Customs at 340-774-2510.

You may want to read:

Frequently Asked Questions About Mexico Travel

If you're heading to Mexico, get the answers to some frequently asked questions about Mexico travel:

You may also want to read a beginner's guide to Mexico travel and a Mexico travel planning FAQ.

WHTI-Compliant Documents

The ***WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) is the rule that set all of these new border ID requirements in motion under the Bush administration. Border ID that is acceptable these days under the WHTI:

Read more about all of these WHTI-compliant documents; a US passport is probably your best choice, but you may want to get informed:

Please go on to the next page to read about passports and minors.

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