Tighter travel rules begin Monday

By Virginia Ross

Voter registration cards and birth certificates will no longer be accepted as valid ID.

Beginning Monday, most American travelers driving into Canada or Mexico need to make sure they have one additional item with them before crossing either border: Their U.S. passport or the new U.S. passport card.

New and tighter rules are kicking in that require most Americans traveling by land or sea to have the proper ID to re-enter the United States from those countries as well as the Caribbean and Bermuda.

“It’s not that you won’t be able to get home without the proper documents,” said Joanne Moore, U.S. Department of State spokeswoman. “But getting there could take a little longer if you don’t have the proper ID. If you don’t, you could be delayed at the border, and then it becomes a Homeland Security Department matter.”

Previously, voter-registration cards and birth certificates were accepted as forms of ID at land crossings, but not anymore. With the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, U.S. and Canadian travelers must present a passport or passport card to prove identity and citizenship when entering the United States.

The initiative is a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Standard documents allow travelers to be identified quickly and reliably, Moore explained.

In rare circumstances, there are some travelers who are required to present other documentation approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pertaining to specific populations and situations. The tighter regulations mark the full implementation of the land and sea phase of the initiative, which went into effect for air travelers on Jan. 23, 2007.

The new U.S. passport card, about the size of a standard driver’s license, was introduced in July 2008 to expedite the frequent travel of U.S. citizens living in border communities while maintaining security at the borders. It is not valid for air travel, where a full U.S. passport book is still needed.

According to the State Department, to date just more than 1 million U.S. Passport Cards have been issued to U.S. citizens.

Just like a passport book, the passport card is good for 10 years for an adult and five years for minors up to age 16. The card costs, including the processing fee, $45 for a first-time adult applicant and $35 for all minor applicants up to age 16. The card provides a less-expensive, smaller, and more convenient alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations by land or by sea.

The application process is comparable to obtaining a full U.S. passport book, requiring applicants to prove citizenship with proper documents such as birth certificates or naturalization papers and two photos.

It is recommended travelers apply for the passport card as soon as possible because it can take four to six weeks to obtain one once the application process has been initiated. The card contains a radio-frequency identification chip that points to a stored record in secure government databases.

“It’s so new to most people, and although we’ve had some response and applications for it, we haven’t really started keeping tallies or numbers on how many people have actually obtained one,” said Victor Dubina, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, which processes applications for the State Department. “I think once people realize they need it or can use it rather than an actual passport, we’ll see an increase in numbers.”

Citizens may obtain applications for their passport books or cards at their local post office, or online through the State Department Web site. Locally, Poland and North Lima post office sites are among the facilities that process the applications. One way to to locate a facility is to log onto the State Department Web site and enter your ZIP code.

Tim Kopcash, Poland post office manager, said many local people are opting for the passport card to save a few dollars, but he advises travelers to pay a little more and obtain the full passport book. The cost of a U.S. passport book is $75 plus $25 for processing. Once the application is processed, the document is mailed to the recipient.

“If you plan to do any traveling outside the country in the next 10 years, that’s really the route to go,” he said. “It’s better to be safe. Also, once you have it, it’s good for 10 years, and you don’t know when the fees might go up, so if you get it now you’re set for quite awhile.”

Kopcash said his office typically processes between six and eight applications for passport books and cards daily, with about half of those specifically for the card. But now, with summer and vacation time approaching and the new land and sea travel requirements going into effect, the numbers have jumped to between 15 and 20 applications a day.

U.S. Passport Card

Fast facts

Cost: $45 (age 16 and older); $35 (under age 16); $20 (if requested with a new or renewed passport)

Validity: 10 years for adults; five years for children under age 16

Issued by: U.S. Department of State

Limitations: Not valid for international air travel

Info: www.travel.state.gov

Questions: Contact National Passport Information Center, (877) 4-USA-PPT; TDD/TTY (888) 874-7793

Source: U.S. State Department

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