Headed To Canada? Pack Your Passport

Beginning Monday, passports will be required for travel to Canada and Mexico.

Sept. 29, 2007 — -- Beginning Monday, every American will need a passport to enter or leave the United States by air, even those traveling to or coming from Canada, Mexico or Bermuda -- where a driver's license or a birth certificate used to be enough.

The new passport rules were announced last November and went into effect in January. But the State Department was flooded with more passport applications than it could handle, so in June it announced a grace period through the summer, allowing people to travel with government-issued ID plus proof they had applied for a passport.

The government says it has now eliminated the backlog of applications and the grace period ends Monday.

If you arrive at the airport without a passport, it does not necessarily mean you won't be able to travel. But you will be subject to much more careful scrutiny. It will be up to the individual security officer to decide whether or not you pose a risk and the delay could mean you'll miss your flight.

There are some important exceptions to the new rules:

U.S. territories Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands still require no passport for travel

Those who left the country during the summer grace period will be allowed to re-enter the United States using the same documents they left with.

Those traveling by sea or land still do not need a passport, though that will change sometime next summer. And beginning Jan. 31, 2008, those crossing the border into Canada by car will need a government ID and proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate. An oral declaration of citizenship is all that is currently required.

Passengers on cruises that begin and end in the United States may leave and re-enter the U.S. with just a government-issued ID and proof of citizenship. (The cruise companies may require a passport, however.)

Here are some tips for travelers:

The State Department says the wait for a passport has returned to its usual time of six to eight weeks after the application is filed. Expedited service (available for $60) is supposed to reduce the wait to two or three weeks, but the State Department makes no promises. There are also private expediting companies that promise faster service, but they are often costly and, again, there are no guarantees.

Applications for a first passport must be made in person at your local passport office (often a post office or library). You will need an application, proof of citizenship, photo ID, two passport photos and $97 for the application fee.

Renewal of an expired passport can be made online at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.html. The fee is $67. If your passport expired more than 15 years ago or if you are replacing a lost passport, you will need to apply in person.

Make sure your passport does not expire until six months after your return. Some countries won't let you enter with a passport that is close to expiring.