Your passport please? What you need to know about upcoming travel changes.
It’s generally believed that under 23% of Americans own passports, (the world’s standard document identifying one as a citizen of their country). When I travel overseas many people are surprised Americans don’t engage in more global adventures. I explain the many travel opportunities within our country, the beauty of the west, as well as our limited vacation time. It’s completely understandable. Given how spread out our country is, a trip to New York or San Francisco has all the worldliness of Paris or Tokyo. For a New Yorker a trip to Sedona or the hills of North Carolina can be a welcome change from their environment.
Adding to the ease of nearby international travel, many neighboring countries also have common travel agreements, where border crossing frequently occurs. Residents of England and Ireland enjoy relatively simple crossings between their home countries, and as most people know the only documentation necessary for travel between Canada and Mexico from the United States is a driver’s license or birth certificate.
Up until now, visits to our north and south neighbors haven’t required passports. However the end of this year our reciprocal agreement with Canada and Mexico will end. As of December 31st a passport will be required to enter the United States from these countries via air, and on December 31st 2007, a passport will be required for crossings on land, (border checkpoints). It is currently in discussion whether residents in border towns such as El Paso or San Diego will be able to obtain special cards allowing citizens who work or live on opposite sides to cross with an easier process than standard customs control.
Other than some articles I’ve read in newspapers and travel websites, I haven’t noticed people giving it much thought. Most people I know wait until they actually start planning a trip overseas before starting the process of obtaining a passport.
The people that are concerned with this rule are the people whose income will be negatively affected by it: the tourism industry. Mexico and the Caribbean are hot travel destinations. Often these trips are spontaneous, spurred by low airfares and an urge to get away. In fact a high percentage of travel is now planned less than a month before departure. The internet has become the free travel agent of the people, and from our computers we can book flights, get maps, and secure reservations.
So what are the additional costs? A passport fee is $65, plus a security surcharge of $12, and an execution fee of $12. A total of $97. For a couple flying south to enjoy a few days of fun in the sun, or a college person planning spring break, that’s a serious chunk of their vacation budget. For a family it multiplies even more. However these new changes won??t be retracted, and if any benefits are to be had, it’s that travelers obtaining a passport for Mexico or Canada may be encouraged to travel further overseas and explore new cultures.
My advice? Get your passport, whether you plan to travel soon or not. And start now, while the passport wait is normal. When south of the border travel heats up again this winter and the deadline looms closer, I predict longer lines at the post offices for passports, and a lag in the time it takes to receive a passport in the mail. For an additional $67 fee you can have a passport expedited within 14 days, which is helpful for urgent travel needs.
In addition to potential spontaneous travel, consider the follow benefits of owning a passport:
A second form of identification: A passport can benefit you in the United States as well. Should your personal identification be lost or stolen, the immediate task is a day at the DMV and other offices, and hours of getting things back in order. However the passport sitting in your file cabinet at home is acceptable proof of identity everywhere and a perfect backup in the meantime. It’s a lifesaver if you lose your I.D. and flying domestically. It’s accepted when cashing a check, or maybe you just want to grab a beer with friends, (while commiserating over your DMV visit).
Parents take heed: The passport fee for a child is $40 plus the other above fees, for a total of $82, (instead of $97.). If you have a child age 12 or 15, a passport may be useful for a future high school trip overseas, and since it will last 10 years, that will cover them until their mid 20s. You’ll save $15, which adds up for a larger family. Just remind them to send a postcard when they’re 21 and backpacking through Europe.
Business: Through global communications and the development of trade agreements between countries the world is becoming virtually smaller. Regardless of your political opinions on globalization, if you’re in business, especially sales, your next job may entail travel and negotiations in foreign markets, or at least a knowledge of some foreign processes. Get a leg up on your competition and be prepared. Being well versed culturally will allow you to better relate with your clients, and better relations equals increased sales.
Avoid the digital passport: I’m not a privacy zealot, but I’m less than thrilled about new passports that will incorporate RFID chips, allowing them to be scanned at 35 feet away. The benefit is faster processing. Perhaps future immigration lines will resemble an auto toll plaza with short lines. Tests are underway, but concerns are that the electronic readability of new passports will allow “skimmers” and others with nefarious intentions to gain personal information from your passport. The new wave of passports is set to roll out in the summer of 2006. If this is a concern, you should start the process now and you may avoid being issued one.
There’s nothing to lose by owning a passport. Next time you’re at Kinkos, or waiting for your prescription at Walgreens, wander over to the photo section, smile for your picture, and you??ll be on your way to becoming a savvy world traveler.
For more information on obtaining or renewing a passport visit: http://travel.state.gov/passport (no www) RFID Passport references:www.washingtontechnology.com/news/21_05/federal/28178-1.html