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Border Entry Rules

Border entry into the United States became much stricter after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Despite these new protections, foreign nationals can still enter the country. The U.S. government only asks every person entering the border to present particular documents and follow border entry rules.

Federal agencies, most notably the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division, are tasked with balancing the need for border security with the desire for an efficient and welcoming border entry system.

This article covers the basics of border entry in the United States. It also outlines the requirements and main procedure for entering the country.

U.S. Citizens

All U.S. citizens traveling by air for international travel must present a passport or other approved travel document. Some qualifying documents include the following:

  • U.S. military ID with travel orders
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner document when travel is on official business
  • NEXUS card under the trusted traveler program where the port-of-entry permits

U.S. citizens returning by land or sea must present a passport or document that complies with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) restrictions, such as a NEXUS card. A NEXUS Card is a preapproved card for low-risk travelers. It helps speed up the border entry between the United States and Canada.

Also, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, scheduled to take effect on the fiscal year of May 7, 2025. This law requires every traveler 18 and older to present an acceptable form of ID when flying domestically within the United States. Because of the changing rules, it is crucial to be updated about travel advisories and changes in immigration law.

Lawful Permanent Residents

When crossing the border, noncitizens and green card holders must present a valid passport or ID, such as a green card or other travel documents. Note that different rules may apply for LPRs waiting for their green card. For instance, green card applicants planning to stay outside the United States or travel to their home country should also get an Advance Parole Document. This document should be secured to avoid issues with abandonment of residency.

Citizens of Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda

Canadian, Mexican, and Bermudan citizens entering the United States are subject to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). All international visitors must present a passport or secure travel document when arriving by air. Canadians and all Bermudans are subject to US-VISIT biometric procedures. However, slightly different rules exist for nationals of these countries arriving by land or sea.

Bermudans, Canadians, and the United States must present a valid passport or travel document compliant with Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Some acceptable documents include SENTRI, FAST, NEXUS, Enhanced Driver's License, and Global Entry Cards. Most of the documents are part of the Trusted Traveler Programs. These are designed to speed border crossing, reducing wait times.

Mexicans must present a passport with a nonimmigrant visa or a laser visa border crossing card. Some Mexican citizens are subject to US-VISIT biometric procedures.

All Other International Visitors

International visitors to the U.S. must typically present a passport or e-Passport when passing through customs. Visitors from designated countries may enter the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. However, they are subject to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before travel. Those entering with a visa are subject to US-VISIT biometric screening procedures.

Some ports may need proof of vaccination in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Reentry procedures may also change. Checking the Department of State or Department of Transportation website for updates is recommended.

Different rules may apply to those pursuing U.S. immigration or U.S. Citizenship. Noncitizens and migrants looking to visit the country must get a U.S. visa. Also, check the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for more information about visa processing and your eligibility for visa application.

You can visit U.S. official websites for more information about U.S. border entry.

Seek Legal Help

Understanding the complexities of border entry rules and immigration law is challenging. With the traveling restrictions and immigration policies continuously changing, it is hard to keep current. Thus, it is helpful to seek the legal help of an immigration attorney. They can provide you with updated legal advice, particularly when you're crossing U.S. borders. They can also clarify the doubts that you might have and ensure that your trip to the U.S. will go as hassle-free as possible.

For more information about traveling to the United States or immigration law, contact an immigration attorney near you.

Learn About Border Entry Rules

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