Most people are aware that you need a passport to go to Europe, Africa and Asia. But what if you’re staying closer to home?

A decade ago, getting into Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean was as easy as saying “I’m an American citizen,” but not anymore.  After 9-11, The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was enacted making it much harder to get in and out of the US without a passport.

Don’t get caught off-guard if you’re heading to one of these destinations:



Visiting Canada? Check your passport, eh? You definitely need one if you’re flying in or out of the country, unless you have a NEXUS trusted traveler card and you are flying to a Canadian preclearance airport with a NEXUS kiosk.

If you’re traveling by land or sea, you need one of the following to re-enter the US: a passport, a passport card, an enhanced driver’s license (currently only 4 states offer these), or a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI trusted traveler card.


If you’re flying to or from Mexico, you need a valid passport.

If you’re traveling by land or sea, Mexico requires all US citizens to have a passport if they’re traveling beyond the “border zone,” about 12 miles in. However, the US government requirements for re-entering the US are the same as for Canada above, regardless of whether you stay within the “border zone” or not.


To visit Aruba, you need a passport if you’re flying and a passport or a passport card if you’re traveling by sea.

St. Martin

To hang out in this island paradise, you need a passport and a ticket back out of the country.


Bermuda requires all US citizens to present a passport to get into the country.

The Bahamas

If you’re traveling by air, you need a passport book.

If you’re traveling by sea, you can use a passport, passport card, enhanced driver’s license, NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card.

The British Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands are part of the United States, but should you want to visit their British siblings, you’ll need a valid passport book if you’re traveling by air.

If you’re traveling by sea, you’ll need a passport, a passport card, an enhanced driver’s license or a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card.

The Cayman Islands

As of January 23, 2007, you must have a valid passport book to enter the Caymans.

Trinidad and Tobago

Unlike many Caribbean countries, a US passport book is the only accepted form of ID to enter this island nation, no matter how you’re traveling.


If you’re flying, you need a passport book. If you’re traveling by sea, you can use a passport card, enhanced driver’s license, NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card instead.

Dominican Republic

To enter the Dominican Republic by air, you need a passport book. For sea travel, you can use a passport card. Authorities will not allow you to enter the country by sea with an enhanced driver’s license, even though the enhanced license is compliant with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.


Want to see the Panama Canal? You’ll need a US passport, valid for at least three months from the date you enter the country. Even if you only plan on staying a week, Panama will not let you in if your passport expires within this timeframe.

Costa Rica

To get into Costa Rica, you need a passport valid for at least three months after the day you enter. Also, you need a return ticket home…they don’t want you getting TOO comfortable in paradise. Finally, Costa Rica is known for being a little bit more picky than other countries about the condition of your passport. Make sure yours isn’t damaged in any way, and if it is, get a replacement before you travel.

Exceptions for Cruises and Children

There are a couple of exceptions to the rules listed above. These only apply if you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or one of the Caribbean countries listed below:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Aruba
  • Bahamas
  • Bermuda
  • Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba (BES)
  • British Virgin Islands (includes Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda)
  • Cayman Islands
  • Dominica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Dutch Caribbean
  • Grenada
  • Jamaica (except for business travel)
  • Montserrat
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Turks and Caicos

The first exception applies to travelers on a closed-loop cruise, one that begins and ends at the same US port. Closed-loop cruise passengers can use a driver’s license along with proof of citizenship, such as a certified birth certificate or naturalization certificate to re-enter the US. However, some of these countries may still require a passport in order for you to get off the boat and explore. So, check with your cruise line for the exact requirements for your itinerary before you leave without one.

The next exception is for children traveling by land or sea. Kids under the age of 16 can use a birth certificate to re-enter the United States, as can kids under the age of 19 who are traveling with an organized church, school, volunteer or cultural group. Remember, though, this is only for land and sea travel- all children need passports to fly to or from the US.

Did these passport requirements catch you off guard? We can help you get a passport quickly and easily!

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