A birth certificate is not an essential document for international travel, but it can be used as a form of identification in certain limited circumstances. However, these are restricted to younger travelers using land and sea border crossings and do not extend to adults or to international air travel. Unless planning to use a birth certificate as an identity document, make sure to follow the State Department’s advice and leave it at home with other valuables. However, it is important to note that the rules for each country vary. Therefore, it is important to check the laws of each country that will be visited in order to make sure to stay in compliance before leaving.

Air Travel

No U.S. citizen can use a birth certificate as identification to travel internationally by air, although the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may accept a birth certificate as a secondary identification document for domestic air travel. It is important to note that a valid passport book is the only document accepted as proof of identity for international air travel, no matter where one is flying to or from.

Requirements for Children

Customs and Border Protection staffers will accept birth certificates as identification, but only for children younger than 16, and only at land and sea border crossings within the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative area. Furthermore, birth certificates are also valid identity documents for those 18 and younger who are traveling with a religious group, sports team, school group, or cultural or social organization.

Requirements for Newborns

Newborns U.S. citizens need not possess an official birth certificate – one issued by the vital records department in their home states – to travel internationally. At the same time, children born overseas to American parents need a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. However, it is possible to enter the United States by land or sea before these documents are issued. For example, Customs and Border Protection staffers will accept a hospital issued birth certificate in lieu of the official certificate as proof of a child's identity.

Requirements for Adults

In contrast, adults cannot use a birth certificate for international travel at any type of border crossing, but a wide range of options exists for travel within the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative area by land or sea. At these crossings, adults can use a passport card, an enhanced driver’s license and a trusted traveler program card such as NEXUS or SENTRI.