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Homeland Security

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative: The Basics


Traveling to Canada, Mexico and Bermuda by Air

U.S. citizens and citizens of Canada, 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 or other WHTI-compliant documentation to enter (or depart) the U.S.

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Traveling to Canada, Mexico and Bermuda by Land/Sea

Beginning January 31, 2008, the Department plans to move towards WHTI implementation at land and sea ports of entry by ending the routine practice of accepting oral declarations of citizenship alone.

Citizens of the United States, Canada, and Bermuda will need to present the following to enter or depart the United States by land or sea:

U.S., Canadian, and Bermudian Citizens

  • Ages 19 and older: a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, along with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate
  • Children ages 18 and younger: proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.
  • Passports and trusted traveler program cards - NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST - will continue to be accepted for cross-border travel.

Citizens of Mexico

  • Entry requirements for Mexican nationals will not change. As under current entry requirements, Mexican nationals, regardless of age, must present a passport issued by the Government of Mexico and a visa, or a valid Form DSP-150, B-1/B-2 laser visa (Border Crossing Card).
  • Trusted traveler program cards - SENTRI cards will continue to be accepted for cross-border travel.

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Passport Requirements

All travelers including citizens of the United States, Canada, and Bermuda are now required to present a valid passport when entering the United States at any airport as of January 23, 2007.  This includes children of any age.

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Other Acceptable Documents

In some cases, other documents may be accepted when entering or departing the United States by air.

A limited number of travelers may present either:

  • Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551, Legal Permanent Residents will continue to be able to use their Alien Registration Card (Form I-551), issued by the Department of Homeland Security, or other valid evidence of permanent residence status to apply for entry to the United States.
  • Merchant Mariner Document (MMD) or “z-card” 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.
  • NEXUS Air card in conjunction with the NEXUS program at designated NEXUS sites. The NEXUS program is limited to citizens of Canada and the United States, lawful permanent residents of the United States and permanent residents of Canada. See information on enrolling in the NEXUS program.
  • U.S. Military Traveling on Orders. 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 U.S. armed forces on active duty is not required to present a valid passport to enter or depart the United States. Note: Spouses and dependents of these military members will be required to present a passport (and valid visa, if applicable) when traveling into the United States under WHTI.

Many border states are developing state-issued enhanced drivers licenses which will provide proof of identity and U.S. citizenship. These new documents will comply with travel rules under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Enhanced drivers licenses can be used by U.S. citizens instead of a passport to cross the border with Canada, Mexico.

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Traveling To and From U.S. Territories

U.S. Citizens traveling to and returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport.

U.S. territories include:

  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Puerto Rico
  • Swains Island
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

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Presenting Insufficient Documentation

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 (CBP) officers will evaluate any 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 or not. 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.

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About the Initiative

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda to have a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality to enter or depart the United States from within the Western Hemisphere.

The travel document requirements make up the departments of State and Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). This change in travel document requirements is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, which Congress subsequently passed into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.

This travel initiative is being implemented in two phases. The first phase will be for air travel, and the second for land/sea travel.

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Last Published Date: August 9, 2012
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