What Documents Do I Need to Travel Overseas?

Traveling outside the boundaries of the United States, in almost all cases, requires a valid passport, both to enter another country and to return to the United States. A United States citizen with a passport may also be required to obtain a visa or additional documentation in order to be admitted to other nations, whether the trip is for business or pleasure. Many nations limit the length of time visitors may spend on business or on vacation, or limit the number of trips within specific time periods.

Passport and visa applications are not unduly complicated, but they do require a completed application, adequate documentation, a recent photograph, and payment of the fee. In some cases, applicants must visit a regional passport service center or foreign consulate in person, or have documents and passports shipped to such a processing center. It all takes time, sometimes several weeks, so advance planning is necessary.

Travel Requirements Vary

Before planning a trip, check specific requirements for all countries on the itinerary. Sometimes, visas must be obtained prior to leaving the United States. In many cases, it is possible to complete an online application, or to fill out paperwork at the port or airport, but not always. It is always an individual responsibility, even though some travel agents and tour groups will help facilitate visa applications.

In general, trips to Europe and to EU nations do not require visas, and travelers will find it easy to cross multiple borders with little delay and no problems. Travel to much of South America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Orient does often require visas. Americans cannot visit Australia without a visa. Some applications are relatively simple and may be completed online; other can take several weeks, require that original passports be stamped with the appropriate visa, or are best obtained with the help of a specialized visa service.

Travel to special events around the world, including the recent Olympic Games, will require advance planning. China is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations today, so if you plan a trip either prior to or during the next Olympics, be sure to arrange for that China travel visa in plenty of time.

Exceptions to Passport Requirements:

Passports and travel visas are issued even to infants; there are no age exemptions or limitations. But obtaining a U.S. passport for a young child has recently become a bit more complicated in an effort to reduce child abduction and trafficking. In general, both parents must be available to obtain a child’s passport, and may have to appear in person to complete the paperwork. Passports issued to minors expire after five years, while adult passports are valid for 10 years.

Americans who are frequent travelers between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean may opt for a Passport Card in lieu of a Passport Book, and such cards are a valid form of identification for travel within the United States as well. They are not acceptable ID for returning to the U.S. from other destinations, however, and the card is not nearly as versatile as the traditional passport.

Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) do not have to present a passport or a Green Card when traveling directly to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, or Swains Island and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. However, no intermediate stops in other nations are allowed, whether the travel is by air or by sea.

Minor children under the age of 15 may travel with parents between the United States and Canada or Mexico with only a notarized birth certificate, a naturalization certificate or consular proof of birth in a foreign country. However, a minor under the age of 18 traveling with only one parent is advised to carry a notarized letter giving authorization for the trip by the absent parent.

Children and adults on “closed loop” cruises from U.S. ports may, by law, travel without a passport as long as they have an authorized photo ID and a certified copy of their birth certificate, but cruise lines themselves may require passports. Be sure to check.