If you're planning a driving trip to Canada or Mexico, you'll need to pack more identification in the new year, thanks to a new U.S. law.
Starting Jan. 31, U.S. citizens - both adults and children - returning to the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean must carry a document that shows their citizenship. Those who don't have a passport must carry a birth certificate plus government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or school ID, to show at border inspection stations. The new rule affects all vehicle and train travelers, cruise and ferry passengers, and private boaters.
In recent years, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has urged travelers to carry a birth certificate and photo ID when traveling to those areas. The ID wasn't a strict legal requirement, even though many travelers complied, but it will be law starting Jan. 31, as the United States ramps up its border screening through the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (which grew out of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks).
U.S. travelers who don't have proof of citizenship - either a birth certificate or passport - will face secondary screening and delays at border stations while their citizenship is checked, said Mike Milne of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Non-U.S. citizens who live in the United States should carry proof of legal residency and their citizenship documents. Canadians trying to enter the United States without proof of their citizenship could be turned away.
"The whole idea is to have documentation that makes it easy, quick and effective for our officers to establish identity and citizenship, to determine who can go right down the road and who needs more thorough screening," Milne said.
The tougher U.S. scrutiny has contributed to some hours-long delays at border stations, especially at the busy Peace Arch and Pacific Highway crossings between western Washington and British Columbia.
Earlier this year, U.S. air travelers returning to the United States from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean were required to carry passports. The passport requirement eventually will be extended to land and sea travelers returning from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, perhaps as early as this summer. But children under 16 and cruise passengers going round-trip from U.S. ports may be allowed to continue using birth certificates once the passport rule takes effect.
Many citizen, tourism and business groups have strongly objected to the passport requirement for land/sea travelers, and the date is not yet firm. Earlier this year, after the air-travel passport requirement took effect, federal offices were swamped with passport requests, resulting in waits of up to three months.
Under the law taking effect
, all American citizens returning to the United States at land or sea ports of entry from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean must have the following identification (air travelers already are required to have passports):
A valid U.S. passport; or a birth certificate plus government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license or school ID for students; or a trusted-traveler card such as Nexus. Nexus is a federal prescreening program that issues travelers a special card for use at designated fast-clearance lanes at borders. (See the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site,
, and search for Nexus.) Other acceptable ID: a Merchant Mariner document or a U.S. military identification card for those traveling officially.
For babies and young children who don't have school ID, a birth certificate will be sufficient, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Milne says.
A copy of a birth certificate is adequate; it doesn't have to be a certified birth certificate, Milne says.
Go to the Department of Homeland Security Web site,
, and search for Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
Anyone planning to travel abroad who needs a first or renewed passport should apply now to beat the rush. The Passport Services Office gets busy each spring and could be swamped if the land/sea traveler passport requirement goes into effect in the summer. Go to
or call 877-487-2778.