Today is May 1st, which means that in exactly one month, new passport regulations will go into effect as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. We’ve written about the WHTI pretty extensively, but since it’s about to become reality, here’s  a quick review of the upcoming changes:

  • Passports are already required for air travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.  There are no exceptions, and this will continue after June 1st, 2009.
  • Starting June 1st, 2009, passports will be required for land and sea travel to these locations, too. Currently, all you have to have is a state-issued photo ID and a birth certificate.
  • After June 1, 2009, children under age 16 will be able to use a birth certificate instead of a passport for land and sea travel to these locations only.
  • After June 1, 2009, children ages 16-18 traveling with supervised, chaperoned groups like sports teams, church groups, or school groups will be able to use birth certificates instead of passports, as well.
  • Passports will still be required for all air travelers, no matter how old.
  • Passengers on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same US port) may continue to use an ID and birth certificate.

To help US  citizens who travel across the border frequently, the Department of State has introduced a wallet-sized passport card that is less expensive than a traditional passport book. Unfortunately, it’s also less useful-you can only use it for land and sea travel to Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.  You can’t use it for plane travel at all.

If you need a new passport, you should apply well in advance of your scheduled departure date, preferably at least 2 or 3 months before your trip. However, if you just realized you need a passport before June 1, there are ways to get a new passport quickly.

The easiest way to get a passport in a hurry is to use a private passport expediting service. An expediting service will deliver your application to the US Passport Agency directly, so it goes to the top of the pile.  By using an expediting service, you could have your new passport on its way back to you in as little as 24 hours, with no appointments or waiting in line.

Don’t get caught without a passport after June 1-order your new passport today!