New deadlines concerning necessary documentation are about to impact international travelers when they return to the United States.
On Jan. 31, returning U.S. citizens and residents entering by land or sea from Canada, the Caribbean or Mexico will need to produce an original birth certificate, passport or other form of government issued identification like a Nexus card along with a photo ID.
Previously, oral declarations of citizenship were sufficient (although scrutiny along the border with Mexico is closer than the Canadian boundary).
In June, travelers will need to have a current passport to cross boundaries back into the United States by any mode of travel. Congress may delay those provisions until June 2009 because of concerns enforcement will interfere with commerce.
In the next few years, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will mandate that all travelers crossing into the United States have a current passport, but there is no specific time set when it will all go into effect. Because of a processing backlog last summer, deadlines were delayed and Congress may postpone them again.
Currently, all people entering the United States by air must have a valid passport, but documentation using other modes of travel is still being phased in.
Until the requirements are clarified, Robbert van Bloemendaal, president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/All About Travel in Garland, suggests clients be prepared and have a passport well ahead of their intended travel.
“Passports cost $97 for new applicants, but they are valid for 10 years in most instances,” van Bloemendaal said. “It would benefit the potential traveler to get a passport now, in advance of scheduling any international excursions.”
The number of passports being processed has increased since 2004, when the WHTI went into effect.
Limited use passport ID cards are in development but they are not yet available and will only benefit travelers in the Western Hemisphere once they are offered.
Turn-around times for passports are less now than during the fall, when the requirements were suspended for a month, but travelers still need to allow four to six weeks for processing applications.
Resorts, tour companies and cruise lines offered rebates and discounts in response to the new passport regulations for months after the first change of requirements in January 2007 but that is less likely today.
Information can be found at www.travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.