When Do You Need A Passport?

I presume you know what a passport is. In addition you may get a Passport Card, defined below by the State Department website:

“The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.”

Below I deal with the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico and the US territories separately. Everywhere else in the world you will need a passport – not a Passport Card.

In the past, US citizen were able to travel to and from Canada and Mexico and the US 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 (not British) Virgin Islands, and Wake Island) with just a drivers license.  However, there have been some changes and you will need a passport or passport card if traveling to those destinations. You may use the Card if traveling by land or sea only. Air travel still requires a passport. Below is the best overall description of requirements I found (also from the State Department):

All U.S. citizens traveling outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter the United States. This extended to all sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service on June 1, 2009. Travelers must now present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport or a passport card for entry to the United States. While passport cards and enhanced driver’s licenses are sufficient for entry into the United States, they may not be accepted by the particular country you plan to visit; please be sure to check with your cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements. We strongly encourage all U.S. citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport or passport card well in advance of anticipated travel. U.S. citizens can visit travel.state.gov or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.

NOTE: Be aware that Caribbean cruises that begin and end in the U.S. (closed loop cruises) do not require that you travel with a valid passport. However, should you need to disembark due to an emergency and you do not have a valid passport, you may encounter difficulties entering or remaining in a foreign country. You may also have difficulty attempting to re-enter the United States by air because many airlines will require a valid passport before allowing you to board the aircraft. As such, we strongly recommend that you always travel abroad with your valid passport.

So the answer to Many – if not most – countries require that you have at least six months before the expiration date of your passport to enter or receive a visa.

shutterstock_127545377Many travelers enjoy the process of collecting visas and entry/exit stamps from various countries (even if the latter are rarely legible). However, if you travel frequently you may run out of pages in your passport. When you approach this point, the passport must be retuned to the Department of state with a request for more pages.

One tip: Before you leave, take a photo of the front pages of your passport and visa(s) for the destinations. Put these somewhere separate from other travel documents. In the even they are lost or stolen, the copies will be very useful.

To determine whether or not you need a visa to enter the country of your choice, go to the country’s embassy website and look for the Consular section. They will give you both the specifics of who needs a visa and the information needed to obtain one.  Typically, you will download an application, fill it in, attach one or more photos (and any other documentation requested) and send it along with your passport to the Consulate. Include everything requested. Failure to do so will cost you time – possibly a lot of time. Be sure you can track the package. It will be returned to you with the visa attached to one of the pages.  If you live near the consulate, they will usually have hours during which you may drop off and, subsequently, pick up your passport.

The visa may be good for two weeks or ten years – it just depends on the country. It may be a single entry or multiple entry visa.  Read the description of the various visas carefully when applying and check the visa when upon receipt. It will have a date by which must you leave the country. Do not fail to leave by that date.