Q: The Basics - What is it, whom does it affect and when did it go into effect?
A: The air portion of The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires, with some exceptions, citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda to present a passport to enter or depart the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere.
Q: Whom does the travel initiative affect?
U.S. citizens need a passport to enter the United States by air from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, South and Central America, and the Caribbean (otherwise known as the Western Hemisphere).
Also under this rule, citizens of Mexico, Canada, and Bermuda are required to have a passport when entering the United States by air.
While United States citizens are currently required to have passports to enter most countries in Central and South America, this rule makes clear that the passport must be presented upon return to the United States as well.
Q: When was the travel initiative implemented?
A: Phase 1: As of January 23, 2007, U.S. citizens and citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda are required to present a valid passport to enter or depart the U.S.
Phase 2: As of June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizens who enter the U.S. at land and sea ports of entry from within the Western Hemisphere are required to present a WHTI-compliant travel document such as a valid passport, U.S. passport card, Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS/SENTRI/FAST) or an Enhanced Driver's License. Verbal claims of citizenship and identity alone are no longer sufficient to establish identity and citizenship for entry into the United States.
Q: How do I get a passport?
United States citizens can visit the U.S. State Department's Travel website, or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center: 1-877-4USA-PPT; TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793. Additionally, instructions for obtaining a passport are available through the U.S. Postal Service.
Please allow a sufficient amount of time to apply and receive the passport in advance of travel. Processing of the passport application takes approximately six to eight weeks. If you need to travel urgently and require a passport sooner, please visit the U.S. State Department's Travel website for additional information.
Peak domestic passport processing is between January and July. For faster service, we recommend applying between August and December. U.S. citizens living outside the U.S. should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Foreign nationals should contact their respective governments to obtain passports.
Q: How many U.S. citizens currently hold passports?
A: According to the State Department, approximately 109 million citizens hold U.S. passports.
Q: How are U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs) affected by the passport requirement?
A: LPRs are able to use their Alien Registration Card (Form I-551), issued by DHS, or other valid evidence of permanent residence status to apply for entry to the United States.
Q: What if I am an LPR but my children are U.S. Citizens?
A: Children who are U.S. Citizens need to obtain a passport even if their parents are Green Card holders.
Q: What do I need to travel to Canada or Mexico?
A: Different countries may have different travel document requirements. It is best to check with the country you are visiting to determine the appropriate travel document requirements (for instance, whether you need a passport and/or visa). You can find out more by referring to the State Department website.
Q: I am a Mexican citizen and have a valid Border Crossing Card (BCC). Am I required to also present a passport to travel to the United States by air?
A: Yes. Under this final rule, Mexican citizens, just like U.S., Canadian and Bermudan citizens, are required to present a passport for air travel. The BCC, while currently serving in lieu of a passport and visa for land border crossings within the border region, may also be used as a visitor's visa. However, due to the unique circumstances of air travel, it was felt that the additional presentation of a passport was necessary.
Q: What happens to persons who attempt to enter or re-enter the country without a passport or an alternative travel document?
For the general public, people who apply for entry but do not have appropriate documentation will likely be referred for secondary screening at the port. In secondary, Customs and Border Protection officers will evaluate evidence of citizenship or identity the individual may have and will verify all information against available databases. For foreign nationals, a determination will be made at that time whether to admit the individual. However, to prevent delay at the ports of entry, we would encourage all travelers to obtain the appropriate documents before they travel.
In addition, the State Department has processes to assist U.S. citizens overseas to obtain emergency travel documentation for those with lost or stolen passports.
Q: Do travelers from U.S. territories need to present a passport to enter the United States?
No. These territories are a part of the United States. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. and do not need to present a passport. U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. If the traveler also visited non-U.S. territories, he/she is required to present a passport.
Although U.S. citizens are not required to present a passport when departing U.S. territories and traveling to the mainland, having evidence of citizenship (e.g., U.S. passport, birth certificate, Trusted Traveler Program card) or lawful permanent residence (e.g., green card) available will help CBP expedite your customs processing.
Additionally, although not required to present a passport, travelers departing the U.S. territories for the U.S. mainland are subject to customs and agriculture restrictions. Travelers are entitled to a $1,600 duty-free exemption, as long as they remained in the U.S. territories for 48 hours or longer. After the $1,600 duty-free exemption, travelers will be required to pay a flat rate of 1.5% on the next $1,000 worth of goods purchased.
CBP officers may also conduct baggage checks or ask additional questions as part of standard inspections of outbound passengers, to prevent any non-native species of plants, pests or plant diseases, which may be present in one of the islands from being introduced to the mainland. For example, a pre-departure examination is performed on all passengers and cargo moving from Hawaii to the mainland U.S. The purpose of this examination is to prevent movement of fruit flies and fruit fly host material. These rules also apply to Caribbean islands, including the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. For more information on what agricultural goods can be brought from U.S. territories and Hawaii, please visit the USDA website.
Q: Does the passport requirement affect offshore U.S. citizens or LPR fishermen?
The passport requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens or LPR's who fish offshore, so long as they do not land in foreign soil.
For example, someone fishing in the Caribbean would only have to present a passport upon return if they traveled from a U.S. state or territory (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and the U.S. Virgin Islands consist of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and Water Island, and many smaller islands) and landed in Jamaica, the Bahamas, or any non-U.S. territory.
Nonresident aliens may not be employed aboard any U.S.-based fishing vessel as "D" crewmembers.
Q: Other than a passport, what types of documents are acceptable for air travel?
Individuals traveling by air within the Western Hemisphere are required to present a passport for admission to the U.S. with limited exceptions.
This Final Rule outlines two additional documents that are acceptable for air travel. The first is the Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) issued by the U.S. Coast Guard that will be acceptable for use under WHTI by U.S. citizen merchant mariners traveling on official business. The other document is the NEXUS card, for which enrollment is limited to citizens of Canada and the United States, lawful permanent residents of the United States and permanent residents of Canada.
Q: Can the NEXUS card be used at any air location?
A: NEXUS cards will only be accepted in conjunction with the NEXUS program at designated NEXUS sites.
Q: How are members of the U.S. armed forces affected by the passport requirement?
There are no changes proposed for members of the U.S. armed forces traveling on active duty.
Currently, an individual traveling as a member of the United States armed forces on active duty is not required to present a valid passport to enter or depart the United States. There are no changes under the air rule for members of the U.S. armed forces.
This does not apply to spouses and dependents of these military members. Spouses and dependents are required to present a passport (and valid visa, if applicable) when traveling into the United States under WHTI.
Q: How are members of the NATO Armed Forces affected by the passport requirement?
There are no changes proposed for members of the U.S. armed forces traveling on active duty.
Currently, an individual traveling as a member of the United States armed forces on active duty is not required to present a valid passport to enter or depart the United States. There are no changes under the air rule for members of the U.S. armed forces. Any future changes, if necessary, will be addressed during the second phase of the WHTI rulemaking process.
This does not apply to spouses and dependents of these military members. Spouses and dependents will be required to present a passport (and valid visa, if applicable) when traveling into the United States under WHTI.
Q: Do the documentation requirements apply to children?
A: Yes, all children ranging in age from birth to 18 years-of-age are required to present their own passport when entering the United States at airports