It is easier for U.S. citizens to travel abroad than it is for citizens of many other countries. To travel abroad, you must comply with the international passport and visa system, and comply with local requirements. In addition, international travel raises special considerations that you should prepare for before leaving home.
You Must Have a Passport
You can obtain a U.S. passport from a local acceptance center or passport agency by completing the appropriate form. You must also present proof of your identity and U.S. citizenship, and pay a filing fee. If you are applying for your first passport, you may have to appear in person.
Your passport will be valid for 10 years. Many foreign governments also require you to obtain a visa from one of their embassies or consulates before you can enter the country. A visa is normally stamped onto your passport. Some destinations allow you to enter visa-free for a limited period.
Subject to Local Laws
In many cases, punishment for violation of local laws in another country can be more severe than punishment for an equivalent offense in the United States. In other cases, activities that would be legal in the United States are illegal abroad. In Thailand, for example, speaking critically of the Thai monarchy is punishable by a prison term.
If you are arrested abroad, you have the right to speak with a consular official of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Nevertheless, the consular official can give you only limited assistance - often limited to a list of local lawyers.
Many Countries Do Not Recognize Dual Citizenship
If you are a dual citizen of the United States and another country, the other country may or may not recognize dual nationality. If you travel there on your U.S. passport and the government discovers that you are a citizen of both countries, it may require you to choose between U.S. citizenship and citizenship in that country.
A few countries, such as Iran, may consider you a local citizen automatically if you are married to a local citizen or if your parents are local citizens. Such countries may not recognize your U.S. citizenship and may even bar you from leaving the country.
Overseas Travel Raises Unique Safety Considerations
Before leaving the United States, consider buying international health insurance that will cover you abroad. You might also consider enrolling in the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrollment notifies local U.S. embassies and consulates of your whereabouts, and signs you up for periodic information about dangers in the countries to which are traveling.
You may contact a U.S. embassy or consulate 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an emergency.
A Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding travel abroad as a U.S. citizen is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a lawyer.