Documents You Need for Your Trip
Getting the Required Travel Documents for Your First Trip to Europe
Revised July 10, 2008
With the new rules for travel outside and back into the US, including changes on travel to Canada and Mexico, it is critical that every US citizen have a passport. Similar advice is valid for Canadians or Mexicans who are contemplating any foreign travel, even if it just to a bordering nation.
A passport is a document that tells officials that you are the citizen of a specific country. For most people, that is the country of your birth. It is possible to have dual citizenship and, if you have a choice of nations to claim citizenship from, you may want to check to see which country's citizens have the fewest travel restrictions. When I last looked, people traveling on a Canadian passport had fewer restrictions imposed on them in some countries than people from the United States faced.
One of the first steps you need to take, long before you book your trip, is to make sure you have the documents you need for the places you are going to visit. Depending on where you are going and how long you plan to stay, you may need some time to get those papers in order. If you are running out of time, you can use can use a company that will help you get an Online U.S. Passports for a fee.
That process begins with finding your birth certificate, the key document to getting your passport. If you don't have one, quickly contact the health department in the state, province, or county where you were born and get a copy. This document is critical for so many programs that you should always have one stored securely in a place you can easily find.
Start the process of getting your passport by visiting the appropriate website with explanations of the things you need for a passport. US travelers can get the details at the US State Department website. Canadian travellers can find travel restrictions from the Canadian government's passport website. If you are a Mexican citizen, your passport and visa requirements are explained at the Mexican Consultate's website.
With the new rules for U.S. Passports, be prepared for a long wait. Current projections are that a standard application will take about 10 weeks from the time you deliver it to the appropriate agency until you get the document in your hand.
If You Already Have a Passport
Verify that it is still valid and will be valid throughout the length of your trip to Europe. Unless you know for certain that the passport is valid, don't book a non-refundable ticket until you have double-checked the expiration date of your passport. There are plenty of travelers who can tell you they booked their tickets because they had a passport but couldn't find it when they went looking for it, or found it only to realize it had or was about to expire.
There are a number of companies that will expedite the passport application process for you if you need one quickly but they charge for the service and you could save those dollars for your trip if you start the planning process early.
Once you have an idea where you are going, you should investigate whether you need a visa for the trip as well. Again, a summary of this material is available through the national department that issues passports. US travelers can get the details at the US State Department website. Canadian travellers can find visa information from the Canadian government's website and Mexican citizens will find visa requirements at the Mexican Consultate's website.
You are most likely to need a visa, which is permission issued by the country you are visiting for you to stay in their country, if you are going to that country to work or study or to stay for more than 90 days. It is the way a country keeps track of who is visiting their country and critical, if you are traveling on a visa, that you follow the steps and limitations they place on you in the visa.
To find the most up to date information about the need for visas on a trip to Europe, you should get the information directly from the government of the country you are seeking to enter, or in the case of many western European countries, you can get the information from the European Union. Here are links to the most frequently visited countries in Europe.
The rules for working abroad are fairly strict. In some nations, if you work without the correct documentation, you will be denied the right to work legally. So be certain to follow the steps to get a valid work visa before you start collecting wages.
It is important to note that there are specific rules for passports and visas for children. The essense of the rules are to prevent parents from taking children abroad during a custody dispute and generally require consent from both parents. Both passport issuing nations and countries of entry tend to have those requirements.
The U.S. State Department provides general information about the type of passport on a State Department Link for Children's Passports