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International Travel Documents - Passport, Visa, International Driving Permit & Others

Important travel documents including a U.S. passport, immunization card, boarding pass and international drivers license

Americans traveling abroad need to carry several different travel documents. Each serves a different purpose.

In this guide, we describe each of these travel docs, what they are used for, and how to get them. Links are provided for more detailed information about each document.


The most important travel document a United States citizen needs is a current, valid passport. You can't travel to any foreign country by air, land, or sea without one.

The wallet-size passport card is an alternative to a full-sized passport book. The card can be used for travel between the United States and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda.

Note: You can only use a passport card at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. The passport card cannot be used for international air travel.

Getting a new passport can take the longest of all the documents listed here. Depending on the circumstances, waiting for a new passport to arrive can take months. The same is true for passport renewals and getting a passport card.

If you need to travel abroad soon, there are ways to get a passport fast:


An entry visa lets a traveler to show up at a port-of-entry of a foreign country and request permission to enter. Obtaining a visa does not guarantee entrance into the country you wish to visit.

When you arrive, an agent will either grant or deny entry depending on your reasons for travel. There are several types of visas:

All visas are issued for a set amount of time. When the visa expires, you must either leave the country or apply to renew your visa.

There are some countries where no visa is required in order to visit.

Trusted Travelers Program Cards

A Trusted Traveler Program allows approved citizens to cross the US & Canada or US & Mexico quickly. This program is managed by the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP).

  • The Global Entry program makes it possible for low-risk travelers to enter the U.S. with expedited clearance. By skipping the traditional customs line, travelers can save a lot of time at border crossings.
  • The NEXUS, card is only for the US & Canada border crossing.
  • The SENTRI, card is for use at the US & Mexico Border. It allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S.
  • The FAST card allows travelers speedy passage by road both in and out of both the US & Canada and US & Mexico borders. Unlike the other travel documents on this list, the FAST card is made for people carrying low-risk cargo into the United States.

International Driving Permit (IDP)

An International Driving Permit translates the information on your driver's license into 10 languages. This allows officials in foreign countries to interpret your license.

An IDP does not replace a valid government-issued license. It is only valid when used with your regular license.

This means that if a law enforcement official in another country stops you, you must produce both your IDP and your official driver's license.

IDPs are honored in more than 150 countries outside the United States. Only the the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA), are permitted to sell IDPs.

You must be at least 18 years old and have a valid driver's license issued by a U.S. state or territory.

Travel Document Authentication

The Department of State, Authentications Office handles signing and issuing certificates under the Seal of the U.S. Department of State (22 CFR, Part 131).

This authentication service is available to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals on documents that will be used overseas.

You must request authentication services by mail. The State Department processes your request in 8 weeks from the date the paperwork is received.

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You can also visit our library of articles about passport expediting.

About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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