Explainer: Passport rules

  • Heading outside the country and don't know if you need a passport? Taking a cross-border driving trip? Here's what you need to know about the passport rules.

    Source: State Department, msnbc.com research

  • Goal

    The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) aims to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate foreign visitors by providing standardized, secure and reliable documentation that allows the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably and accurately identify a traveler.

  • Timeline

  • July 13, 2010

    Applying for a U.S. passport got more expensive, jumping $35 for adults and $20 for minors (age 16 and below). A new passport now costs $135 and $105, respectively. Passport renewals for adults jumped $35 to $110. Fees for passport cards jumped to $55, up $10, for adults, and to $40, up $5, for children.

  • June 1, 2009

    As of this date, U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), will are required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents as determined by the DHS.

  • Jan. 23, 2007

    As of this date, U.S. citizens traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda are required to present a valid U.S. passport, Air NEXUS card or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document.

  • Travel documents

    Under WHTI, the following documents will be acceptable to fulfill document requirements:

  • U.S. passport

    U.S. citizens may present a valid U.S. passport when traveling via air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and may also use a U.S. passport when traveling via sea and land borders (including ferry crossings).

  • Passport card

    The State Department started producing the U.S. Passport Card in July 2008. Also known as the PASS card, this limited-use passport in card format is available for use for travel only via land and sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. The Passport Card is about the size of a credit card and easily fits into a wallet.

  • Others

    WHTI-compliant travel documents for U.S. citizen travel via land or sea, as of Jan. 31, 2008:

    Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)

    State-issued Enhanced Driver's License (when available)

    Enhanced Tribal Cards

    U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders

    U.S. Merchang Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business

    Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card

    Form I-872 American Indian Card

  • More information

  • Travel between territories

    WHTI will not affect travel between the United States and its territories. Citizens traveling directly between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa will continue to be able to use established forms of identification to board flights and for entry.

  • How to apply

    U.S. citizens can visit the State Department’s travel website (travelstate.gov.) or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 for information about applying for a passport.

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