Where Can U.S. Citizens Travel Without a Passport?

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Important Due to Covid-19, processing times for passports are taking longer than normal for both standard and expedited services.

There is a lot of discussion on travel websites concerning the worth of a US passport. Citizens of the United States have some of the greatest travel freedom in the world, with the ability to visit 173 countries visa-free with just a U.S. passport. That’s a lot of travel flexibility, but did you know that US residents may go to a lot of destinations even without a passport? That is correct.

Within the United States

Citizens of the United States do not need a passport to travel to any of the fifty states. People may be perplexed by this at times since the United States has such a large geographical mass, but it is all one nation. So while Europe, Africa, South America, and other great land masses are divided into separate countries requiring passports to cross borders within them, it is not the case in the United States. You can drive throughout the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia without a passport; in fact, sometimes a big welcome sign is the only indication you’ve passed from one state into another.

Even Hawaii, which is far from the United States and has its own distinct exotic island atmosphere, is one of the 50 United States and does not need a U.S. passport. Alaska may be the sole exception, and only because of its location. It’s separated from the lower 48 states by Canada, so if you’re going by land you may have to present a U.S. passport at the Canadian border if you aren’t otherwise qualified with WHTI document to enter their country. You will not require a passport if you travel from any U.S. state to Alaska and return the same way.

Each area and state in the United States has a rich history and culture that provides a diverse range of sights worth visiting. From world-class cities like New York and Los Angeles to a tropical paradises like Hawaii, there are hundreds of spots that rival any foreign destination. Here are just a handful of the options available in the United States.

  • 285 incorporated municipalities having a population of at least 100,000 people
  • More than 400 amusement parks
  • 17,500+ museums
  • 398 areas in the national park system
  • 7911 beaches

U.S. Territories

Most U.S. citizens know they can travel freely throughout the United States, but they don’t realize that there are a lot of other alluring destinations that are also passport free. The United States has 14 territories under its authority, five of which are populated and may be visited without a passport.

The United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are both in the Caribbean, making them attractive destinations for Americans. The other three U.S. territories that you can visit without a passport are all located in the Pacific Ocean; American Samoa, Guam, and the latest addition, the Northern Mariana Islands.

Canada and Mexico

Under some conditions, US citizens may travel to both Canada and Mexico without a passport. Children under the age of 16 are not need to have a passport to enter any country. You’ll want to bring original certified birth certificates with you for each child under 16 who doesn’t have a passport, so they can get back into the United States without a problem.

This restriction only applies to travel via land. If you are flying, each kid, regardless of age, must have a passport. It’s a bit of a judgment call to use this option, because there is always the chance of getting into Canada or Mexico by land and needing to come back to the U.S. by air in the case of an emergency.

U.S. adult citizens are generally required to present a U.S. passport when crossing borders from the United States into either Canada or Mexico. Those in possession of Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) authorized papers are exempt from this requirement. They include the Trusted Traveler Programs card (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry, or FAST), or an Enhanced Driver’s License. An application procedure is required to get WHTI-approved travel papers.

Closed-Loop Cruise

U.S. citizens who board cruise ships at U.S. ports, travel only in the Western Hemisphere, then return to the same port may present a government issued ID, such as a driver’s license, to prove identification, accompanied by an original certified birth certificate to prove citizenship. These are the only two papers required to reenter the United States on a closed-loop voyage.

Understand that cruises that include destinations outside of the U.S. that are not U.S. territories, may stop at countries that require you to present a U.S. passport to enter, so you could end up spending time on the ship when everyone else is enjoying the destination port city. Also, certain cruise lines may not allow you to board if you do not have a U.S. passport, so verify with the cruise company before reserving those tickets.

With so many destinations to visit without a passport, you may never need one! Select places, such as Mexico and Canada, as well as some cruises, will have extra requirements for traveling without a passport, which is less convenient but still possible.

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