The Right to Travel


Under the Constitution, U.S. citizens are afforded a certain number of fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, the right to vote, and the right to travel. In this article, we’ll explore the fundamental right to journey across state lines, as well as the fundamental right to be treated equally after moving from one state to another. We’ll also determine whether or not you have a fundamental right to international travel.

Next, we’ll look at the Privileges and Immunities Clause, as well as the case law that interpreted the Clause.

The Clause and the Case Law

The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution states that the "Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States." This was essentially fleshed out in the United States Supreme Court case of Paul v. Virginia, where the Court defined freedom of movement as the "right of free ingress into other States, and egress from them." See Paul v. Virginia, 75 U.S. 168 (1869). The fundamental right to travel dates back to the birth of our country, and has been discussed in great detail in court cases throughout the history of the U.S.

The United States Supreme Court was confronted with the a case of Saenz v. Roe, a 1999 case that issued a decision with respect to our fundamental right to travel. See Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999). In this particular holding, the Court further fleshed out the right to travel into three different sub-categories: (i) the right to enter one state and leave another; (ii) the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger; and finally, (iii) the right to be treated equally to native born citizens when you relocate your permanent residence from one state to another.

Next, we’ll look at some of the restrictions that were placed on the fundamental right to travel.


As with any fundamental right, if the government can show that a restriction on the right is necessary to protect a compelling government interest, and that the restriction or regulation is narrowly-tailored, the restriction will likely be constitutional. For example, a valid and constitutional restriction would be a requirement that you live within a state for 30 days before you are permitted to exercise your right to vote in that state. (See also Fundamental Rights: The Right to Vote.)

Some restrictions have been held to be unconstitutional. For example, it is an unconstitutional deprivation of your fundamental right to travel when a state imposes a one-year residency requirement on a citizen in order to receive government assistance, such as welfare benefits or medical care. These restrictions are burdensome on the everyday citizen, and could impede a person’s desire or need to relocate to another state. Over time, many and most of these restrictions have been deemed invalid by the United States Supreme Court.

Next, let’s look at whether or not you have a fundamental right to travel internationally.

Crossing Oceans

Currently, the right to travel internationally and outside the bounds of the U.S. is not a fundamental right. It is, however, a liberty protected within the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What does this mean?

It means that the right to travel internationally is not a fundamental right, but it is a right that is protected from subjective interference by the federal government. This is measured by the rational basis test, a test that is a much lower level of scrutiny than the strict scrutiny test that applies to most fundamental rights.

Under the rational basis test, any law that touches upon the right to travel internationally must be rationally related to furthering a legitimate government interest. For example, the government can restrict international travel if it has reason to believe you are fleeing the country due to your criminal behavior. Furthermore, the government can (and does) require you to have a passport in order to travel across international borders. On the other hand, the government cannot prevent you from traveling across the ocean merely because you are of a certain sex or age. Here, there would be no legitimate government interest being furthered by such a restriction.

Finally, let’s wrap this article up by going over a few key points.


In this article, we’ve explored the right to travel, a fundamental right afforded to U.S. citizens under the Constitution. In this article, we’ve explored the fundamental right to journey across state lines, as well as the fundamental right to be treated equally after moving from one state to another. We’ve even touched on the issue of your right to travel abroad. Remember, understanding your fundamental rights is important, and knowing your rights and freedoms allows you to be a better informed citizen.

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