US citizens need a passport to enter country

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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Q: My aunt in New York is coming to visit our family for Christmas. She just became a US citizen and has her naturalisation certificate. What documents does she need to come to Jamaica now that she's a US citizen? Can she travel just with her naturalisation certificate? Is there a limitation as to how long she can stay outside of the US without losing her citizenship?

A: Congratulations to your aunt! And this is such a good and timely question! With the holiday season coming up, there are many Jamaicans who are expecting visitors from the United States, as well as US citizens living in Jamaica who are planning to go to the States for the holidays. In both cases, travellers need to make sure to have the valid documents for their holiday travel plans.

Many people mistakenly believe that once they have naturalised they can travel into and out of the United States with just their naturalisation certificate and their Jamaican passport. That is NOT the case! Since 2008 all US citizens MUST have a US passport to be allowed to enter the United States.

If your aunt travelled to Jamaica with just her US naturalisation certificate, she would not be able to board her plane back to the US. She would have to come to the Embassy to apply for a passport in order to return home. Issuing a new passport takes at least a week, so this could extend her holiday much longer than she had planned.

The good news is that she can apply for a US passport before she leaves the United States. An application should have been included with her naturalisation certificate. Passport applications are also available online at, and in post offices and government buildings across the United States.

Now that your auntie has naturalised, she is a full citizen of the United States. Green card holders (also known as Legal Permanent Residents or LPRs) have limitations on how long they can stay outside of the United States without putting their status at risk. Once a person has naturalised and taken the oath of citizenship, however, they cannot lose their citizenship just by being outside of the country for a long period of time. How long your aunt can stay in Jamaica is up to the Jamaican Government, but she does not need to worry about losing her US citizenship by staying in Jamaica for a visit.

It's also important to know that US citizens must enter and exit the United States on their US passports. Jamaicans who have naturalised often also have a Jamaican passport which they can use to enter Jamaica or travel to other countries, but if you are also a US citizen you MUST have a valid US passport to travel to the United States. Now is a great time for families with US citizen children (or parents) to double check and make sure that all their passports are valid ahead of holiday travel plans to avoid any unpleasant surprises or problems. If you discover that a family member needs to renew their passport, the US Embassy still has appointments available and will be happy to process a passport renewal for you. Generally, if you come in and apply for your new passport in the next few weeks you should receive it in time for holiday travel. Passport appointments are made at the US Embassy's website at, under the "US Citizen Services" tab.

You can find more information about how to travel to the US on our website, Keep on top of Embassy news on our Facebook page, and by following @USEmbassyJA on Twitter. We also answer general visa questions on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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