Due to Child Support arrearages, I cannot get a passport. This is preventing me from travelling abroad in the Philippines. She can get to Canada - I can get to Canada - but how do I return if they require a passport?

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    Some basic questions. Where are you now? What is your nationality? If you are not in the country of your nationality, how did you get there without a passport? Who is "she"? Who are "they"? Why do you want to go to Canada? – DJClayworth Jan 4 '15 at 22:38
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    I think you need a lawyer, not an Internet Q&A site. As you say, there is a law stating that people who owe more than $2500 in child support are not eligible to receive a passport. The obvious intention of this law is to prevent those people from traveling internationally, which is exactly what you are trying to do. So the legality and possible consequences of your actions may hinge on the exact wording of the law, which I don't think anyone here is qualified to parse. – Nate Eldredge Jan 5 '15 at 2:17
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about legal issues. – Nate Eldredge Jan 5 '15 at 2:18
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    @jstevensen Please edit the information into the question, not just supply it in a comment. – DJClayworth Jan 5 '15 at 3:25
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    Not an answer, but if you can afford to travel, work on paying the *$(# child support. I hope you've been truthful to your fiancée about it. – mkennedy Jan 5 '15 at 17:23

This is what the law says (8 USC 1185(b), also known as INA 215(b)):

Except as otherwise provided by the President and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may authorize and prescribe, it shall be unlawful for any citizen of the United States to depart from or enter, or attempt to depart from or enter, the United States unless he bears a valid United States passport.

However, there are no known penalties for violating this law. In fact, I would say that this law is routinely violated, by some dual nationals who leave the U.S. without a U.S. passport, on only their other passport (which is trivial since there are no exit checks), due to ignorance of this law, or due to the false misconception that not getting a U.S. passport allows them to not be a U.S. citizen.

The "exceptions" that the President authorizes are summarized in this CBP answer. Basically, for land crossing, other than for children, you are supposed to have a passport, passport card, enhanced driver's license, or a card from one of the trusted traveler programs.

If they won't give you a passport, I doubt they will let you in one of the trusted traveler programs. The enhanced driver's license is only available in some states; e.g. if you still live in California then you cannot get it. So it is possible that you won't get any of the documents on that list.

So then your question is: Can I enter the U.S. from Canada with no passport or other appropriate document as a U.S. citizen?

The answer is Yes. Although it is "unlawful" for you to enter, that does not mean they can deny you entry. They can refuse to issue you a U.S. passport. But if you manage to arrive at a U.S. border, they cannot deny you entry under any circumstances, as long as it is satisfactorily established that you are a U.S. citizen.

You need some proof of U.S. citizenship, like an old U.S. passport, or a U.S. birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, etc. (the same evidence you would need to apply for a passport). Since you were born in the U.S., you would use an old U.S. passport or your birth certificate. Birth certificate will likely cause more scrutiny since it's easier to fake or fraudulently use those, and it doesn't have a photo so you should use it with another photo ID.

Here are some relevant parts from the CBP Inspector's Field Manual (IFM) (the Customs and Border Protection released this publicly a few years ago and many immigration websites have copies of it; I have heard that CBP has switched to a different manual last year, but it is still informative):


When you are convinced that an applicant for admission is a citizen of the United States, the examination is terminated. [...]

Consequently, the examination of a person claiming to be a United States citizen is limited to matters required to establish present citizenship. Once you are satisfied the person being examined is a U.S. citizen and any required lookout query has been completed, the examination is over.


When an applicant fails to present a passport or presents an expired document, the immigration officer shall, if satisfied that the person is a United States citizen, advise the individual of the necessity of having a valid U.S. passport. Although technically you are waiving the passport requirement for the Department of State, no form need be completed. In addition, there is no fee collected by INS.

So basically, if you fail to present a valid passport, they will "advise" you about the benefits of having a passport (which you can't get anyway). And then they will grant you a "waiver" of the passport requirement, which is a formality because neither you nor they have to do anything special, and there is no charge.

Also, just because the immigration inspection is done doesn't mean that Customs can't inspect your baggage (like they do for everyone entering). But the most they can do there is seize your stuff, they still can't prevent you from entering (unless they are arresting you for having illegal stuff).

  • This answer is wrong; another option is the enhanced drivers license which allows you to move back and forth from Canada. dmv.vermont.gov/licenses/edl – Andy Jan 6 '15 at 0:30
  • @Andy: I already mentioned the enhanced driver's license. But only a few states have them. – user102008 Jan 6 '15 at 0:43
  • While it is absolutely true that US Citizens must be admitted at the border, wouldn't that also be a great place to check for civil contempt citations? – Andrew Lazarus Jan 6 '15 at 7:40
  • @AndrewLazarus: And what do civil contempt citations have to do with the question? – user102008 Jan 6 '15 at 8:58
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    It's not so much that there are no known penalties for violating the law; actually, it is known that there are no penalties for violating it. There used to be, but they were removed in 1978. Also, if they arrest you for some reason when you enter, they're still letting you in. – phoog Feb 19 '15 at 6:50

To enter Canada, yes, it's true, you can just use birth certificate and photo ID (source)

From the Department of State's website on travel to/from Canada, for returning to the US, you'll have to do it by land.

By air:

When traveling by air from Canada, U.S. citizens are required by U.S. law to present a U.S. passport

while by land:

For entry into the United States via land and sea borders, U.S. citizens must present either a U.S. passport, passport card, NEXUS card, Enhanced Drivers License, or other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant document. The only exception to this requirement is for U.S. citizens under the age of 16 (or under 19, if traveling with a school, religious, or other youth group) who need only present a birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or naturalization certificate.

  • Right. Thats my point. You will need a passport - but IF you dont have one - what happens? Penalty and a Fee? Felony? They turn you around and you are forced to stay in Canada? You are sentenced to a lecture ? – jstevensen Jan 5 '15 at 0:07
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    Well no your question said 'Can I re-enter...with no passport' and you actually can - if you go by land, and have those other documents. So if you're then asking if you have NONE of those (really?), well it'd depend probably on the CBP agent and how helpful they are. If you have no ID, for all they know you could be from Timbuktu. If you can't provide ANY ID, they're not going to let you in, but if you insist you'd like to start some 'let me prove who I am' process, they'll either make you do it from Canada (eg if passport stolen) or while in custody. – Mark Mayo Jan 5 '15 at 0:15
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    As a US citizen you do have the right to return, with or without a passport, but you do have to prove you ARE the US Citizen you claim to be, and for that, you'll need some form of ID, either which you provide, or the authorities help you obtain. – Mark Mayo Jan 5 '15 at 0:16
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    @jstevensen If you are attempting to fly from Canada to the US and you do not have the appropriate travel documents to enter the US, the airline will not let you on the plane. – DJClayworth Jan 5 '15 at 3:30

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