December 15, 2006

Passports required for all U.S. travelers

By Hannah Guillaume
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - International travelers planning trips for next year have a new resource for learning whether and when they will need a passport.

In an effort to tighten border security, the State Department will require all travelers to or from the U.S. to have passports no later than mid-2009.

To ease the burden for the majority of Americans without passports, the Travel Industry Association of America announced a new online passport-education process Monday.

Rick Webster, vice president of government affairs for the association, said the North American public doesn’t know enough about the new passport requirements.

“We believe this is their means to explore all of North America and the Western Hemisphere,” Webster said.

Legislation on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative in 2004 eliminated the right to travel from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean with just a driver’s license or other government-issued identification under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

Webster said this “loophole,” identified after Sept. 11, 2001, hurt U.S. security.

Air travelers will need passports no later than Jan. 23 for travel to those locations. Travelers who leave the U.S. by boat or land without a passport before the deadline who want to re-enter the U.S. by air after Jan. 23 must go to a consular office to apply for permission. It could take a couple of days, Cathy Keefe, a TIA spokeswoman, said.

Deadlines for land and sea travelers haven’t been set yet, but will kick in by June 1, 2009.

The association estimates that 73 percent of Americans do not have passports.

First-time passport applicants must apply in person at one of 7,000 locations, including post offices and courts. The cost of a passport for those 16 years and older is $97. For children under 16, it’s $82.

According to the State Department, only 14 passport offices in the U.S. issue standard, first-time, passports to travelers within two weeks. Renewals can be processed by mail.

Elsewhere, passports should be issued within four to six weeks, but the State Department reports the average is three weeks.

Roger Dow, TIA president, said some hotels and travel agencies are offering to pay for part or all of the cost of a passport when people book trips through them.

The State Department is expects to issue 15 million passports in 2006.

What’s in a passport?

The State Department began issuing electronic passports, also known as e-passports in August.

E-passports use biometric technologies to identify travelers. A chip in the e-passport contains the same data, including a digital image, age and gender of the bearer, as the printed passport.

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