The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

By Michael Webster: Investigative Reporter


As of January 23, 2007 the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires all travelers to and from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda to present a passport or other accepted document that establishes the bearer’s identity and nationality in order to enter or re-enter the United States. The goal is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate international travelers.

Under this law the following documents are be acceptable to fulfill document requirements:


The passport requirement does NOT apply to U.S. citizens traveling to or returning directly from a U.S. territory.  U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the United States and do not need to present a passport. 

U.S. citizens traveling from U.S. territories need not to present a passport to re-enter the United States. As long as the territories are a part of the United States. U.S. citizens returning directly from a U.S. territory are not considered to have left the U.S. territory and do not need to present a passport. U.S. territories include the following: Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Swains Island and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Children are also required to present passports under the rule. Yes, children will be required to present a passport when entering the United States at airports.  More information on obtaining a passport for a minor can be found at

Here’s what will happen to you if you attempt to re-enter the U.S. without a passport or an alternative travel card. Under the law, the new documentation requirements may be waived under certain circumstances. These exceptions include individual cases of unforeseen emergency and individual cases based on “humanitarian or national interest reasons.”  In addition, the State Department has processes to assist U.S. citizens overseas to obtain emergency travel documentation for those with lost or stolen passports. There was a time when if a U.S. Citizen lost or their pass port was stolen you could go to any U.S. Embassy and get a new one issued right on the spot.

For the general public, people who apply for entry but do not have appropriate documentation will be referred for secondary screening at the port.  In secondary, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will evaluate any evidence of citizenship or identity the individual may have and will verify all information against available databases.  However, to prevent delay at the ports of entry, they encourage all U.S. citizens to obtain the appropriate documents before they travel.

What impact recent legislation may have on the deadline of implementation for the land and sea phase is unknown.

While recent legislative changes may permit a later deadline, both the Departments of State and Homeland Security are working to put all requirements in place to implement the land and sea phase by the original deadline of January 1, 2008.  Advance notice will be provided to enable the public to meet the land/sea border requirement. 

Over 70 million U.S. citizens hold valid passports, an estimated quarter of the eligible population.  The number of passport applications and issuances continues to grow.  In fiscal year 2006, the U.S. Department of State issued over 12.1 million passports.

DHS has prepared a separate economic analysis, known as the Regulatory Assessment (RA), which is summarized in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published August 11, 2006, and is available in full for review and public comment from the Federal Register docket. DHS has determined that the benefits – facilitation of travel and increased security in the air and sea environments – justify the potential costs.  A complete and detailed “Regulatory Assessment” can be found in the docket for this rulemaking:; see also  For further information, please contact DHS.

Registration at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate (in the country you are visiting) makes your presence and whereabouts known, in case it is necessary for a consular officer to contact you in an emergency. During a disaster overseas, American consular officers can assist in evacuation were that to become necessary. But they cannot assist you if they do not know where you are.

Registration is particularly important for those who plan to stay in a country longer than one month, or who will travel to:
*A country that is experiencing civil unrest, has an unstable political climate, or is undergoing a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a hurricane.
*A country where there are no U.S. officials. In such cases, you should register at the U.S. embassy or consulate in an adjacent country, leave an itinerary with the Consular Section, ask about conditions in the country that you will visit and ask about the third country that may represent U.S. interests there.

If you are traveling with an escorted tour to areas experiencing political uncertainty or other problems, find out if your tour operator is registering your trip through the State Department’s travel registration website  . If it is not, or if you are traveling on your own, you can still register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website .

In accordance with the Privacy Act, information on your welfare or whereabouts may not be released to inquirers without your expressed written authorizations. Registration through the website is not considered proof of citizenship. Remember to leave a detailed itinerary and the numbers or copies of your passport or other citizenship documents with a friend or relative in the United States.

Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid a certain country. The countries listed below are currently on that list. In addition to this list, the State Department issues Consular Information Sheets  for every country of the world with information on such matters as the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, any areas of instability, and the location of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the subject country.

Côte d'Ivoire  06/01/2007
Iran  05/31/2007
East Timor  05/11/2007
Nepal  05/07/2007
Eritrea  05/02/2007
Yemen  04/30/2007
Philippines  04/27/2007
Uzbekistan  04/25/2007
Congo, Democratic Republic of the  04/24/2007
Sri Lanka  04/05/2007
Afghanistan  04/04/2007
Algeria  03/22/2007
Central African Republic  03/06/2007
Liberia  02/16/2007
Kenya  02/06/2007
Burundi  01/24/2007
Nigeria  01/19/2007
Israel, the West Bank and Gaza  01/17/2007
Haiti  01/10/2007
Indonesia  01/09/2007
Lebanon  12/22/2006
Saudi Arabia  12/19/2006
Pakistan  12/05/2006
Chad  11/20/2006
Syria  11/13/2006
Sudan  10/05/2006
Iraq  08/28/2006
Somalia  06/05/2006
Bosnia-Herzegovina  03/30/2006
Colombia  01/18/2006


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