Although traveling outside of the country is easier than ever before, it requires additional documentation than traveling within U.S. borders. Special identifying documents known as passports and visas must be obtained to gain access to other countries regardless of the duration of the stay. It is important to make sure that if you are planning to venture beyond the borders of the United States, that you make sure that you are in possession of these documents, that they are up-to-date, that you know where they are, and that they are not tampered with. The process of initial application, as well as, renewal may take several weeks. It is crucial to file the necessary documentation as soon as you are able. It is not uncommon for citizens, who do not currently have plans to travel abroad, to file for a passport just in case. 


Passports are identifying documents that are issued by a person’s country of residence. These documents are proof of the traveler’s citizenship, age, and gender, and they indicate where the individual holds permanent residence while in the host country. Most of those who have a passport from a country will also be citizens of that country, but that is not always the case. For instance, the United States issues U.S. passports to U.S. citizens and to non-citizen permanent residents of the country.

Even though passports are necessary to enter other countries legally, a passport does not guarantee entry into any country except the one that issued it. However, if the issuing country has diplomatic ties with the country that is being visited, it is likely that the destination country will allow the passport holder to enter.

In the United States, passports are issued by the U.S. Department of State. Applying for a passport is not difficult. First-time applicants must apply for a passport in person at one of the many locations that the State Department authorizes to receive passport applications.

Generally speaking, these locations are usually posted offices and courthouses. Applicants will need to bring identification like their birth certificate, drivers’ license, and social security card, as well as two passport photos (Or they can take a picture of you there). Passports can be renewed online through the State Department or applicants can submit a request for a passport at their local post office. Renewing a passport will require the renewal applicant to mail in the expired passport as well as a new passport photo. Depending on the number of passport applications that are currently being processed, it can take six weeks or more to receive a passport, but the service can be expedited for an additional fee.

Applicants will be required to pay a fee for their passport even if they do not have it expedited, and this fee will vary depending on the type of application. The fees for the document themselves are the same whether the applicant is applying for the first time or renewing their passport, but a $25 execution fee is added to the cost for those who are making their first application for a passport. As of 2011, an adult passport card costs $30, an adult passport book costs $110, and the total for both is $140.

At home or overseas, travelers sometimes lose their passports. If U.S. citizens lose their passports while they are in the United States, they must notify the State Department by phone, mail, or in person. If U.S. citizens lose their passports while outside of the country, they must contact their embassy or consulate. The following links explain these processes and give other information about passports in more detail.

  • Passports— this site from Senator Crapo discusses what a passport is, how to apply, renewal, fees, and where you need it to travel. 
  • Citizenship and Immigration: Passports— U.S. immigrants can learn all about getting passports and replacing them if necessary on this page.
  • DHP: E-Passports— Learn all about electronic passports on this page from this Department of Homeland Security website.
  • Passport and Passport Cards— Some general information on U.S. passports and passport cards is accessible on this site.
  • Replace Your Lost or Stolen Passport— Advise on what to do and contact information is found here if you lost your passport. 
  • State Department: Passports— U.S. citizens can find out all about passports and apply for them here.
  • USPS: Passport Applications— Information on applying for a U.S. passport through the United States Postal Service can be found on this page.
  • The Passport Center— This site discusses your first passport, the fees, passport safety, renewals, etc.
  • Need a Passport?— This website from Delta provides information on many aspects associated with getting and having a passport.
  • Find A Passport Center— This site only needs your zip code and will tell you the closest, most convenient place to get a passport.


A visa is a travel document that shows that a non-citizen is allowed to enter the country that issues it. Stamps in passports are actually visas, although the term is most often used nowadays to refer to specific papers that are issued and that grant specific permissions to the visiting individual. Visas will typically be required for stays of thirty days or more, and there are many different kinds of visas that one may apply for and receive.

Student visas that allow individuals from other countries to stay in a host country provided they fulfill certain enrollment requirements at a college or university are quite common, and these are often obtained with the assistance of the college the foreign national is attending. Business visas may be required for those individuals that are going to be doing business while they are visiting the country. Those who want employment will typically have to obtain a temporary worker visa.

Many countries today do not issue tourist visas, which are permissions for stay granted to those who will only be in a host country temporarily. In these instances, only a passport will be required. U.S. citizens should be aware that they will need to have a passport to travel anywhere in the world, including Canada or Mexico, which is a change from a decades-old policy that did not require passports for traveling between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. In any case, specific information on visa requirements for particular countries is accessible by visiting the embassies in those lands online or by contacting the State Department. More information on visas and visa requirements is accessible via the following links.

  • 10 Tips on Getting a U.S. Visa— Students should find this guide to getting a U.S. visa especially useful.
  • Chinese Visa— United States citizens should visit this page for information on obtaining a Chinese visa.
  • Delta Visa and Passport Information— this is a good overview page on visas and passports from Delta Airlines.
  • F1 Student Visa— this helpful page has a lot of good information on obtaining a student visa.
  • Know before you go— Travel Centre allows visitors to figure out whether they have sufficient travel documents before visiting another country.
  • UK Visas: FAQs— on this page of frequently asked questions, readers can learn about visa requirements for the United Kingdom.
  • U.S. Government Visas— Citizens of other countries can find information on obtaining visas for a stay in the United States on this page.
  • U.S. Embassy— Learn how to contact the U.S. embassy in each country on this page.
  • Visa Gallery— The Visa Gallery makes pictures of visas from around the world accessible to visitors.
  • Visa Requirements by Citizenship— Visitors can choose their country of citizenship to figure out the visas that might be required when visiting another nation.
  • Visa Types— this page contains a list of the different types of Visas issued in the United States.
  • Washington, D.C. Embassies— find links to all the embassies in Washington, D.C., embassies where information on obtaining visas in represented countries is located.
  • Need a Visa?— This site from Delta will help you determine what kind of visa you need. 

Passports & Visas for Minors

As noted above, U.S. citizens are required to have a passport to travel outside of the United States and visit other countries. This is true for minors under the age of 16 as well. Parents and guardians can obtain passports for children of this age through the same application process, and visas for minors cost less than those for adults. Children who are going to be staying in a country for an extended period of time will need visas, and the specific requirements for these will vary depending on the country in which the family is seeking to reside temporarily. Still, it is generally true that it is easier for kids to get visas once their parents have obtained them. Since many Americans adopt children from other countries, they should also be aware that these kids will need a U.S. visa before the adoption can be finalized. This last set of links provides more information on passports and visas for kids, and they should be consulted so that the reader will be better informed on the process.

  • Getting a Passport for Baby— USA Today offers this excellent guide to obtaining a passport for a baby that will be traveling internationally.
  • Getting Your Child a Passport— for twenty years, this travelers’ website has provided good information on topics like getting a passport for a child in the United States.
  • Travel Documents for Children— AAA has this handy article on the kinds of travel documents that are required for kids.
  • Travel for Kids: Documents— this is a more extensive list of the documents that one should have when traveling with children.
  • Intercountry Adoption: Visas— this page details visa requirements for children who are adopted from other countries and brought to the United States.


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