Can You Leave the U.S. Without a Passport?

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With so many passport applications flooding the kiosks of the United States Department of State, it is possible that the issuance of your passport is being pushed to months. So, when your petition is being pushed and tossed and delayed, and you are planning to leave the U.S., can you leave without a passport? 

It is an evident fact that the U.S., or any other country for that fact, is very austere in regards to passports when it comes to the arrival of an individual in the country. But, is it the same with departures? 

In the specifics of this article, we shall discuss whether or not you can leave the U.S. without a passport and a lot more.

Can you leave the U.S. without a passport?

The question can broadly be divided into two parts:

  1. Can you leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport?
  2. Can you leave the U.S. without ‘any’ passport?

Although framed similarly, the two questions have wildly different answers. Let’s have a look at what happens in both cases:

Can you leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport?

Before we get to the specifics of this question, here is a short answer: YES! You can leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport. 

Furthering on the same, although you can leave the U.S. without a passport, it is not recommendable to do so unless your petition is being pushed over for months, and you have no other option but to resort to leaving without a U.S.-issued passport. 

The U.S. law of  Immigration and Naturalization Act section 215, found at 8 U.S.C. § 1185, Travel control of citizens and aliens, subsection (b) states that all citizens of the States are required to ‘bear’ a United States passport, regardless of whether they are leaving the U.S., or entering it.

If a person possesses dual citizenship, the law states that they must use a U.S. passport to enter or leave the U.S. 

Ideally, all U.S. citizens, when departing from the U.S. (or entering the U.S.) from some part of the western hemisphere via an airline, are required to provide a valid U.S. passport or alternatively a NEXUS card. 

So, what if you do leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport? That is a discussion for later in the article, but be assured that even though you are likely violating the law, the law is not as enforced (or let’s say enforced at all) when it comes to departures as it is when it comes to arrival in the U.S. 

In other words, the T.S.A. or the airline likely does not care whether you have a U.S. passport when you are leaving the U.S. or not.

However, nothing comes without a price… 

If you leave without a U.S. passport, upon returning to the U.S., you will likely have to pass the immigration, which translates to hassle when it comes to entering the U.S. Thus, if you are planning a return (which you must be, as a U.S. citizen), it is ideal to abide by this non-enforceable law of bearing a U.S. passport when leaving the U.S.

If your passport issuance is being delayed or you need to leave on an urgent basis, to avoid hassles upon return, you can ask the White House for a Presidential exception.

Yes, you can do that, but why trouble the White House for leaving the country?

Alternatively (and suggestively), you can use one of the exceptions specified in 22 C.F.R. § 53.2 to your advantage to leave the U.S. without a U.S. authorized passport.

While you are traveling and on the staycation to wherever you left, it is advisable to apply for a U.S. passport at the local U.S. embassy of your current stay.

Can you leave the U.S. with no passport at all?

In theory, yes, you can leave the U.S. without a passport, but hold that thought. Go back two steps and think again. Will the airline you are traveling with ‘really’ allow you to board an international flight (emphasis on ‘international’) without you possessing a passport?

Although the U.S. government or the T.S.A. may seem to have no ‘active’ problem with you violating the non-enforceable law of leaving the U.S. with a passport, the airline may forbid you from boarding your flight, since, when you arrive at your destination, you will be required to show a passport, regardless of whether it is from the U.S. or not. 

There are high chances that you will be delayed or, worst-case scenario, denied entry to the country you are traveling to, owing to insufficient documentation, if you have no passport at all.

When can you leave the U.S. without a passport?

Examples of situations when you could leave without a passport:

Entering Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean by land/sea

Here, in this situation, you will require a Trusted Traveler Card (NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST, Global Entry), Border Crossing Card, Enhanced Driver’s License, or Enhanced Tribal ID. With any of these I.D. proofs and cards, you can safely cross the border. Traveling across the U.S. border via air requires a passport, except for the NEXUS cardholders flying to Canada.

Traveling as a merchant mariner, or active duty military/military dependent

When you are traveling as a merchant mariner, you will be issued a Merchant Mariner Credential, or if you are on an active-duty military dependent, then you can directly travel on a military-chartered flight to a U.S. base.

When you are holding multiple citizenships

If you have multiple citizenships and you are traveling outside of the U.S., you can actually arrive in a foreign country as a citizen of a different country. 

Suppose you are holding dual citizenship, such as a dual American-German, then an individual can arrive in Germany with a German Visa and can stay as long as they want, and they don’t actually need a visa to return to the U.S.

When you aren’t a U.S. citizen

Well, the individuals who are Permanent Residents can easily leave and re-enter the U.S. with their Green Card. But the Foreign Visitors with a U.S. visa can leave and re-enter the U.S., depending on the class. 

Will there be a penalty if you return to the U.S. after leaving without a U.S. passport?

Although you have violated several laws by leaving the U.S. without a U.S. passport, you will not be penalized upon your return.

If you left without a passport, it surely would be difficult to be granted admissibility in the U.S… However, you will not be penalized for the same under any circumstances. 

Since the law that states all U.S. citizens should ‘bear’ a U.S. passport when leaving the U.S. (or entering the country, but we shall put that on the sidelines for now) is non enforced (to an extent), you will not be required to compensate for not abiding by it when you left the U.S.

Can you lose your U.S. nationality if you leave the U.S. without a passport?

So, you left the U.S. without bearing a passport, especially a U.S. passport. What happens next? Do you lose your U.S. nationality and get vetoed from considering yourself a citizen of the States?

No. You do not lose your U.S. nationality if you leave the U.S. without a passport. Before we further on this point of discussion, we shall make it unco clear that we are not attorneys, and the information provided below has been gathered from reliable government sources.

Now, to answer your question, here is how the loss of nationality is defined under 8 U.S.C. 1481 if the acts mentioned below are done with the intent to lose U.S. citizenship to begin with.

  1. If you have obtained naturalization in a foreign state, given that you are above 18 and intend to lose your U.S. citizenship.
  2. If you have taken a formation declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or any or all of its political subdivisions after the age of 18.
  3. If you begin to serve as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer in the armed forces of a foreign state and/or enter or serve the foreign force’s armed army that is currently or has been in hostilities against the U.S.
  4. If you have the nationality of a foreign state or have taken an oath of allegiance, then accept employment with the same foreign government beyond the age of 18.
  5. If you officiate renunciation of your U.S. citizenship before a U.S. diplomatic or consular office outside the U.S.
  6. If you renounce your U.S. citizenship within the U.S. before The Department of Homeland Security
  7. If you have been convicted for any kind of treason against the U.S. government or have forcefully attempted to overthrow or bear arms against the U.S. government (which we are sure you haven’t).

If you have not done any of these acts with the intent to lose your U.S. citizenship, you will not lose it for merely leaving the country without a passport/a U.S.-issued passport. 

Do you need a passport to travel within the U.S.? 

The answer is subjective: Are you asking this as a citizen of the U.S., or are you asking this as a foreign traveler? 

If you are the former, you are not required to show your passport when traveling to any of the fifty states of the United States. Sometimes, the big, warm, and welcoming signboards at the edge of the states are proof that you have already traveled from one state to the other.

However, if you are visiting the U.S. as a traveler, it is always a wise idea to keep your passport on you at all times because you might need to confirm your identity before being granted entry into a state. 

As a citizen of the United States, you can travel as far as Hawaii, the exotic island that remotely resembles the U.S. in any way, without a passport. 

When it comes to big white Alaska, you may have to present a passport, especially if you are traveling by land, since it is separated from the lower 48 states by Canada. Thus, you may have to present a Canadian passport at the Canadian border that can qualify as a WHTI document, allowing entry into Alaska (and Canada, simultaneously).

Besides the states, you can also visit 5 of the 14 U.S.-controlled territories without a passport being a requirement. These five territories include U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, and the latest addition, the Northern Mariana Islands.

Read More

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  8. How to lawfully leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport as a U.S. citizen?
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Author - Willa Carson
Happywayfarer author Willa Carson
Hi, I'm Willa Carson, a passionate traveler who has been exploring the world for 7 years. Whether it's trekking through the Himalayas, exploring ancient ruins in South America, or simply savoring a cup of coffee at a local cafe, I believe that travel has the power to enrich our lives in countless ways. So join me on my journey and let's discover the world together!
Read more about me here.

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