Does the low number of American passports shock you?

By Keith Still

In the coming weeks and months, two members of my family will be taking major “first” trips. As we have been preparing our daughter for her first trip to Europe and my husband for his first trip to Asia, I ran across this CNN story that surprised me. At least, it surprised me at first. The report states that only 30 percent of American citizens hold passports.

If that seems to you like a pretty low number, you’re not alone. In the story, the U.S. Travel Association’s Bruce Bommarito said 30 percent is too low for such an affluent country as the United States. As I read, I nodded along. Why don’t more Americans have passports? I mean, really, my young daughter has one.

Then, I remembered. My own passport has expired, and while I have said several times over the past year that I need to renew it…I haven’t yet.

The reason? I haven’t needed it. I haven’t planned a trip abroad since my passport expired – mainly because every time I think about visiting friends and family in Europe, a conflict of some sort comes up early in the planning stages. (Airfare for five to Paris and Vienna at the time we want to go has been the “conflict” more than once, I must admit.)

I have been a domestic traveler as of late, and haven’t even crossed over into Canada since 2009, when travelers had to begin showing their passports (or passcards) at the border of Canada and Mexico.

And while I love Europe (like my husband, I haven’t been to Asia yet), I haven’t felt my trend toward domestic travel to be “lacking” in anything. That’s one of the reasons that CNN attributed to the low numbers of Americans traveling abroad as well. Our country is so large and so geographically and culturally diverse that many Americans don’t feel that they have to leave the U.S. to satiate their hunger for interesting travel destinations.

There were other reasons, too, of course, including the fact that travel abroad for Americans is more expensive and time-consuming because of our geographic size and location in the world than it is for say, citizens of France or the U.K.

We are thinking of taking the kids up to Ontario for a few days this summer, so I will have to get my act together soon and renew that passport. (Knowing me, I will still wait too long and will end up paying the expedite fee to get the document back in time.) Otherwise, my family will have to leave me at a U.S. hotel at the border while they enjoy summer in Canada.

Do you hold a U.S. passport? If so, do you feel that having one makes you more likely to travel abroad? If you don’t have a passport, do you feel constrained by your domestic travel options?

Does the number of Americans who hold passports (or who don’t hold them) shock you? Would you agree with the story about the reasons for those travel statistics?

What are your best reasons for traveling abroad? What are your favorite reasons for simply traveling about the U.S.?

18 comments Add your comment


March 2nd, 2011
8:43 am

Why is this surprising? I’m surprised the number was as high as it is.


March 2nd, 2011
8:51 am

my kids have passports. We got them when we went on a cruise a few years ago, but then realized we didn’t need them. Just booked a trip to the dominican republic, so we’ll need them…and really, I do wish we could travel more – inside and outside the country!
The reality is that there are so many places to go as a US citizen, in the caribbean, etc…that that’s why some people don’t travel abroad.
At one of my jobs, a coworker had worked for delta for a long time (more than five years) and we all made fun of him since he still didn’t have his passport and had never been outside the country. It was quite amusing.
I’m glad we all have passports. And while we wouldn’t necessarily have to go somewhere quickly, and would probably not make plans to go anywhere quickly – they’re good to have. We only recently made the plans to go for spring break, so if we had to also get a passport for the kids – we wouldn’t have gone at all.


March 2nd, 2011
8:55 am

Yes i have a passport… but only use it for cruises ( on Carnival ) out of Florida.. drive to, so no flying is involved… best bang for the $$$.. fun, food, gambling, shows, relaxing, wife likes it, etc… U.S. folks are realizing too much debt… saving $$$ so no need for expensive trips to Europe or Asia, etc…. flying has become more diificult too


March 2nd, 2011
9:07 am

You should also consider that in many countries (in Europe for example), countries are much smaller than than US so even traveling just a few hours requires a passport to cross into another country. The US is HUGE and we have tons of places to experience that don’t require you to leave the country. Think about how you can fly 3000 miles across the country and still be in the same country; try doing that in Europe. Plus until recently could visit Canada, Mexico and almost any Caribbean country without one. My husband and I have traveled out of the country numerous times and didn’t get passports until the rules changed for Mexico and the Caribbean. It’s simply more affordable to go somewhere close to home that doesn’t require a passport.


March 2nd, 2011
9:30 am

I have one because I travel internationally for work. But I wouldn’t probably have one otherwise. Why? Because airfare for a family of 3 to cross an ocean would be cost-prohibitive, making it probably a once in a lifetime deal.

Because I do travel internationally for work I manage to rake in a lot of frequent flyer mileage, but we often use that to travel domestically because a domestic ticket will only cost ~50K freq flyer miles but a single international ticket is 150K, which is the total cost for the entire family to travel domestically.

Eventually, I’d like to save up enough freq flyer miles to take the whole family on one of my work trips where they can play tourist while I am in meetings all day.

European Traveler

March 2nd, 2011
9:49 am

Techmom: Your no longer required to show a passport when crossing a border between any country that is a member of the EU where the “Euro” is traded. There are no more “Customs” stations at the border of these countries.


March 2nd, 2011
9:52 am

I’m not surprised that the number is 30% with passports. Some advice. Don’t wait around to renew a passport until the time to travel or the price of a ticket is “right”. There are times when opportunities for travel abroad occur unexpectedly and if you have to wait around for the passport to be renewed, the opportunity could be lost.

Love to Travel

March 2nd, 2011
10:00 am

Have traveled to Canada and abroad several times. My passport has expired and will renew it when needed. Our travels keep us in the US as there is so…much to see here and places we have not yet visited. Flights are too long as well. It is insulting to say, give the UK a $1 and get about 60 pounds back. If we want to go to the islands, we will visit the Virgin Islands. I work for an international company and b/c of travel budgets, have stayed put for now. I choose to keep my travel dollars in the US. Once the dollar catches up, we may go back to Europe as I want to revisit Italy.


March 2nd, 2011
10:05 am

My husband and I both have passports. We needed to get one for my son before we went on vacation last year and because his father and I are divorced, it was a pain in the A**. His dad wouldn’t sign the papers. My divorce papers state that I have physical and legal custody of my child and I sent those with the application. I ended up having to get a lawyer to help get his passport.

I think that all Amercians should have a passport….it could prove that you are an American citizen and entitled to be here.

Ugly American

March 2nd, 2011
10:06 am

I’ve got a passport, but I don’t use it. Why go where people hate your guts anyway? I’d just as soon travel the United States.

And I’ve made it a personal goal to never spend a nickel in a country like France. They can kiss my American butt. I’d like to see Normandy, but that would be it. Maybe we could save a few bucks by moving the United Nations HQ to Paris!

TSA Sucks

March 2nd, 2011
10:12 am

There may be a time when you need to get out of Dodge. Having a passport can make that possible, assuming the govnerment hasn’t already closed the door. Having another country’s passport is even better.


March 2nd, 2011
10:35 am

Surprised, yes… but not really shocked.

If you have a family, the airfare alone is enough to make you think 2x about taking a trip overseas. It is just easier to take a trip to Orlando or Vegas.

I do have a passport, and I have used it to go to Europe and South America. Everyone should atleast travel out of the country once in their lives. It will give you a whole new perspective. I guess for many people, they need to wait until they retire or before they have kids to do so.


March 2nd, 2011
10:52 am

I have an expired passport that will need to be renewed soon. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so few American’s don’t have passports. I didn’t get mine until I needed too, it is expensive to travel oversea’s and only recently was it a requirement to have one to go into Canada. So if you don’t live close to the border, or you are not making big plans, it is much more cost efficient to travel within the United States. It is simply economics and nothing more. At least that is how I see it.


March 2nd, 2011
12:53 pm

I would really like to see more Americans have the desire to travel outside the country. It would be good for our country if more people took part in the experience of international travel. It is expensive. But mainly I think people just don’t make it a priority. It’s too bad for our country that so many people are so isolated.

David from Marietta

March 2nd, 2011
1:08 pm

I used to have a passport when I was a white-collar worker. It has since expired and I now drive a truck. I used to be able to cross from Canada back into the U.S. with a certified copy of my birth certificate. When I was a white-collar worker, my company would reimburse me for the cost of passport photos, my passport, and any visas I needed for company travel. The trucking company I work for will not reimburse me for the cost of renewing my passport. If they don’t feel it is so important for me to take loads into Canada that they’ll cover that cost, then I will not get a passport for their benefit.


March 4th, 2011
6:51 am

I think there are alternatives to the reasons why Americans don’t travel abroad, and when I say alternatives I mean other ways around the excuses we give. I am in my 4th year with Delta and I’ve been around the world and am only 23, I’m leaving to Japan next weekend. There’s too many jobs that provide travel benefits, that takes care of the costs, but I honestly believe that we don’t travel because we’ve been given the perception that the world is this big scary place outside of the US, in every other country they hate Americans. We’ve been fed myths and it has made many people close their minds to other cultures and ways of living. I think it’s a sad life learning about other people from just reading them in books. This is why our country is so behind in most aspects, other countries encourage their citizens to come here, explore, learn, and guess what? They take that info back and recreate what we have and make it better.


March 7th, 2011
10:48 am

I’m saddened that more Americans do not have passports. Visiting countries abroad is one of the most fulfilling things to happen in my life. In fact, my children had passports before they could talk. Exploring other cultures opens the world of possibilities for both children and adults. This year my passport will expire and I plan to renew it immediately. Even though we have not traveled abroad for 6 years now due to the high cost I remain ready once things turn around.


March 7th, 2011
5:15 pm

I have held a passport since 1993 and recently renewed mine, receiving it in less than a week from when I mailed it. That suggested to me the demand for passports is relatively low right now, due to the economy. I didn’t get any stamps in my last passport and have been vexed to commit to any overseas trips now because they are so expensive. For every good airfare to Europe, you are guaranteed to pay various taxes on your ticket that will be in the hundreds of dollars.

For a family it gets exponentially more expensive to travel abroad. So I can see why we choose to stay home nowadays.