Required Travel Documents

Travel document requirements vary from country to country, but you will need the following: a U.S. passport or other proof of citizenship, plus a visa or a tourist card, if required by the country or countries that you will visit. You may also need evidence that you have enough money for your trip and/or have ongoing or return transportation tickets.

A Valid Passport

Who Needs a Passport?

A U.S. citizen needs a passport to depart or enter the United States and to enter and depart most foreign countries. Exceptions include short-term travel between the United States and Mexico, Canada, and some countries in the Caribbean, where a U.S. birth certificate or other proof of U.S. citizenship may be accepted. Your travel agent or airline can tell you if you need a passport for the country that you plan to visit. The embassy or consulate of the country where you plan to travel can also advise you about its entry requirements.

A US Passport is Required to Re-Enter the United States

Even if you are not required to have a passport to visit a foreign country, U.S. Immigration requires you to prove your U.S. citizenship and identity to reenter the United States. Make certain that you take with you adequate documentation to pass through U.S. Immigration upon your return. A U.S. passport is the best proof of U.S. citizenship. Other documents to prove U.S. citizenship include an expired U.S. passport, a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate, a Certificate of Naturalization, a Certificate of Citizenship, or a Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States. To prove your identity, either a valid driver’s license or a government identification card that includes a photo or a physical description is adequate.

With the number of international child custody cases on the rise, several countries have instituted passport requirements to help prevent child abductions. For example, Mexico has a law that requires a child traveling alone, or with only one parent, or in someone else’s custody, to carry written, notarized consent from the absent parent or parents. No authorization is needed, if the child travels alone and is in possession of a U.S. passport. A child traveling alone with a birth certificate requires written, notarized authorization from both parents.

Beware of a Passport That Is About to Expire!

Certain countries will not permit you to enter and will not place a visa in your passport, if the remaining validity is less than 6 months.

All U.S. Citizens Must Have Their Own Passport

Since January 1981, family members are not permitted to be included in each other’s passports. Even newborn babies need their own passports to travel.

When to Apply

Every year, demand for passports becomes heavy in January and declines in August. You can help reduce U.S. Government expense and avoid delays by applying between September and December. However, even during those months, periods of high demand for passports can occur. Apply several months in advance of your planned departure, whenever possible. If you need visas, allow additional time – approximately two weeks per visa.

How to Apply for Your Passport

See the Travel Documents on How to Apply for Your Passport and How to Apply for Your Passport the Easy Way.

How to Obtain Visas

A visa is an endorsement or stamp placed in your passport by a foreign government that permits you to visit that country for a specified purpose and a limited time – for example, a 3-month tourist visa. It is advisable to obtain visas before you leave the United States because you may not be able to obtain visas for some countries once you have departed. You should apply directly to the embassy or nearest consulate of each country that you plan to visit, or consult a travel agent. Passport agencies cannot help you obtain visas.

Foreign Entry Requirements

The Department of State publication M-264, Foreign Entry Requirements, gives entry requirements for every country and tells where and how to apply for visas and tourist cards.

Because a visa is stamped directly onto a blank page in your passport, you will need to give your passport to an official of each foreign embassy or consulate. You may also need to fill out a form and submit one or more photographs with the form. Many visas require a fee. The process may take several weeks for each visa, so it is wise to apply well in advance of your trip, if possible.

Tourist Card

If the country that you plan to visit only requires a tourist card, you can usually obtain one from the country’s embassy or consulate, from an airline serving the country, or at the port of entry. There is a fee for some tourist cards.

Proof of Citizenship

Check with the embassy or consulate of each country that you plan to visit to learn what proof of citizenship is required of visitors. Even if a country does not require a visitor to have a passport, it will require some proof of citizenship and identity. Remember that no matter what proof of citizenship a foreign country requires, U.S. Immigration has strict requirements for reentry into the United States.


Under international health regulations adopted by the World Health Organization, a country may require international certificates of vaccination against yellow fever and cholera. Typhoid vaccinations are not required for international travel, but are recommended for areas where there is risk of exposure. Smallpox vaccinations are no longer given. Check your health care records to ensure that your measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis immunizations are up-to-date. Medication to deter malaria and other preventative measures are advisable for certain areas. No immunizations are needed to return to the United States.

Check the Health Information Travel Documents included with Learn to Speak or click on go to for information.

It is not necessary to be vaccinated against a disease to which you will not be exposed, and few countries refuse to admit you if you arrive without the necessary vaccinations. Officials will either vaccinate you, give you a medical follow-up card, or, in rare circumstances, put you in isolation for the incubation period of the disease that you were not vaccinated against. It is a good idea to check immunization requirements before you depart.

If vaccinations are required, they must be recorded on approved forms, such as those in the booklet PHS-731, International Certificates of Vaccination as Approved by the World Health Organization.  You should keep the booklet with your passport.

An increasing number of countries require that foreigners be tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prior to entry. Testing is usually required as part of a medical exam for long term visitors (i.e., students and workers). Before traveling abroad, you can check with the embassy or consulate of the country that you intend to visit to learn about the latest information concerning entry requirements and, particularly, whether or not an AIDS/HIV test is a requirement.

The above information is excerpted from the Consular Affairs Publications.