Immigration & Naturalization Law
Can I Travel if I Am Undocumented?
As a general rule, you can travel if you are an undocumented immigrant in the United States. There is no law preventing it.
However, there are certain rules that you should keep in mind depending on whether you are traveling by air, land, or sea. It also matters if you travel within or outside the country. Your legal status can make leaving or entering a country difficult. The country’s desire to crack down on illegal immigration could put you living in the U.S. at risk if you make a mistake.
To travel by plane within the United States, undocumented immigrants and their families may present one of the following documents:
- State identification document
- State driver’s license
- Foreign passport
As of May 3, 2023, border patrol authorities at airports will only accept REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification documents. Additionally, if you are entering the U.S. with a foreign passport, border patrol officers are likely to question you about what you are doing here.
To have these documents, you must show that you are in the country legally. That is, after May 3, 2023, you will only be able to get on a plane using your foreign passport.
If you want to travel outside of the United States, you can’t use your state identification document or driver’s license. You can only board the plane for an international flight with your passport.
If you travel by land between different cities in the United States, whether by bus or train, it depends on the company you use. Different companies have rules about whether they will ask for identification.
The most common approach is to assume that someone will ask you for identification. It is advisable to contact the bus or train company in advance to see what documents they require.
If you travel by public transportation within a city, such as taking the New York City subway or a bus in Chicago, no identification is required.
Finally, if you take a bus or train crossing the border to Mexico or Canada, you must have your passport handy.
Traveling by water is similar to traveling by land. For trips within the country, the documentation requested depends on the company. For example, if you take a ferry from Michigan to Wisconsin, it is best to check with the ferry company to see what documentation is required.
To travel outside the country, such as the Seattle-Vancouver ferry, you will need to present your passport.
If you were in the United States illegally, either because you crossed the border irregularly or overstayed your visa, you might be banned from reentering the country.
The longer you have stayed in the U.S. illegally, the longer the reentry ban will last:
- Irregular stay of fewer than 180 days: There is no automatic reentry ban, but the immigration officer may deny you entry based on this irregular stay.
- Irregular stay between 180 days and one year: You will face a reentry ban for three years.
- Irregular stay of more than one year: You will face a reentry ban for 10 years.
Undocumented people can also face deportation, denial of permanent residency, removal, denial of tourist visa, or other consequences if caught during illegal entry.
The rules don’t change for travel within the country. However, if you want to leave the country while you are processing your immigration case, keep in mind that you need one of the following documents to reenter the U.S.:
- Advance permission
- Refugee travel document
- Reentry permit
- Transport documents
The general rule is traveling with expired identification documents is not allowed.
However, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) accepts expired driver’s licenses and identification documents. However, it cannot be expired for more than one year.
For example, suppose you were traveling with an expired driver’s license on May 1, 2020. In that case, this document will be accepted only until May 1, 2021.
To travel within the United States, minors do not need any type of identification. To travel outside the country, a child must have a passport.