Timatic states:

All nationals departing the USA will be required to hold a (valid) passport (booklet only, US Passport Card not accepted). Exempt are holders of:
- US Permanent Resident/Resident Alien Card (Form I-551);
- US Military ID Cards when traveling on official orders;
- US Merchant Mariner Card;
- NEXUS Card;
- US Travel Document:
- Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571); OR Permit to Re-Enter (Form I-327); - Emergency Travel Document (e.g. Consular Letter) issued by a Foreign Embassy or Consulate specifically for the purpose of travel to the bearers home country.

Given that the US does not have exit border control, who actually enforces this? The TSA checkpoint, the staff at the boarding gate, or both? (assuming you check in online with only hand baggage)?

The person in question does hold ID valid for the destination, but it's not any of the above listed documents, and she was robbed of her passport

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    I have often seen checks being done at the gate on international flights by the INS and customs; but these appear to be random. The ultimate responsibility lies with the passenger, and secondary with the airline who agree to board the passenger. This is (partly why) you have to supply API (Advanced Passenger Information). Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 4:57
  • @BurhanKhalid what consequences does the passenger face for failing to comply?
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 5:03
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    Would she be able to get an emergency travel document from the Finnish Consulate in Los Angeles?
    – Giorgio
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:11
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    @BurhanKhalid the question is about US requirement for departing passengers to carry a passport. If the destination country refuses entry, that is not a consequence of failing to comply with US law. As an example, consider a British citizen flying to Britain without a passport, but with proof of citizenship. Such a person would not be deported or refused entry. My bigger point, though, is that there is no negative consequence for a traveler (I assume there is one for the airline, but I don't know what it is or where it is specified).
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 14:39
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    I don't know where Timatic is getting this rule from. AFAIK there is only a law that US citizens have a US passport to leave the US. I am not aware of any regulation that non-citizens have to have a passport to leave, except perhaps for the purpose of providing the APIS information to the carrier when departing by air or sea.
    – user102008
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


Turns out it's mainly in order that the exit of nonimmigrant aliens can be recorded properly by the carrier. Airline staff are supposed to verify the travel document, though this is apparently not always done.

While officially, the only accepted ID by the TSA for non-North Americans/permanent residents is a passport even for domestic travel, the Website also says:

In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete a form to include your name and current address, and may ask additional questions to confirm your identity. If your identity is confirmed, you will be allowed to enter the screening checkpoint. You may be subject to additional screening.

This is also what happened: the person in question had to fill out a form with some personal details, including her street address back home in Finland

At the boarding gate, the staff didn't care about anything but the boarding pass. This has also happened to me. When I flew JFK-ZRH on Delta, I had to show my passport, but not when flying LAX-ZRH on Swiss

Since the concerned person already had her passport number in the web check-in system, and she went on the flight, the exit from the US was also properly recorded (it appeared on the I-94 Website)

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    There's actually ~5 things going on here, not all related.
    – DTRT
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 16:05
  • Amazing! So it's technically possible for EU citizens to fly out of the US by just showing their ID card.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 16:18
  • Fwiw I've had my passport checked at the gate every time I've flown out of the US
    – Urbana
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 18:24
  • If your flight out of US is international, in almost every case the staff will check your passport at the gate (and ensure it matches the name on the ticket). Note that this almost never happens on domestic flights, and in theory you can fly on someone else's ticket IF you also got another boarding pass (or have a connecting flight with no checkpoint in between); with modern check-in systems you can even check in a bag :)
    – George Y.
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 2:19
  • @JonathanReez It varies. When I flew JFK-ZRH on Delta, I had to show my passport, but not when flying LAX-ZRH on Swiss
    – Crazydre
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 2:40

Airlines are subject to substantial fines for bringing in a passenger they should have known would be inadmissible. Thus they are going to verify that you have a passport, that it is not expired and that you have a visa for your destination if one is required. (And, yes, they do check. I've had an agent do an incomplete search and try to deny me boarding.)

In practice this means it's all but impossible to get on an international flight without a passport even though the US has no formal outgoing passport control.

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    "Airlines are subject to substantial fines for bringing in a passenger they should have known would be inadmissible" You're missing the fact that the destination does not require a passport in this case
    – Crazydre
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 6:39

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