Travel to United States now requires biometric passports

Electronic passports are marked by a symbol on the cover.
Electronic passports are marked by a symbol on the cover.

New travel requirements are causing problems for some individuals who attempt to travel to or through the U.S. without a biometric passport.

On his way home to the U.K. for his father’s funeral, Will Day was stopped at Owen Roberts International Airport because he did not have such a passport, also known as an “e-passport.”

American Airlines staff at the check-in desk told Mr. Day that, as he was transiting through the U.S., he was now required under U.S. law to have a passport which contains a microprocessing chip that contains biometric data.

As of April 1, any traveler to the U.S. from a Visa Waiver Program country is required to have an e-passport.

Mr. Day was surprised, as he was unaware of the new requirement and had already traveled to the U.S. and back since April 1 without the chip.

“I went on a business trip to Nashville last week and I went through Miami with my Global Entry and ESTA visa waiver, no problem, and then came back, again, no problem,” Mr. Day said.

So he did not expect to have any problems leaving the Cayman Islands Wednesday to go to the U.K. to bury his father on April 20.

“We get to the American Airlines desk and I’m told that I can’t fly because I had no chip in my passport, and that this [rule] came into effect on April 1,” Mr. Day said. “I asked at the desk why there were no signs at the airport letting people know about this? Why hasn’t it been publicized? You don’t know about this till you get to the airport.”

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the carrier has “multiple passports and different nationalities who travel on American each and every day, and different citizens of different passports require different documents.”

He said each traveler has a responsibility to check those passport requirements before traveling.

While travelers are not alerted to changes in document requirements when booking their tickets, the websites of many airlines – including American Airlines – have “Travel Information” sections that includes information on travel document requirements, and encourage travelers to check that they have all the proper documents before a trip.

The new U.S. travel requirement is a stipulation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, which was signed into law on Dec. 18, 2015. This new law requires that, as of April 1, all travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries have an electronic passport.

There are currently 38 countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, including the U.K., Ireland and France.

The Cayman Islands is not part of the Visa Waiver Program, so individuals traveling with a Cayman Islands passport still need to apply for a visa to visit the U.S.

Many travelers already have an e-passport, as the U.S. requires that Visa Waiver Program travelers have one if their passport was issued on or after Oct. 26, 2006, and most passports expire in 10 years. Those who have not renewed their passport since 2006 should be especially mindful of the new requirement.

Electronic passports are marked with a symbol on the front cover, a logo that looks like two parallel rectangles with a circle in the middle.

In addition to the e-passport, travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries still must also have a valid “ESTA” (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

Canadian requirements

There are some new requirements for those wishing to travel to or through Canada, as well.

As of March 15, 2016, visa-exempt foreign nationals are expected to have an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to fly to or travel through Canada.

Travelers can apply for an eTA online. The application costs $7 CAD and the process takes a few minutes.

The eTA is valid for five years or until a traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. U.S. citizens and travelers with a valid Canadian visa are exceptions to this requirement, but Caymanians and British citizens are not exempted.

There is, however, a leniency period. From March 15 until fall 2016, travelers who do not have an eTA can board their flight, as long as they have appropriate travel documents, such as a valid passport. During this time, border officers can let travelers arriving without an eTA into the country, as along as they meet the other requirements to enter Canada.


  1. There is an exemption to this for some UK passport holders. As long as the photo in your UK passport was scanned and printed you can still use non-biometric passports that were issued or renewed/extended between 26 October 2005 and 25 October 2006.

    The reason I know this is that at the end of March CBP sent me an email cancelling my ESTA on the grounds that my passport did not meet the 1 April requirements and it took several phone calls to correct this. My passport was issued in March 2006 but because it was renewed early I retained the original expiry date of 31 December 2016 and I can still use that passport for travel to the USA until it expires even though it isn’t biometric.

    I believe this concession was made because the UK was late rolling out the new format passports. If your UK passport was issued after 26 October 2016 is must be biometric.

  2. Problems travelling to and through US without a Biometric Passport?. This is only a tip of the iceberg to come. We will in the future very soon have to find out, what every traveler should know about who’s really running the world.
    The People The Corporations and Organizations that Control or future.
    What vital resources do the French control – even in the USA
    What American Company pushed hardest for eastern Europe to come into NATO.
    Who built nearly half of the world’s nuclear plants
    To whom do Americans owe 750 + Billion. It is all just the beginning.

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