If you are traveling in 2010, there are new passport laws you need to be aware of.   For example, at the beginning of last year, American citizens could enter Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean without a passport.

However, on June 1st, 2009, the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI for short) went into effect. Now, most Americans traveling to these countries do need passports to travel. Here are the details of the new passport laws:

Americans traveling to Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean by plane need a passport book. Americans traveling to these countries by sea need a passport book, a passport card, or a WHTI-approved alternative, like an enhanced driver’s license, a NEXUS card, a FAST card or a SENTRI card.  For most Americans, the passport book and the passport card are easiest to obtain, but the passport card can only be used for land or sea travel, not for air travel. The passport book is a better choice, because there is always the possibility you might have to fly home in an emergency.

There are a few exceptions to the new requirements, but they primarily apply for land or sea travel, not to air travel. So, again, even though you don’t technically need a passport if you fall into one of the following categories, it’s a good idea to carry one anyway in case you need to fly home.

Here are the exceptions:

  • Children under the age of 16 traveling by land or sea can use their birth certificates, naturalization certificates or certificates of citizenship.
  • Children under the age of 19 traveling by land or sea with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or sports team accompanied by an adult chaperon can use their birth certificates, naturalization certificates or certificates f citizenship.
  • Cruise ship passengers on a closed-loop cruise, one that begins and ends at the same US port, can use government-issued photo ID (like your driver’s license) and a birth certificate, certificate of naturalization or certificate of citizenship.

Under the new rules, the only circumstance in which an American citizen can travel outside the US by plane without a passport is if you have a NEXUS card and you are traveling to a Canadian preclearance airport with a NEXUS kiosk. Preclearance airports are listed here.

If you need a new passport, the fastest and most reliable way to get one is to use a private passport expediting service like RushMyPassport.com. You’ll get personal attention and help from a passport specialist, plus your application will be hand-delivered to the Department of State for processing times as low as 24 hours.

Apply for your new passport today!