International travel brings with it a sense of adventure and excitement. As we step off the plane and into a new country, we are exposed to new sights and sounds — from the languages we hear to the new foods we try, the experiences that await us are limitless. While everyone must plan ahead to make their travels as successful and stress-free as possible, the LGBTQ community and the immigrant community have additional considerations to take into account when planning to travel abroad.
First Things First: What Documents Do You Need?
United States citizens are required to have a valid, current passport to travel internationally and to return to the United States after traveling abroad. The Department of State is the government agency that processes passports. You can find the application and requirements at travel.state.gov. The processing fees are $145 for adults and $115 for children. It will take about 4-6 weeks to receive the passport in the mail or 2-3 weeks if you want to pay extra for expedited processing.
Permanent residents, also known as green card holders, must also have a valid passport from their country of citizenship. Mexico and Guatemala have consulates in North Carolina to assist individuals with passport applications and renewals. Those from other countries will typically have to travel to Atlanta, Ga. or Washington, D.C. to obtain their passports. Every embassy has a website with instructions on how to schedule an appointment, as well as the required documents and fees. In addition to a valid passport, permanent residents must have a current green card to return to the United States after traveling abroad. It takes a very long time to renew a green card, so be sure to apply for the renewal six months before expiration. Those who are waiting on their green cards to arrive can also schedule an appointment at their local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office to request an “I-551 stamp” in their passport as proof of permanent resident status.
Some individuals can also apply for Global Entry and TSA pre-check to go through airport security and immigration faster. You can find the details on these programs at the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website, cbp.gov.
Those who are not citizens or permanent residents, such as those who have work visas, student visas, TPS (Temporary Protected Status) or DACA status must consult with an immigration attorney to determine whether they can travel abroad and, if so, what type of documents they will need. Failure to do so can result in drastic consequences, including being stuck abroad for weeks or even years!
Finally, regardless of your citizenship or immigration status, you must confirm whether the country you are visiting has a visa requirement. A visa is a document that is stamped in your passport and grants temporary entry to another country for a specific purpose, such as tourism. To determine whether the country you will visit requires a visa, check out the “International Travel” page of the Department of State website and then complete the visa application with the appropriate embassy.
Special Considerations for the LGBTQ Community
Now that you know what documents you need, let’s discuss special circumstances that can arise for members of the LGBTQ community.
The Department of State has a section dedicated entirely to the LGBTQ community that can be found at travel.state.gov. The Department of State confirms that “Laws and attitudes in some countries may affect safety and ease of travel. Legal protections vary from country to country. Many countries do not legally recognize same-sex marriage. More than seventy countries consider consensual same-sex sexual relations a crime, sometimes carrying severe punishment.” Unfortunately, this is the reality that we face, and until societies and laws change, the best way to avoid finding yourself in a country that is not LGBTQ-friendly is to research prior to planning your trip. In addition to the Department of State website, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Foundation (igltfa.org) is a great place to start when looking for travel companies that support the LGBT community.
In addition, the National Center for Transgender Equality provides excellent resources, including a feature article titled “How to Mitigate the Stress of Flying While Trans” (transequality.org). Transgender individuals are advised to select the gender that corresponds with their identity documents. In addition, transgender individuals may ask TSA officers for a private security screening. Anyone who encounters issues during the security checks should ask to speak with a supervisor right away.
Traveling abroad is a privilege and an opportunity. We learn about new places and new people, and often about ourselves in the process. Taking time to plan ahead will lead to a better travel experience. Now go out there and see the world!
info: Jessica Yañez is an attorney in private practice at Yañez Immigration Law in Greensboro, N.C. She is a North Carolina board certified specialist in immigration law. Visit yanezimmigrationlaw.com to learn more.