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New Passport Rules Kick in June 1March 9, 2009 By: Travel Agent Central Contributor
If you have clients traveling outside the U.S. in 2009, here are two pieces of advice you should share with them: Get or renew their passport now, and think twice before planning a car trip to Mexico or Canada in June.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, that’s when we may see the biggest change ever for Western Hemisphere travel. Starting June 1 (unless Congress changes the deadline), Americans will need to show a passport, a passport card or other special document to return to the U.S. by land or sea from Mexico and Canada.
Despite assurances from agencies involved, there may be glitches and delays. Two years ago, the last big change in entry rules—requiring a passport for air passengers returning from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda—inspired a stampede of passport applications and created confusion at airports. Some travelers waited months for their passports.
Although passport demand has recently fallen along with wait times, the Times reported, the upcoming change will affect far more Americans than the 2007 rules change, which saw wait times for passports doubled to 12 weeks or more.
What you need now. Generally, clients will need a passport to enter the U.S. by air from any foreign country. If they enter by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, they may not need a passport, but will need at least a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship, plus a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license. Children 18 or younger need only a birth certificate for land and sea entry from these areas.
What you need starting June 1. The same rules apply for air travel—passport required.
If clients are arriving from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea, they’ll generally have several choices: a passport; a passport card, a new type of ID that the U.S. government began issuing in 2008; an enhanced driver’s license, a high-tech version offered by a few states; or a “Trusted Traveler” card such as SENTRI or NEXUS for frequent border crossers.
There will be various exceptions for land and sea crossings from these destinations. U.S. and Canadian children younger than 16, for example, will need only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate; in organized groups, the cutoff will be age 18.
Passengers on cruise ships that sail round-trip from a U.S. port may need only a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID.
Agents can find a summary of the current and new rules at a website maintained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, www.getyouhome.gov.
How to get the right stuff. The State Department’s travel website, www.travel.state.gov (click on “Passports for U.S. Citizens”), is one-stop shopping for information on passports and passport cards. It has instructions and forms.
If clients are renewing a passport, they can download the form from the State Department website and mail it in. If it’s their first time, they can visit any one of thousands of “passport acceptance facilities,” such as post offices, to get what they need.
Clients should be advised to go to a passport agency only if they need their passport in less than two weeks for travel or less than four weeks in order to obtain a foreign visa. Appointments are required.
A passport costs $100 for adults and $85 for children younger than 16 (renewals are less); a passport card costs $45 for adults and $35 for children younger than 16.
It’s recently been taking about three weeks to process applications, the State Department says, but clients should allow more time to make sure they get their passport.