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Apply now to comply with Jan. 8 passport changes

By Doug Snover

Dec. 2, 2006

A U.S. passport will be the must-have travel accessory this holiday season for Kyrene Corridor residents and other Americans planning to visit Bermuda, the Caribbean, or Central and South America. And it’s a darn good idea to carry one even if you’re planning only a short jaunt across the border to Mexico, travel officials say.

Beginning Jan. 8, anyone flying into this country from a foreign land will need a passport under the federal government’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

And the feds mean “anyone.”

Even babies traveling in their mothers’ arms will need the little blue book.

It’s all part of a toughening of U.S. borders under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to implement plans to require all travelers -- U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike -- to present passports or other documents that denote identity and citizenship when entering the United States.

Like most federal programs, however, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative can be confusing. For example, people who fly directly from a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa can get into the mainland USA without a passport by presenting other forms of identification.

The key word is “directly,” however. If your flight has a stopover in a foreign land, you’ll need the passport to enter when you eventually get to the USA.

The tougher passport requirement doesn’t affect those who travel by land or sea…yet.  It’ll be another year at least before you will need a passport to drive across the border from Mexico or take that cruise to Mazatlan or the Caribbean.

Tom Gierada of Sunsational Cruises on west Elliot Road is advising cruise customers to get their passports sooner rather than later. In fact, Sunsational Cruises offers free passport photos to customers who purchase cruises that last seven days or longer.

“We’re encouraging people to get their passports just to do it,” Gierada said. “It’s not going to be the only time they travel,” he added.

Most of his customers “realize it’s a good thing to have,” Gierada said. “They only concern they have is do they have enough time to get it?”

Travelers may not think they need a passport to take an Alaskan cruise, but they might, Gierada cautioned. If you fly through Vancouver, B.C., on your way to that Alaskan cruise, you will need the passport to re-enter the USA starting Jan. 8, he noted.

On its website, Princess Cruise Lines also is urging its passengers to carry valid U.S. passports. A passenger who falls ill on the cruise or who must fly home for an emergency could be caught out without a passport, the huge cruise line cautions.

Even if your cruise does not involve air travel outside the U.S., should you be required to unexpectedly depart a vessel prior to the end of the sailing, a passport would be required to re-enter the U.S. by air. As such, Princess Cruises continues to strongly recommend that all passengers are in possession of a passport by Jan. 8, 2007,” the Princess website notes.

Passports currently cost $97 for adults and $82 for children under age 16. The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs suggests U.S. citizens check the State Department’s travel website at, or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778; TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793 for information about applying for a passport.

One thing to remember: Applying for a first-time passport must be done in person. You can renew by mail if you still have an undamaged passport that was issued within the past 15 years and you were over age 16 when it was issued, and if you still have the same name or can legally document your name change.

The WHTI originally proposed requiring passports for land and sea travelers beginning Jan. 8. Travel industry representatives successfully lobbied Congress, however, to postpone the land-and-sea restrictions until at least January 2008 and possibly as late as June 2009.

“The hundreds of TIA members who came to Washington, D.C., for the Travel Leadership Summit made a huge, positive impact on this issue. As one congressional office told the TIA staff, on the WHTI issue they heard us “loud and clear,” Travel Industry Association of America President Roger Dow wrote in an Oct. 2 letter to its members, including the Arizona Office of Tourism.

The Phoenix-based Border Trade Alliance also lobbied to delay the passport requirement for those who cross into the USA from Mexico or Canada by land or sea. The proposal to require passports beginning January 2007 for all who cross the U.S.-Mexico or U.S.-Canada border would have hurt border economies, the BTA argued.

“This new requirement has the potential to inflict a new burden on travelers, especially casual travelers across the U.S. and Canadian borders, and could put tourist dollars, a highly sought-after form of investment, at risk.,” it argued in a position paper.

The potential burden on the traveling public could cause significant disruption to Western Hemisphere travel, the BTA cautioned.

“Communities on both sides of the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders are inextricably linked both culturally and economically, thus we are reluctant to support any program that puts our unique cross-border relationships at risk,” it added.

With everyone from the federal government to AAA Arizona to independent tour companies like Gierada’s Sunsational Cruises recommending people get passports, there has been an increase in passport inquires at local AAA offices, according to Linda Gorman, representative for the AAA in Arizona.

Gorman said she did not have specific information on the increase in passport inquires at the Chandler AAA office at 4040 W. Ray Road, but she said AAA throughout Arizona has seen more inquiries since October.

AAA offices, by the way, offer passport photographs but do not carry passport applications.  AAA typically refers people to local courts and post offices for passport applications, Gorman said.

Those who routinely cross the U.S.-Mexico may not need to carry the official U.S. passport with them once the United States develops its planned PASS Card. The limited-use passport, about the size of a credit card, will be good only for land or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The wallet-sized PASS card is expected to cost $20 for adults or $10 for children and, plus a $25 execution fee.

The BTA, noting the high cost of passports for families who routinely cross the U.S.-Mexico or U.S.-Canada borders, strongly endorsed what it called a “border crossing card” similar to the proposed PASS Card.

For additional information, check the following websites: AAA Arizona ( search for “passport”; Arizona Office of Tourism (; Border Trade Alliance (; or U.S. State Department (


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