International Travel Issues for Americans

Find helpful resources for Americans before traveling outside of the U.S., including how to exchange money, get visas for certain countries, and sign-up for government travel programs and safety alerts. Also, learn how to apply for an international driver's permit.

Trusted Traveler Programs

Learn about the Trusted Traveler Programs to help expedite your international travel. The Department of Homeland Security offers several options based on how you are traveling between the U.S. and other countries and how often you travel outside the U.S.

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Infographic: Traveling? Spend Less Time in Line

TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry, and other "Trusted Traveler" programs let pre-approved travelers get through security and customs screenings faster, whether they're traveling within the U.S. or abroad.

Infographic explaining Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler programs.

Infographic explaining Department of Homeland Security Trusted Traveler programs. View a larger version of the infographic.

  • Do you travel by plane within the U.S. or abroad, or drive or walk across the border into Canada or Mexico? You can skip the long security and customs lines at the airport or border crossing by enrolling in a “Trusted Traveler” program from the Department of Homeland Security.

    Five programs serve different travel routes and needs. They use streamlined procedures with reserved lanes and kiosks to get pre-approved travelers on their way quickly.

    Each program has a different enrollment fee but all come with a five-year membership. To enroll, apply online, then attend an appointment at an enrollment center. Visit dhs.gov/trusted-traveler-programs for current prices and to learn more.

    For travel within the U.S. and U.S. territories by air

    Program: TSA PreCheck

    What makes it faster: Dedicated fast lanes for airport security screening. No need to remove shoes, belt, light jacket, laptop, or liquids at airport security.

    Eligibility: U.S. citizens and permanent residents

    For travel into the U.S. from abroad

    Program: Global Entry

    What makes it faster: Use a kiosk to clear customs, immigration, and agricultural processing. No paperwork

    Other benefits: Dedicated fast lanes for vehicles and walkers entering the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. Includes TSA PreCheck

    Eligibility: U.S. citizens and permanent residents, citizens of certain other countries

    For travel into the U.S. from Mexico by land

    Program: SENTRI

    What makes it faster: Dedicated fast lanes for vehicles and walkers

    Other benefits: Faster entry into the U.S. for U.S. citizens and permanent residents following an international flight. Includes TSA PreCheck.

    Eligibility: Citizens of any country who have the required documentation or visas to enter the U.S.

    For travel between the U.S. and Canada

    Program: NEXUS

    What makes it faster: Use a kiosk to clear customs at U.S. and Canadian airports. Dedicated fast lanes for vehicles and walkers at northern border crossings

    Other benefits: Faster processing for marine traffic entering the U.S. from Canada. Includes TSA PreCheck

    Eligibility: U.S. and Canadian citizens and permanent residents

    For travel into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by commercial carrier

    Program: FAST (North or South)

    What makes it faster: Designated FAST lanes for commercial truck drivers transporting goods

    Eligibility: U.S. and Canadian citizens and permanent residents; Mexican nationals


     

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Americans Driving Outside the United States

When visiting another country:

  • You may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) or similar document in addition to your license to legally drive.  
  • Your American driver's license is good in the U.S. and Canada. For all other countries, check with the embassy or consulate of the country you are planning to visit.  
  • If you are planning to rent a car, contact the rental car company to learn about local driving and auto insurance requirements.  

Get an International Driving Permit (IDP):

Note: The AAA also offers an Inter-American Driving Permit required in Brazil, Uruguay, and other countries in the Western Hemisphere.

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Currency Exchange

Each country has its own currency or monetary system for buying and selling products and services. The exchange rate between two countries tells you the price you pay to buy another country's currency. When you travel internationally, you will want to have some of that country's currency to buy products or services. 

Exchanging Currency

Research the costs and process of purchasing currency for a foreign country:

  • Use online currency conversion tools to compare the value of your country's currency with the value of other countries' currencies. Each week, the Federal Reserve Board lists  the currency value of over 20 countries against the value of the U.S. dollar. The rates are not in real time. 
  • Check with local banks to learn how to buy currency for another country.
  • Use currency exchange booths, exchange vending machines, and ATMs at international airports or train stations. These booths may charge a fee for the exchange service.

If you plan to use a credit card or ATM card abroad, the exchange rate may be different than the rates at currency exchange booths.

Cash Limits When Traveling Abroad or Entering the U.S.

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Emergency Help for Americans Abroad

If you are a U.S. citizen abroad or if you're the relative of an American citizen needing help abroad, visit "Get Help in an Emergency" on Department of State (DOS) website. They can help with emergencies including lost or stolen passports, medical emergencies, victims of crime or arrest, missing persons, parental child abductions, death abroad, and natural disasters. 

Financial Assistance

The Department of State (DOS) can assist you if you need money transferred or wired. If you have no other means to get money, you may be able to get a temporary loan through the DOS or a U.S. Embassy or consulate.

Note: If you get a loan through DOS or a U.S. Embassy or consulate, you must repay it.  You can repay your loan online using Pay.gov.  Call 1-800-521-2116 (1-843-746-0592 from abroad) if you have any questions.

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Travel to U.S. Territories or Freely Associated States

U.S. Territories

If you are a U.S. Citizen traveling to and from: 

  • Guam - You need an American passport, even if flying from Hawaii.  
  • American Samoa - You need an American passport.  
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands - Does not require an American passport.  
  • U.S. Virgin Islands -  Does not require an American passport if coming from the U.S. mainland or from Puerto Rico.  
  • Puerto Rico - Does not require an American passport if coming from within the U.S.

Non-U.S. Citizens have to present a valid passport or other valid travel documents.

Freely Associated States

Countries that used to be administered by the United States are considered "Freely Associated States." They are considered foreign countries and U.S. citizens will need passports to travel there:

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Visas for U.S. Citizens Traveling Abroad

U.S. citizens may need a visa to enter a foreign country. Before traveling to another country, contact its embassy or consulate as far in advance as possible to find out:

  • Whether you must apply for a visa to visit the country, and when.
  • If the country has any other requirements you must meet before you can enter.

Find additional information in the U.S. Department of State's information document for the country.

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Last Updated: October 24, 2018