What Documents Do US Citizens Need to Enter the United States?

Last updated July 13th, 2023

All incoming passengers must go through border security checks upon arrival in the US. American citizens are asked to provide proof of identity and citizenship to be let into the country. Usually, your US passport will do.

What if your passport expires while abroad, or it gets lost? And do you have to get a passport for your children? This article includes information about the US requirements for US citizens. It covers birth certificate entry, COVID-19 special requirements, expired passports, and more.

Documents Needed to Travel to the USA

As explained, the best way to ensure that you are able to enter the United States as an American citizen is to have your valid US passport with you. However, other documents may be sufficient in some cases depending on your departure country and means of transportation.

Returning to the US from the Western Hemisphere

Departure countries covered by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative include Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

American citizens entering the U.S. from these countries can show a valid:

  • US passport or passport card
  • Enhanced driver’s license
  • Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST)
  • US military ID card (only if traveling on official orders)
  • US Merchant Mariner document (only if traveling in conjunction with official maritime business)
  • Form I-872 American Indian Card or Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)

US permanent residents must provide their Permanent Resident Card (Green card). Green card holders do not need to provide a passport as well as their card.

American citizens arriving from other countries

Those arriving from locations outside the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative must provide their valid US passport. Non-American citizens are required to carry their valid non-US passport as well as a relevant American visa or travel authorization (if applicable.)

Can I Enter the US with an Expired US Passport?

American laws require citizens to have a valid US passport to be let into the country. If you have lost your passport while abroad or you hold an expired passport, you must apply for a new one before traveling. Failing to do so may result in entry denial.

If you have lost your passport, you can request an emergency passport at your nearest US embassy or consulate before you leave. An expired passport is not normally considered an emergency that warrants the issuance of an emergency passport so it is best to plan ahead if you know that your passport will expire soon. Some embassies do offer rush service renewals.

If you have dual nationality, you are required to enter the US on your American passport — even when the country of your second nationality is included in the Visa Waiver Program. Make sure that your US passport is valid before you travel.

Can You Cross the US Border with a Birth Certificate?

In some cases, it is possible to use a US birth certificate to cross the border into the United States by land.

This is allowed for U.S. minor citizens under 16 years of age, when arriving in the following situations:

  • Crossing the Canadian border by land or sea
  • Crossing the Mexican border by land or sea

However, citizens are not permitted to fly to the US with only a birth certificate under any circumstances.

Minors crossing the border with their birth certificate must provide an original or certified copy of their document. It is best to avoid using an abstract birth certificate or a short copy of the birth certificate if possible.

The birth certificate must have been issued by the Vital Records Department in the state where the traveler was born.

Hospital-issued birth certificates are only accepted for newborns whose vital records birth certificate still has not arrived. Alternatively, minors can provide a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Naturalization Certificate.

Additionally, US citizens aged 16-18 can enter the US with a birth certificate only if returning by land or sea from contiguous territory with an adult supervised school group, religious group, social, sports, or cultural organization.

USA Entry Requirements: COVID-19

During the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 testing is required to enter the United States. All air passengers over the age of 2 must provide negative COVID-19 test results. This includes American citizens and permanent residents.

The test must have been taken within 3 days of departure. Alternatively, passengers can provide proof of coronavirus recovery no older than 90 days.

Airlines are tasked with confirming the US coronavirus requirements for each passenger prior to boarding. Travelers who do not meet these requirements will be denied boarding.