Whether you are traveling for business or leisure, careful planning and preparation, especially when it comes to all the travel documentation you need to fly, is essential.
We understand that this can seem daunting, so we have broken down everything you need to know, including the different types of travel documents you may need, the most common travel documentation mistakes to avoid, and tips for keeping your documents safe.
There are many types of documents for air travel. While you may not need every single one, here is an overview of the documents that may be required for flying:
Table of Contents
- 1 ID
- 2 Passport
- 3 Visas
- 4 Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)
- 5 Customs Declarations
- 6 Travel Documentation for Minors
- 7 Health Documentation
- 8 Travel Insurance
- 9 Tips for Keeping Your Travel Documents Safe
- 10 Common Travel Documentation Mistakes to Avoid
If you are from the U.S. and are only flying domestically, you have a wide range of ID you can use to prove your identity.
The TSA states that the following forms of ID are accepted:
- Driver’s licenses or other state photo identity cards issued by Department of Motor Vehicles (or equivalent)
- U.S. passport
- U.S. passport card
- Foreign government-issued passport
- Permanent resident card
- DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
- State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
- U.S. Department of Defense ID, including IDs issued to dependents
- Border crossing card
- An acceptable photo ID issued by a federally recognized, Tribal Nation/Indian Tribe
- HSPD-12 PIV card
- Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
- Transportation worker identification credential
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
- U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential
- Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC)
Note that from May 7, 2025, a REAL ID is required to fly if you plan to use your state-issued ID or license to travel within the U.S.
If you arrive at the airport without a REAL ID or other form of acceptable ID, you will not be permitted through the security checkpoint and will therefore not be able to fly.
You can check if your ID is REAL ID compliant by seeing if there is a star on your license.
If you are flying internationally, you need a passport that has been issued by the government. No exceptions.
This is because a passport is internationally recognized as both proof of identity and citizenship.
A passport is not required to fly in the U.S. if you are an American citizen.
If you don’t have a passport, don’t worry. The application process for a US passport is pretty straightforward, but requires several steps.
Note that if you are renewing a passport, this can be done by mail, in-person, and online.
1. Gather the Required Documents
To apply for a US passport, you’ll need to obtain the following:
- Proof of US citizenship (such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or previous passport)
- Photocopy of US citizenship evidence
- Proof of identity (such as a driver’s license or government-issued ID), as well as a photocopy of the ID
- Passport photos
- Completed passport application form.
2. Submit Your Application
In the U.S., you must submit your passport application in person at a passport acceptance facility, such as a post office, library, or county clerk’s office.
Application and executions fees must also be paid at the passport acceptance facility.
3. Wait For Your Passport
Once you have submitted your application, you can expect to wait 10–13 weeks for your passport, though you can upgrade to an expedited service to receive your passport within 7–9 weeks.
If you have international travel within 14 calendar days, there is also an option to book an appointment at a passport agency or center.
Before booking your flight, it’s paramount that you understand the visa requirements for the country you want to enter, whether you need to obtain a traditional visa or electronic visa.
Typically, visa requirements will vary depending on your nationality, duration of stay, and purpose of travel.
- Purpose of Travel: Different types of visas are available for various purposes, such as visa for tourism, business, work, study, or transit.
- Visa Validity: Visas are usually issued for a specific period of time, thereby only allowing you to enter and stay in the country for a maximum number of days.
- Visa Fees: While not always required, some countries will require visa applicants to pay a fee
- Supporting Documents: When applying for a visa, supporting documents may be required. Proof of accommodation and onward travel are typically the most common, though proof of financial means, and travel insurance may also be required. If not provided, your visa may be denied.
A visa may but not always be required, as it will depend on if your country has an agreement with the government of the other country to allows its citizens to enter without a visa.
Some countries have visa exemption agreements with other countries, which means that you will be able to enter the country without a visa for a specified period of time – usually between 30–90 days.
Currently, if you are a US citizen, you can travel to 144 countries in the world without a visa.
Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)
Several countries use a system of Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) that pre-screen travelers before they board a flight or enter the country.
The USA, for example, has the a Visa Waiver Program (ESTA).
This is beneficial for both the country and travelers because it streamlines the process of entering the country without having to apply for a visa.
Generally, you will need to apply for eTA if you are from a visa-exempt country, regardless if the purpose of your visit is for tourism, business, family visits, or transit.
Customs declarations are documents that provide information about the goods you are bringing into a country.
The purpose of these documents is so customs officials can assess whether the goods you want to bring into the country comply with local laws and regulations, including import restrictions, duty, and tax requirements.
As a traveler, you will need to provide specific details, such as the value, quantity, and description of the goods you are bringing into the country, as well as information about your identity, flight details, and travel itinerary.
Keep in mind that failing to declare goods or providing false information can result in penalties, fines, and confiscation of the goods.
Travel Documentation for Minors
If flying domestically within the US, minors do not need any form of ID as long as they are traveling with an adult who has an acceptable form of ID.
This means that a travel consent form for minors generally also won’t be required if they are traveling without one or both of their parents or legal guardians.
Having said that, an airline could ask to see proof of age, especially when it comes to free or discounted tickets.
The minor’s passport, birth certificate, immunization form or other medical records are all accepted by the airlines.
When flying internationally, a minor will always need a passport to travel. A visa may also be required, depending on the country.
There is more to consider, including if the minor is flying with a single parent, or flying alone – all of which we cover in our article What Do Kids Need to Fly?
If your child has special needs, check out our article: 6 Tips For Traveling With a Special Needs Kid
Many countries require you to provide certain health documentation, such as vaccinations or medical certificates, before you can enter their country.
Due to the Covid pandemic, many countries will not allow anyone from a foreign country to enter if they have not been double-vaccinated or have not taken a test to prove that they do not currently have Covid.
Having said this, it’s important to keep up to date with the health requirements and documentation necessary to enter a country, as these change over time, especially when it comes to Covid.
Additionally, vaccinations other than against Covid may be required to enter certain countries, such as proof of yellow fever vaccination if you are traveling from a region where yellow fever is prevalent.
It can be a hassle to schedule vaccinations or medical appointments, and obtain relevant certificates or records just to travel, but make sure that you plan ahead and allow sufficient time to get everything you need to do done to avoid any delays or refusal into the country.
Additionally, make sure that you carry a physical copy of your vaccination records, or other health-related certificates.
While it’s always good to have travel insurance in case things go wrong, some countries actually require you to have already purchased travel insurance before you can enter their country.
Either way, travel insurance is key for providing financial protection and peace of mind in the event of trip cancellations, medical emergencies, lost or delayed baggage, and other unforeseen circumstances.
Keep in mind that travel insurance coverage can vary greatly, including:
- Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance
- Medical Expense Insurance
- Baggage and Personal Effects Insurance
- Travel Delay Insurance
- Emergency Assistance Services
Depending on your plan, your coverage may include all of these or just one or two.
Travel insurance exclusions also exist.
- 7 Common Travel Insurance Mistakes You Must Avoid
- 6 Steps to Make a Successful Travel Insurance Claim
Tips for Keeping Your Travel Documents Safe
Your travel documents are undoubtedly critical when you travel. Losing or misplacing these documents can result in delays, denied entry, or even cancellation of your trip.
Therefore, it’s important to take precautions to keep your travel documents safe by following these tips.
1. Use a Travel Document Organizer
A travel document organizer, such as a wallet, can be helpful to keep all your travel documents in one place.
Typically, these organizers have multiple compartments and pockets to store your documents, which can make them easy to access when you need them.
It would also be a good idea to buy one that is waterproof, as water damage can be a common occurrence.
2. Keep Your Documents Secure
There are a few things you can do to keep your documents secure, including not leaving them unattended in public places, storing them in the hotel room’s safe, and avoiding carrying the documents on you when you are out and about exploring unless absolutely necessary.
Additionally, it can be a good idea to make copies or take photos of your documents and store them on both your phone and in the cloud, just in case something happens to your phone.
3. Use RFID Blocking Technology
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is used in passports, credit cards, and other identification documents, which can unfortunately be vulnerable to attack, including identity theft and unauthorized scanning.
To protect your documents from RFID skimming, use RFID blocking technology, such as sleeves or wallets, that can counteract the unauthorized scanning of your documents’ information.
4. Have a Plan for Lost or Stolen Documents
Despite taking all the necessary precautions, there’s still always a chance that your travel documents may get lost or stolen.
You therefore want to make sure you have a plan in place, such as having a list of emergency contact numbers, including the nearest embassy or consulate of your home country, and photocopies of your documents.
Common Travel Documentation Mistakes to Avoid
As mistakes or oversights with your travel documentation can lead to delays, inconveniences, or even denied entry into a country, we have compiled a list of common travel documentation mistakes to avoid.
- Not Checking Passport Validity: A very common mistake travelers make is not checking the validity of their passport, especially as many people don’t know that many countries require that their passport be valid for at least six months beyond their intended travel dates.
- Not Obtaining the Right Visa: Not obtaining the right visa can result in denied entry or deportation. So make sure that you research and understand the visa requirements for your specific circumstances and the country you want to enter.
- Not Carrying Copies of Important Documents: If you fail to carry copies of your important documents, it can make the situation even more challenging, as you will have no way of proving and confirming your identity.
- Not Informing Your Bank of Travel Plans: It’s common for people who don’t inform their bank that they are traveling for their card to be blocked. This is because using your credit or debit card in a foreign country can understandably trigger fraud alerts.
- Not Carrying Enough Cash in the Local Currency: Credit and debit cards are widely accepted around the world, but there are always situations where you can only pay in cash. While some destinations accept dollars, this is by no means worldwide, so always have enough cash in the local currency on you.
- Not Checking Entry Requirements for Transit Countries: If you have a layover or transit in before reaching your final destination, make sure to check the entry requirements for the country you are connecting in. Some may require a transit visa, whereas others don’t require anything at all.
- Not Carrying Medical Documents and Vaccination Records: If you are traveling to a country that requires specific vaccinations, make sure to bring your vaccination records or certificates with you, otherwise you might be denied entry.
- Not Having the Gender on Your ID Match Your Ticket: While the TSA doesn’t consider your identity, airlines and aviation bodies in other countries might, so it’s important that the gender marker on your ticket matches the gender marker on your ID if you are flying as a transgender or non-binary person.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).