Travel document requirements for U.S. and Canadian citizens are changing. Certain travelers will now need to carry passports, so it may be necessary to obtain them well before you need to travel.
Changes to Canadians and Americans
The changes requiring additional documents and, preferably, the passport for the traveler are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. This Initiative requires people traveling to and from North, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Bermuda to have passports. Some other documents may be acceptable, but the passport is preferred. This is a significant change, as it eliminates passport exemptions for U.S. and Canadian citizens that are now in place. These changes are tied to security initiatives.
The Initiative will apply to all travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America who are seeking to enter or reenter the United States. This is a U.S. requirement pertinent to those entering or reentering the United States. This is separate from any travel document requirements or exemptions that may exist for the countries being visited.
This requirement will impact U.S. citizens, who previously were exempt from the need to present a passport when reentering the United States from certain destinations, including Canada and Mexico. It will also affect Canadian citizens, citizens of Bermuda, and Mexican citizens who will now need passports to enter the United States.
Dates of the changes
The program is effective in stages, starting December 31, 2005.
31 Dec. 2005: Requirement applicable to all air and sea travel to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America. Canada and Mexico are not yet included.
31 Dec. 2006: Requirement applicable to all air and sea travel to and from Mexico and Canada. Land border crossings not yet included.
31 Dec. 2007: Applies to all air, sea, and land border crossings.US Passports should be requested well in advance of planned travel. This new requirement is prompting an increase in passport applications. While there are provisions to expedite processing, these involve additional expense. If you think you may need to make last-minute travel plans, you may want to get a passport and keep it current, just in case. Canadian passports also involve the payment of application fees.
Response from the travel industry
The new requirement for passports has raised concerns in the travel industry. The current fee for a U.S. passport is between $67-$97, depending upon whether the applicant is an adult or a child and whether it is an initial application or a renewal. The fee to expedite is $60. Think of a full family traveling to a cheap destination -- their bill could be 100s of dollars more.
Because of this, some tour operators are offering to cover the expense of passports for those booking vacations within a certain timeframe.
The air and sea carriers will need to check documents on outbound trips to confirm that those using their services will be able to return to the United States. Travelers without proper documents should not be permitted to depart. The question does arise, however, as to what would happen at the U.S. border if a U.S. citizen is without a passport after flying to, for example, Bermuda after December 31, 2005. There are provisions permitting the Port of Entry to waive the need for proper documents. This is not routine and cannot be guaranteed, however. Moreover, the forms involved have filing fees exceeding the cost of a passport.