We may still be stuck in the depths of winter, but Spring Break is just around the corner, and it’s time to start planning your spring vacation. If you are vacationing outside of the US this year, it’s important to check and see what kind of travel documents you will need. New passport regulations went into effect on June 1st, 2009, and passports are now required for more destinations than ever before. Here’s the scoop:

On June 1, 2009, the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect.  Now, the law requires that US citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean by land or sea carry a passport book or another WHTI-compliant document, like a passport card,  an enhanced driver’s license or a NEXUS, FAST or SENTRI card. Previously, you could just bring your driver’s license and your birth certificate, certificate of citizenship or naturalization certificate.

However, if you’re going on a cruise for Spring Break, you might be able to get by with just your driver’s license and birth certificate, assuming that your cruise begins and ends at the same US port. Check with your cruise line to see what documents are required, but consider applying for a new passport anyway-you’ll need it if you have to fly home for an emergency.

Also, if you’re under the age of 19 and you are traveling outside of the country for Spring Break with a church group, school group, sports group or cultural organization, you can just bring a copy of your birth certificate as long as your group is under adult supervision. Again, though, it’s better to have a passport.

If you are flying anywhere outside of the United States, even if it’s just to Mexico or Canada, you must have a US passport-no exceptions.

The time to apply for your passport is now-in fact, according to the University of Arizona’s passport acceptance office, students only have 5 days left to apply for a passport with regular processing. Applications need to be in by February 12th if you are using the government’s expedited processing option for your new passport.

This is based on the University of Arizona’s Spring Break-you may have more or less time depending on when your school lets out.  Check your dates, and make sure to allow 6 weeks for regular processing and 3 weeks for expedited processing.

You should also be aware that applying for a new passport through a private passport expediting company  can make the application process much easier as well as drastically reduce your processing time.  For example, RushMyPassport.com can have your application processed in as little as 24 hours.

Apply for your new passport today!