Today, Border Patrol officials began asking Americans for passports at the American and Canadian borders.  The final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is in effect, and a passport or another government-approved document is now required to re-enter the country.

How has this affected traffic across the borders? Not much, it seems. The Houston Chronicle is reporting that wait times at both the northern border with Canada and the southern border with Mexico are normal today, and that the new rules haven’t caused an increase in travel time for most American citizens.

However, not everyone who regularly crosses the border has the correct documents.  FoxTV in El Paso reported that a flood of people applying for a last-minute passport has led some residents to camp out at the local county courthouse to make sure that their passport application gets in.

The new regulations require that American citizens returning from Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean show a US passport, US passport card, or other approved ID to reenter the country. There are some exceptions for children and certain cruise passengers.  For more on the new regulations, see Do I Need a Passport For Travel To Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean?

For now, the government is letting people through without passports with a written warning, often after delaying them for a background check. However, they aren’t saying how long that policy will continue, so if you’re planning on visiting our neighbors to the north and south anytime soon, you need to apply for a passport.

Passport applications usually about two months to process, so you should apply well in advance. Even if you ask for the government’s expedited processing service, expect to wait at least a month. For faster service, you can submit your application through a private passport expediting company instead. These companies will carry your application to the Department of State by hand for processing times that can be as quick as 24 hours. Unlike the process of applying for an emergency passport directly through the government, there are no appointments necessary and you don’t have to travel out of your way to a Passport Agency office. The expediting company handles all of that for you!

Don’t get caught unprepared at the border-order your passport today!