Everything seems in place. Airline tickets to London have been purchased with lush accommodations awaiting. Or maybe it’s that cruise to the Caribbean that has been sitting on the back burner but is now a go. All is in place—or is it?
The intended destination and the mode of transport used determines what kind of travel documents and/or permissions are needed; rules vary depending on whether travel is by land, sea or air.
For those traveling out of the United States and/or returning by airplane it’s simple—a passport is the required document, with the exception of countries that require a visa for entry.
Obtaining a Passport: Why and How
The passport remains the gold standard. In 2016, there were close to 19 million U.S. passports—including passport cards—issued.
It normally takes four to five weeks to obtain a passport, but expedited it could be as little as a two-to-three week wait. There is a chance to receive a passport within five business days, but it is based on need and restrictions apply.
If Europe is the destination, thanks to the Schengen Borders Agreement, enter one of 26 countries and travel freely cross borders into all other European Union countries with the exception of the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania. Entry is permitted into Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland—all non-EU countries.
The Schengen countries allow up to three months visitation within a six-month period without requiring a visa, and recommendations are for passports to have at least six months validity remaining before traveling. The United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania do not require U.S. citizens to have a visa, applying the Schengen countries visitation limitations.
For those traveling outside of Schengen countries, a visa may be required and must be obtained from the specific country's embassy.
For example, visitors to Chad are required to have a valid passport with at least six months validity remaining and two free pages for stamps, a visa, a World Health Organization card and a yellow fever vaccination. Within 72 hours of arrival you must have a registration stamp through the National Police and will need two passport-sized photos and contact information to complete the form. These are just some of the requirements, however.
Overall, requirements will vary from country to country, so make sure what each individual country needs and allow time for processing.
Trusted Traveler Programs
As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, travelers must present documentation that confirms identity and citizenship when entering the U.S., most notably (outside of the passport) the passport card, enhanced driver’s license or Trusted Traveler Card, among others. The passport card is a credit-card size U.S. passport. The first one was issued in July 2008, and millions have been issued to-date. It may only be used for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
Christina Perez, public affairs specialist for the Cruise Lines International Association, shared her notes on what might happen without proper paperwork.
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has documentation requirements for passengers entering or departing the U.S. Without the proper documentation, passengers may be unable to board the ship to take their cruise, unable to enter a port country, and be subject to fines."
For documentation needed for a specific destination, check the cruise line website or passage contract. Note: Those on a cruise out of the country must have a passport if they return by air.
The U.S. Customs and Border Control Trusted Traveler Programs, of which there are over five million members, are Global Entry, NEXUS, and Secure Electronic Network For Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). All allow for expedited processing. Those applying for Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI will be subjected to a thorough background check and must complete an in-person interview.
"It’s a way for people who want to provide extra information on themselves with a background check, for a consistent and expedited process every time,” said Kenneth Sava, director, Trusted Traveler Programs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security. "It allows us to focus attention on the traveler we don’t know anything about," Nava said of the U.S. CBP benefit.
Global Entry allows pre-approved low-risk travelers to enter the country through automatic kiosks at select airports. NEXUS is designed for those entering the United States and Canada, utilizing designated processing lanes at northern border ports of entry. The program runs in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency. SENTRI assists low-risk travelers with dedicated primary lanes into the United States at southern land border ports.
Another benefit of being in the Trusted Traveler Program is enrollment in TSA-Precheck. With TSA-Precheck, there's no need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or light jackets while using a dedicated lane. It is available departing from a U.S. airport to a foreign country, and for domestic, connecting flights after you return to the U.S. Ensure your airline is a participating member before you go, however.