Summer is generally the most popular and expensive time to travel to other countries, however due to the economic downturn this year travelers will find an abundance of travel bargains and opportunities. They will also find new and tighter passport regulations which include a requirement that all travelers be able to present an official passport book or card, or another travel document approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Forms of identification that were previously accepted at land crossings — including voter registration cards and birth certificates — will no longer be acceptable to gain entry or re-entry to the United States. Beginning June 1, U.S. citizens returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea will be required to have a passport, passport card or other travel documents approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pertaining to specific populations and situations.
New U.S. Passport Card valid for cruise port and land border crossings
Acceptable forms of identification include the new U.S. Passport Card introduced in July 2008 to expedite the frequent travel of U.S. citizens living in border communities. It is not valid for air travel, but can be used on cruise trips for re-entry at U.S. ports and at land border crossings from Canada and Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip which points to a stored record in secure government databases. The card has the same period of validity as the U.S. Passport Book, 10 years for an adult and five years for minors under age 16. The card costs $45 for a first-time adult applicant and $35 for all minor applicants under age 16. Adults who already have a fully valid passport book may apply for the card as a passport renewal by mail and pay only $20. A previous passport book holder may also apply for a passport card as a renewal by mail if they are eligible to use form DS-82 which requires their most recent passport be undamaged and submitted with the application, issued when they were age 16 or older and within the last 15 years in the holders current name or they can legally document a name change. It typically takes from four to six weeks to receive.
AAA is encouraging members and other consumers who have questions about the new identification requirements to visit their local AAA office for assistance. AAA offers assistance with passport applications and passport photos.
A passport book is valid for travel anywhere in the world by air, land and sea. To get or renew a passport book, pick up an application at your local AAA office or visit http://travel.state.gov/ to find the nearest location to apply for a passport. For applicants eligible to use Renew by Mail form DS-82 (minors under age 16 cannot use this form) a passport costs $75. First-time applicants using form DS-11 must appear in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility and the total cost is $100 if age 16 or older and $85 for minors under age 16. It typically takes from four to six weeks to receive, although expedited handling of two to three weeks can be obtained by paying $60.
U.S. State Department suggests that anyone planning to travel outside of the county obtain one of the approved documents as soon as possible. AAA Travel Counselors can provide consumers with additional details concerning documentation requirements for travel to specific destinations.
The tighter regulations mark the full implementation of the land and sea phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. (WHTI went into effect for air travelers in January 2007)
“This summer we are seeing some incredible travel bargains. For example some cruises are up to 50 percent off and many travel companies are offering added value such as free nights and meals,” said Betsy Sell, managing director, AAA Travel. “If you are thinking of traveling this summer, you should get your passport now to take advantage of these great rates and other last minute specials.”
AAA also offers the following tips to assist in the passport application process:
- Use black ink when completing all application forms. Blue is accepted if it is dark enough to scan, but applications have been rejected.
- All children, regardless of age, must have their own passport. There are special requirements for minors under age 16 and for 16 and 17-year olds. Children under 16 must apply in person with both parents/guardians present or follow Parental Consent guidelines using form DS-3053. Also, 16 and 17 year olds must establish parental consent. For additional requirements for minors and more information visit http://travel.state.gov/.
- If minor children are traveling abroad with or without both parents and guardians, a notarized letter of consent may be required. In an effort to keep children safe while traveling internationally, many governments have initiated procedures at entry and exit points, including requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission of the parent(s) or legal guardian not present for the child’s travel. Parents of minor children (under 18 years old) should carefully document legal custody prior to traveling.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 51 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at AAA.com.