San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Staying Up on U.S. Entry Requirements

What travel documents do Canadians and visa-waiver nationals need to enter the United States by air?

Documentary requirements to enter the United States have changed frequently since Sept. 11, 2001, as the country tightens border controls. What was needed three or four years ago is different today. For current information on what kind of passport or visa you may need to enter the United States, please see the U.S. Department of State’s Web site,

In a nutshell, for travelers entering by air, a valid passport and a U.S. visa are needed, even if only transiting a U.S. airport for a few hours.

Canadian nationals and citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries may enter the United States by air with valid passports only, if they meet certain requirements:

Canadians. Canadian citizens traveling to the United States temporarily for business or pleasure must have a valid Canadian passport, but do not need a visa unless they are entering the United States as a treaty trader, treaty investor, fiancé(e) or a representative of the government of Canada (e.g., a diplomat to attend a meeting).

Visa Waiver Country Nationals. There are currently 27 countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, including Japan, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Nationals of these countries who have not overstayed in the past and who have no criminal convictions may enter the United States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without a visa, if their passports are valid and meet certain requirements.

If the traveler’s passport does not meet the following requirements, he or she needs a valid visa to go into the United States:

–A machine readable passport; and

–If the passport was issued after Oct. 25, 2005, it must also have a digital photograph; and

–If the passport was issued after Oct. 25, 2006, it must be an e-passport (i.e., one containing an electronic chip).

–Temporary, emergency, official and diplomatic passports are exempted from the digital photo and chip requirements, but must be machine-readable.

With these exceptions:

–For Italian nationals: if a regular Italian passport was issued or renewed on or after Oct. 26, 2005, and includes a digital photo, it is valid for Visa Waiver Program travel; otherwise, a U.S. visa is required.

–For French nationals: if a French passport was issued on or after Oct. 26, 2005, and does not have an electronic chip, the traveler will need a U.S. visa.

–For German nationals: the Department of Homeland Security has determined that German temporary/emergency passports are not valid for Visa Waiver Program travel. Therefore, German temporary or emergency passport holders must get a U.S. visa.

Additionally, since airlines may have their own regulations as to how passengers should be documented for boarding, it is a good idea to check with airline staff at the time of purchasing a ticket.


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