If you’re looking for the perfect getaway but don’t have a passport, the U.S. territories might be calling your name.
Is it really that simple, and where are these territories, anyway?
We have all the answers. So, if you’re tired of being landlocked, keep reading to find out what it takes to travel to paradise.
Let’s jump in!
What Is a U.S. Territory?
The United States has legal jurisdiction over 14 places that aren’t states or districts. The U.S. initially acquired these “insular areas” with plans to eventually make them states.
However, many of these places gained relative independence and landed in a middle ground between autonomy and statehood.
While technically under the dominion of the United States., territories are self-governing. And there are several different types. Most are unincorporated, meaning they only recognize certain aspects of the Constitution. In fact, only one, Palmyra Atoll, is fully incorporated.
Permanently populated territories include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, American Samoa in the South Pacific, and Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the North Pacific.
And it just so happens that these are some of the most stunning vacation destinations on the planet.
Pro Tip: Want to snooze in the sand? Make sure you know The Don’ts of Beach Camping.
What Is a Passport and Do I Need One?
A passport is a federally-issued document used to travel abroad. Generally, it’s safe to assume you’ll need one any time you leave your country of origin.
You need a visa to live, work, study, and sometimes visit other countries. Visitors to the States may also need one depending on their country of origin and their reason for entering the country.
However, United States citizens don’t need a passport to travel to U.S. territories. But whether you’re a local or not, it’s important to research visa requirements before planning a trip abroad.
Examples of ID to Travel Domestically
You may need photo identification in the United States for many different reasons. Of course, you must have a valid driver’s license to drive a car.
You need a valid government-issued photo ID to board a commercial airplane, such as a driver’s license, passport, Military ID, or Permanent Resident Card. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requires this security measure.
You may find exceptions to this rule, particularly for children, so look into it before you go.
Is a Passport an ID?
Passports are travel documents used to verify the identity and nationality of the holder. They usually contain the a picture, date of birth, social security number, and other sensitive information.
In most situations, these documents are a reliable form of ID as they’re government-issued.
If you’re a U.S. citizen traveling domestically, you don’t need federal documents as long as you have another form of photo identification. Non-citizens will need a passport to enter the country or its territories, but likely won’t need it for any reason during interstate trips.
What Does a Visa Do?
Most countries require visitors to obtain a visa before entering their borders. These documents verify that a passport holder has received permission to enter, leave, or stay in a particular country for a specified period.
You may need different types depending on the reason for your trip. Work, student, and travel visas are the most common.
Visas are required for most international travel except when countries have a policy in place. For example, the U.S. and Canada have an existing agreement that lets citizens of each country move between the two with only a passport.
What U.S. Territories Can I Travel to Without a Passport?
Some of the most popular travel destinations in the world are U.S. territories that don’t require a passport or a visa. Citizens can even live and work in many of these places with nothing but a driver’s license.
In the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands offer white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters for travelers to enjoy.
In the North Pacific Ocean, Guam and the North Mariana Islands have unspoiled beaches, coral reefs, caves, and more for the adventurous spirit.
In the South Pacific, the lush, green mountains of American Samoa plunge into glistening turquoise waters.
Pro Tip: Considering a vacation to Hawaii? These are 5 Reasons to Avoid Hawaii for Vacations.
When Do I Need a Passport When Traveling the U.S. Territories?
Not all passports are equal.
Many people consider a United States passport one of the most valuable in the world. That is because the U.S. has visa policies with so many other countries. In fact, there are 173 countries U.S. citizens can travel to and from with nothing but their federally-issued documents.
And while going to U.S. territories doesn’t require anything more than a state ID, there are some situations when you may find you need something more.
One example is on cruise ships. “Closed-loop” travel, such as when a cruise starts and ends in the United States, doesn’t require guests to have federal documents. However, if the cruise stops in areas that aren’t U.S. territories, guests without their passports may find themselves stuck aboard while others get to explore.
It’s important to note that while the U.S. shares borders with Canada and Mexico, you need federal ID for a trip to and from these countries, with few exceptions.
What Is the Star ID and Will I Need One to Travel to the U.S. Territories?
The REAL ID Act was passed to make state identification cards, like driver’s licenses, more consistent throughout the country.
Once in full effect, you’ll need a Star ID for all air travel in the U.S., even domestic flights. Flyers with a regular driver’s license will still be able to fly if they also have a valid federal ID.
Star ID cards require more documentation than a standard driver’s license. Some examples are official documents like passports, birth certificates, mortgage agreements, and leasing contracts confirming a your primary address.
While Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security extended the deadline for compliance multiple times. As of the publication of this article, the current deadline is May 7, 2025.
The Perfect Vacation is Only a Plane Ticket Away
It can be tricky to know what documents and IDs you’ll need when planning a trip. The government gets bogged down with spikes in demand for these documents before holiday seasons. It can take awhile to get what you need, so it’s important to plan ahead before you buy your ticket. But fortunately for U.S. citizens, you can travel to official territories without even needing a passport.
So, if you need to feel the sand between your toes right now, you don’t have to wait months for documents to arrive in the mail. Paradise is just a plane ticket away.
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