In this brief article, you will get an overview of the document requirements when traveling by air or traveling outside the U.S. If you are already an experienced traveler, you may not get much new information from this article, but you never know, so give it a read.
Documentation – Domestic Travel
If you are planning a trip that is entirely within the borders of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, your document preparations are fairly straight forward. Although there are no documentation requirements for travel within the U.S., if you are traveling by air you will need a valid picture ID. A driver’s license with your picture is usually acceptable. If you don’t have a valid driver’s license, you will need some other form of ID. Detailed requirements can be found on the TSA website Don’t treat this lightly, as the TSA is really clamping down and not having the right ID can cause you big delays, and possibly end with you being denied boarding.
Technically you don’t need a Passport to travel to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, as it is considered a domestic trip, whether by air or ship. However, occasionally you might be asked for proof of citizenship, so it is always wise to carry a valid U.S. Passport or other proof of citizenship. If you plan to visit other Caribbean destinations from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, you will most likely require a Passport to gain re-entry. There may be some exceptions if you are part of a “closed loop” cruise (check with your travel agent or the cruise line), but we recommend you have a valid U.S. Passport to be completely safe.
Documentation – International Travel
For any travel outside of the U.S., you will almost always need a valid U.S. Passport or a new “Passport card”. Depending upon your destination, you may also require additional documentation. We strongly recommend you review the requirements laid out on the State Department website. Travel to Canada and Mexico has historically been somewhat easier in terms of documentation than travel to other countries. New, more restrictive rules are being implemented throughout the coming year. Make sure you are up on the latest requirements before arriving at the border. We strongly suggest you always have a Passport or a “Passport card” anytime you are traveling outside the U.S., even to Canada or Mexico.
You also want to check for any visa or other special requirements of the countries to which you are traveling. You can find the requirements for most counties at the State Department website. If you are inexperienced in overseas travel, find a competent travel agency to help plan your trip. They can lead you through the process.
Trust us, don’t treat this issue lightly, and make sure that anyone who is advising you on this issue knows what they are talking about. About a year ago, a relative of ours traveled to France on vacation. She had no problem until she tried to board a plane for the return flight. Her Passport had expired. You would think this would be an easy issue to resolve. Well, it wasn’t; it took over a week to get the paperwork straightened out and a new Passport issued. In the meantime she was stuck in France, with all the costs on her. Years ago at the height of the cold war a salesman was scheduled to make his first sales trip into the former Yugoslavia. His contact for the area assured him he would not need an entry visa. To make along story short, he got in with no problem, but when he tried to leave, he was arrested for entering the country illegally as he did not have a valid entry visa. It took his company about two weeks to spring him from jail. The cold war may be over, but many countries still take a dim view of those who don’t follow their rules. It never hurts to double check the “experts”.
In spite of all the above, it isn’t that hard to embark on your travel with all the documentation you are going to need. The experience of traveling to places you have never been is worth the effort it takes to get it right. The world is a big, wonderful place so now is the time to see as much of it as you can.