July 2015 Bar Bulletin
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July 2015 Bar Bulletin

Coming Home: Border Crossing for U.S. Citizens

By Kim Ositis
Assistant Law Librarian for Reference Services


Is a trip to Canada in your future? Be sure you know what sort of travel documents you'll need so that you and your yummy maple sugar candy treats can cross the border back to the U.S.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) was passed to facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors, while strengthening U.S. border security. The result of this effort is the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which requires U.S. citizens to present a passport or other document that denotes identity and citizenship when entering the U.S.

Prior to 2007, U.S. citizens were not required to provide more than a valid driver's license or other approved form of ID to travel between certain countries, such as Canada and Mexico. That has now changed. Below is a discussion of what travel documents are now required for different types of travel within the Western Hemisphere (Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America).

Travel Type

Air Travel

All U.S. citizens, including children, must present a passport or NEXUS card when entering the United States by air. This includes infants.

Land and Sea Travel

U.S. citizens entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry are required to have documents that comply with the WHTI, most commonly a U.S. passport, a passport card, or an enhanced driver's license. Other forms of acceptable identification are trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXU.S., SENTRI or FAST); military identification cards (for members of the U.S. armed forces on official orders); and U.S. merchant mariner document (for U.S. citizens on official maritime business).

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