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Where Can U.S. Citizens Travel Without a Passport?

Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands.
Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands by shalomov/DepositPhotos

There is a lot of talk on travel sites about the value of a U.S. passport. United States citizens have some of the greatest travel freedom in the world, being able to travel to 173 countries visa-free with only a U.S. passport in hand. That's a lot of travel freedom, but did you also know there are actually a lot of places U.S. citizens can travel even without a passport? It's true.

Within the United States

Lake in Alaska.
Lake in Alaska by kamchatka on

Citizens of the United States can travel to any of the fifty states in the U.S. without a passport. People may sometimes be confused by this, because the land mass of the United States is so huge, yet it is all one country. So while Europe, Africa, South America, and other great land masses are divided into separate countries requiring passports to cross borders within them, it is not the case in the United States. You can drive throughout the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia without a passport; in fact, sometimes a big welcome sign is the only indication you've passed from one state into another.

Even Hawaii, which is a great distance from the U.S. and has its own unique exotic island vibe is still one of the 50 U.S. states and doesn't require a U.S. passport. The only exception may be Alaska, and only because of its location. It's separated from the lower 48 states by Canada, so if you're going by land you may have to present a U.S. passport at the Canadian border if you aren't otherwise qualified with WHTI document to enter their country. If you're flying from any U.S. state to Alaska and returning the same way, you won't need a passport.

Each region and each state of the United States has a rich history and culture which offers a wide variety of attractions that are worth seeing. From world-class cities like New York and Los Angeles to a tropical paradises like Hawaii, there are hundreds of spots that rival any foreign destination. Here are just a few of the opportunities that exist in the USA.

U.S. Territories

View of San Juan in background taken from Condado Beach.
Condado Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico © Tomas Fano on

Most U.S. citizens know they can travel freely throughout the United States, but they don't realize that there are a lot of other alluring destinations that are also passport free. The United States controls 14 U.S. territories, five of which are inhabited and can be visited without a passport. The U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are both located in the Caribbean, making them popular hot spots for U.S. travelers. The other three U.S. territories that you can visit without a passport are all located in the Pacific Ocean; American Samoa, Guam, and the latest addition, the Northern Mariana Islands.

Canada and Mexico

Peace arch at the Canada-US border.
Peach Arch, Canada-U.S. Border © abhinaba on

In certain circumstances, U.S. citizens can travel to both Canada and Mexico without U.S. passports. Children under 16 can travel to both countries without passports. You'll want to bring original certified birth certificates with you for each child under 16 who doesn't have a passport, so they can get back into the United States without a problem. This rule only applies to land travel. If you are flying, each child, no matter what age, will be required to have a passport. It's a bit of a judgment call to use this option, because there is always the chance of getting into Canada or Mexico by land and needing to come back to the U.S. by air in the case of an emergency.

U.S. adult citizens are generally required to present a U.S. passport when crossing borders from the United States into either Canada or Mexico. Exceptions to this rule are those in possession of Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) approved documents. They include the Trusted Traveler Programs card (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry, or FAST), or an Enhanced Driver's License. WHTI approved travel documents can be obtained through an application process.

Closed-Loop Cruise

Photo takes from Big Mountain of cruise ship docked in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Cruise Ship, Tortola, British Virgin Islands © gail548 on

U.S. citizens who board cruise ships at U.S. ports, travel only in the Western Hemisphere, then return to the same port may present a government issued ID, such as a driver's license, to prove identification, accompanied by an original certified birth certificate to prove citizenship. These are the only two documents you'll need to reenter the U.S. on a closed-loop cruise. Understand that cruises that include destinations outside of the U.S. that are not U.S. territories, may stop at countries that require you to present a U.S. passport to enter, so you could end up spending time on the ship when everyone else is enjoying the destination port city. Also, some cruises may not let you board without a U.S. passport, so be sure to check with the cruise line before booking those tickets.

With all these places to travel without a passport, you may never need to get one! Some of the destinations like Mexico and Canada, and even some cruises, will have other conditions to travel without a passport, which isn't quite as convenient, but still doable.

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