Have you gotten one of the new US passport cards yet? If you have one, and you are driving across an international bridge into Mexico or Canada, border officials want you to take that card out of your wallet and “wave it in the air like you just don’t care” before you get to the inspection booth.

No, this isn’t some elaborate prank designed to make you look foolish for border officials’ amusement.  According to the El Paso Times,  this procedure actually helps you get through the border crossing more quickly.

Here’s how it works: about 70 feet before each inspection booth, the government has set up a sensor. Waving your card in front of the sensor allows the officer in the booth to pull up your data before you get to the booth, cutting the time for a routine crossing by about 5 seconds per vehicle.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it all adds up-if everyone who crossed the El Paso border with a passport card used the system, it would save a lot of time. William Molaski, the Customs and Border Patrol port director in El Paso, told the El Paso Times that

“As more people use their cards correctly, wait times will go down. A savings of only five seconds per vehicle reduces overall crossing times by about 30 (collective) hours a day.”

The system currently only works with US passport cards, not the standard US passport books. US passport cards are small, wallet-sized cards introduced to make crossing the border easier for people who have to do it frequently.  They are only good for land and sea travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, and they are no good for plane travel.

If you are on a cruise or traveling more than a short distance over the Mexican or Canadian border, it makes sense to carry a passport book with you instead of a passport card, since you would need it to fly back home in case of an emergency.

Under a relatively new law that went into effect in June of last year, passports are required for most American travelers visiting Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean.  For more information about the requirements, see the following articles:

Do You Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Do You Need a Passport to Go to the Caribbean?

Do You Need a Passport to Go to Canada?

If the new regulations have caught you by surprise and you needed to have your passport application in, like, yesterday, RushMyPassport.com can help. With RushMyPassport, you get personal service and attention from an experienced passport specialist, help with your application and much faster service than you can get submitting your application at the post office. In fact, RushMyPassport can have your application processed in as little as 24 hours!

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