New passport rules taking effect in January for air travel to Mexico, Canada

Anyone flying to Canada, Mexico, Central or South America, the Caribbean or Bermuda must have a passport beginning Jan. 23, 2007.

The changes are the result of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, the goal of which is to strengthen border security while still allowing travel with standardized, secure and reliable documentation, according to the U.S. State Department.

So far, the initiative only affects air travel between the United States and the above listed countries. However, travelers may use U.S. passports when traveling via sea and land, including ferry crossings.

As early as Jan. 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling between the United States and the same areas may be required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents to be determined by the Department of Homeland Security when traveling by land or sea, including ferries. The dates and requirements may change as time passes and advance notice will be provided by the government.

Nebraskans can apply for passports through district court clerk’s offices.

Hall County District Court Clerk Valorie Bendixen said her office has been aware of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative for a few years and the requirements have undergone multiple changes. The office has already seen a number of people applying for passports to travel to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda because they became aware of the new requirements through media coverage or their travel agents, she said.

“People should always know what’s expected,” she said. “My office refers people to their travel agents with questions. We try to do the best we can.”

Bendixen said she and her employees also refer people with questions to the Web site for more information about passports.

She said the deadline for the new passport requirements has been moved several times. According to the State Department, the initial proposed deadline was Jan. 1, 2007, but it was pushed back to Jan. 23 after the airline industry voiced concern over holiday travel.

More than 70 million U.S. citizens hold valid passports and in the fiscal year 2006, more than 12 million passports were issued, according to State Department.

Bendixen said her office has been handling a lot of passport applications in the last few years. When comparing numbers from September through November of 2005 to this year, she said the number of passport requests doubled.

“We have a lot of people in this area that travel to Mexico and Canada,” she said.

Passports for people ages 16 and older are good for 10 years. For anyone under age 16, a passport is good for five years, according to

Bendixen said everyone applying for a passport needs a certified copy of their birth certificate and two identical photos of good quality. Several businesses in town will take passport photos. When children under age 16 are applying for a passport, both their parents and the child need to be present when applying. A certified copy of the child’s birth certificate and a form of ID, such as a driver’s license, must be shown by both parents, she said.

Not having a birth certificate and having one with inaccuracies are commonly encountered problems at the Hall County district court clerk’s office. Depending on the circumstances, there are a number of other documents that will be accepted, such as a letter from Vitals Statistics or naturalization papers. The Web site lists frequently asked questions such as this and describes the process that must be used to obtain a passport.

The standard fee for getting a passport for people age 15 and under is $52 to the passport agency and $30 to Hall County, Bendixen said. For an adult, the fees are $67 to the passport agency and $30 to the county. In order to expedite a passport application, there are additional fees, she said.

Anyone who has had a passport, who was 16 years old or older and the passport was issued in the past 15 years, can reapply by mail, which will save a $30 fee. Forms are available from the district court clerk’s office and on the above-mentioned Web site, she said.

It takes four to six weeks to get a passport application processed and Bendixen said, due to increased demand, it is taking the full six weeks for passports to arrive. She suggests applying early in order to get passports on time and to have time to double check accuracy.

“It’s not a difficult process, but it’s a long process,” she said.

Documents required

On Jan. 23, 2007, U.S. citizens traveling by air to Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda will be required to present one of the following:

— A valid U.S. passport

— An Air NEXUS card

— A U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Marine document.

As early as Jan. 1, 2008, this could apply to travel by land or sea, including ferries.

Another travel ID document, the passport card, is being developed and will be used to travel only by land or sea, including ferries, between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It will be similar in size to a credit card. This card is not currently available.

Further information about passports can be found at

Source: U.S. State Department

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