Mexico, Canada to U.S.? Passport Now Required

Stricter requirements when coming from Mexico, Canada could thwart travel plans.

ByKirit Radia and Jason Ryan
May 30, 2009, 1:41 PM

May 31, 2009— -- If you're planning to travel to Mexico or Canada next week, be prepared to show the proper identification.

Starting Monday, the last implementation stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will go into effect, requiring travelers to present a passport or other valid travel document when entering the U.S. by land or sea.

The requirements were put into place by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. While parallel provisions for air travel went into effect in January 2007, this stage of implementation for land and sea travel was delayed because the government feared Americans were not adequately prepared.

Previously, Americans returning from Canada by land had to present a driver's license and birth certificate to prove identification and citizenship. But as of June 1, Americans will need to present a valid travel document to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean islands and Bermuda.

What's a valid travel document? A regular passport, a new passport card, a "trusted traveler" card or an "enhanced driver's license," which states the person's nationality. Children under the age of 16 will not be required to have the travel documentation.

Currently, only a handful of states -- Vermont, New York, Washington and Michigan -- offer the new enhanced documentation.

Enhanced driver's licenses are wallet-size and are less expensive than the average $100 fee for a standard passport.

Officials hope the provisions, which invalidate birth certificates and drivers' licenses as forms of identification, will help set a more uniform standard for border travel, creating a safer and more efficient travel experience.

With summer ahead, the new regulations have potential to thwart many travel plans.

Government Prepares to Launch Travel Ad Campaign

At ports of entry around the country Monday, Customs and Border Protection will be speaking proactively about the new rules in an effort to raise awareness. The government will also launch a massive ad campaign -- including billboards -- to let Americans know about the new travel document requirements.

In 2007, the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, which processes passports, was hit hard by a surge of applicants, resulting in several months-long delays.

Since then, the average wait time for a passport has dropped back down to four to six weeks; and for an extra $60, you can get an expedited passport in two to three weeks.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs plans to issue 13 million passports this year -- a number that's dropped from the highs of 18.5 million in 2007 and 16 million in 2008.

With the influx of passport applications in 2007, the bureau planned to increase capacity to avoid the same backlog with this wave of rules. Since then, they have doubled the number of application processing personnel, from 700 to more than 1,300, added a second book printing facility and are in the process of adding four more passport agencies.

With an influx of stimulus money, the bureau plans to open five more passport agencies and begin operating passport counters at existing facilities that don't yet have them to ensure all travelers can obtain passports in a timely fashion.

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