The question was already asked whether a US citizen can return on a valid passport which expires within 6 months of returning.

A lot of people commented and answered to the effect of "of course you can, it's your country!" And logically it makes sense.

However, I know of a few people who tried returning to the states (pre-Covid 19) and had problems. I believe they told me that they were stopped in the airport (of their visiting country) and the airlines wouldn't let them fly since they wouldn't be allowed to enter the US after they land.

Looking around online, it seems there are various blogposts which describe different experiences.

But I can't find any direct, unambiguous documentation from the US government itself addressing this specific question. Everything being discussed is just logical assumptions or personal experiences.

Can anyone share a verified, official , unambiguous source about this? Thanks


I want to add one other nuance to explain why I'm looking for this information.

I have a friend who lives abroad and was planning a trip to the state for 3 weeks. His passport was expiring the week after he would arrive. His plan had been to use his expiring (but valid) passport to land in the states, then apply for a new passport while in the US.

He was told not to do it by a few travel agents, who told him that the airlines wouldn't let him fly because he needs his current passport to be valid for 6 months from the time he was planning on leaving.

He was bothered by this- what did it matter that he was planning to leave in a few weeks? If he's a US citizen, he should be able to land regardless of his future flights. And for his return flight he'll have a new one already.

This is what started this discussion. That's why I want to see official US policy. Is a US citizen living abroad considered to be like a visitor, who needs 6 months (since there's a plan to return?) or is the only determinate that the passport is valid.

  • 1
    Already settled in case law. You don’t even need a passport. The Fifth Circuit in William Worthy, Jr. v. US, 328 F.2d 386 (5th Cir. 1964): We think it is inherent in the concept of citizenship that the citizen, when absent from the country to which he owes allegiance, has a right to return, again to set foot on its soil. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 7:45
  • I know that airlines can make their own policy, so they can decide not to let someone fly regardless of real US policy. But if there is an official stance from the US to allow Americans to return with an expiring passport, it would be funny for the airline to disallow something "because it violates US policy" when in fact it doesn't. That's why I want to clarify this.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 7:47
  • Even an expired passport is proof of citizenship so in theory the airline should allow those with expired passports to board. That said, there are administrative rules to the airlines which they pay dearly for flouting. Basically they should not bring in anyone without authority to enter. Don’t try to make sense of the seeming contradiction. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 7:51
  • 1
    Are you sure your friends are US citizens who tried to go to the US directly? Other combinations of countries may yield different results, and of course transit in any other country may change things as well.
    – jcaron
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 9:04
  • 2
    No country applies the so-called "six month rule" to its own citizens. I would expect a legitimate travel agent to know this. Many even allow them to return home on expired passports. However, a few countries do not consider the document valid on its expiration date. All of these have a warning in Timatic. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 11:53

4 Answers 4


Timatic, the database used by airlines to determine what documentation is needed, states:

  • For a US citizen going to the US:
  • Passports and other documents accepted for entry issued to nationals of USA must be valid on arrival.

(emphasis mine).

  • For comparison, for a French citizen going to the US:
  • Passports issued to nationals of France must be valid for the period of intended stay.
  • And for various categories of Chinese citizens:
  • Passports and other documents accepted for entry must be valid for a minimum of 6 months beyond the period of intended stay.
  • Hong Kong (SAR China) passports must be valid for the period of intended stay.
  • Macao (SAR China) passports must be valid for the period of intended stay.

So the rules depend on what passport you hold. For some, there is a 6 month validity beyond the period of intended stay. For others, just the period of intended stay. For US citizens, it just needs to be valid on arrival.

Other countries have similar variable rules depending on the nationality, type of visa, etc.


Check this discussion Why would airlines not let a US citizen with an expired passport board a plane back to the US?

In short:

  • A US citizen cannot be denied entry (passport or not) if they manage to get to a US border
  • The US government can easily force airlines to implement any passport rules they like.

These two things do not need to be related. Don't try to apply logic to government rules and behavior, it typically doesn't work this way.

Is a US citizen living abroad considered to be like a visitor, who needs 6 months (since there's a plan to return?) or is the only determinate that the passport is valid.

No. A US citizen is a US citizen regardless of where they live an even if they have never set foot in the US ever. They cannot be denied entry when arriving at a US border. However, they can certainly be denied boarding if they don't meet the passport rules set out by US government here https://www.usa.gov/enter-us

or is the only determinate that the passport is valid.

Yes. You NEED a valid passport to board a plane. You DO NOT need a passport to enter the country (although it certainly makes the process a lot simpler).

So the answer for you friend is:

If you manage to get to the US border by a means that doesn't check passports you can enter the country (after some scolding from CBP, that is). If you can drive up from Canada or Mexico, you are good. However, no airline will let you board a plane without a passport that meets requirements set out by the US


From US Customs and Border Protection - INFORMATION CENTER:

All U.S. citizens traveling internationally by air are required to present a valid U.S. passport to board a flight to the Unites States.

Note the to board a flight portion of that statement.

In theory, if you (as a US Citizen) without a valid passport or any other proof of citizenship, arrive at a port of entry cannot be denied entry.

Assume that they will not accept your word of honour, but start a (possibly) long and costly varification procedure that you are a US Citizen.

What are the passport requirements for visitors to the U.S.?

As a general rule, passports must be valid for six months beyond the date the traveler will exit the U.S., however, the U.S. has signed agreements with a number of countries to waive this requirement. When such an agreement is in place, the passport must be valid for the entire period of the visitor's intended stay, but the additional six month validity period is not required.


  • thanks for sharing this. Here's the problem- it doesn't explicitly say that the passport must still be valid for 6 months after landing. Logically it shouldn't need to be- that 6 months should only be for visitors not citizens! yet people have told me airlines have stopped then for the 6month issue as well. This is the detail about which I can't find an explicit policy.
    – Binyomin
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 8:03
  • @Binyomin added page (and quote) for passport requirements for non US Citizens. Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 8:15
  • 2
    @Binyomin The requirement isn’t explicitly stated because it doesn’t exist. Maybe your friends misunderstood what they were being told (maybe the agents were talking about the return journey back to their country of residence?), or the travel agents your friends used were mistaken, or they had another reason for giving wrong advice eg a possible commission on ‘helping’ your friends renew their passports.
    – Traveller
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 9:14

There are two parts to this question:

Will US border guards deny entry to a US citizen without a valid passport


International law† says that a country may not deny entry to a returning citizen. US law says the same. The person only has to prove they are a US citizen, they don't need a passport. This doesn't mean admittance to the US will be hassle-free.

Will airlines transport a US citizen to the US from abroad without a valid US passport?

They might not, if the airline doubts the passenger has documents normally required to be allowed entry, the airline may decline to carry the passenger in order to avoid the costs to the airline of returning the refused passenger.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 13 paragraph 2.

  • 1
    The UDHR is not legally binding, and in fact there is no instrument of international law that the US recognises as imposing a requirement for the US to admit its citizens.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 30, 2020 at 13:44

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