You will need a valid passport if you are thinking about taking a vacation abroad, frequently travel outside of the US, have a job that will require international travel, or have family living overseas that you would like to visit. There are currently two types of documents for US citizens: passport books and passport cards. This article will discuss both, as well as visa information.
The passport book is a necessary travel requirement for all American citizens seeking to travel to international destinations. It is an identification document which contains traveler information, visa pages, and a small chip containing a biometric identifier which matches your photo to facial recognition devices at ports-of-entry throughout the world. The passport book is necessary for international air travel because it provides greater border protection and security, faster immigration line inspections, and automated identity verification.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), developed by the 9/11 Commission to meet the requirements of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, requires all US and foreign national travelers to present a passport book, passport card, Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry or FAST), or an Enhanced Driver’s License for entry to the US. As a response to WHTI, the US government began issuing cards to meet the needs of the northern and southern US border communities who frequently cross the US border by land or sea.
As such, a card can be used as an alternative to the book in some very specific cases. The card is a specialized travel document which can be used to re-enter the US at sea ports-of-entry and land border-crossings from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. A card is not a valid document for international air travel. For US and Canadian citizens under the age of 16, proof of citizenship in the form of a birth certificate serves as a sufficient document to pass land or sea crossings.
The passport book contains visa pages. A travel visa is an official document issued to a traveler to grant government authorized entry to a country. Travel visas are usually issued in the book as stamps or stickers. There are many different visa types ranging from tourism visas to work visas to student visas. Each country has unique visa requirements for US citizens that must be thoroughly researched before traveling. For example, some countries, such as China, require US citizens to have six months of validity, two blank visa pages, and a stamped visa. If the traveler does not comply, they risk deportation and substantial fines. Other countries, such as Colombia, only require one blank page while tourist visas, good for 90 days, are granted on arrival. It should be noted that US passport book holders can visit more than 170 countries and territories visa-free or with a visa-on-arrival.
The book is the most important document for American citizens wishing to travel abroad. In some cases, a passport card can be used to enter land and sea border-crossings. It is important that you check the visa requirements of each country, compiled on the State Department website, before traveling abroad.