Beat the rush and apply for your U.S. passport now if you plan to travel out of the country in the next year.
There could be a surge of passport applicants in winter and spring, thanks to a new U.S. law.
As of June 1, 2009, all travelers returning to the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda--including those who go by land or sea--must have a passport or other federally approved ID. (A passport already is required for all international air travel.)
Unlike now, the new law means adult Americans won't be able to use just a driver's license and birth certificate as ID when driving across the U.S.-Canadian border.
From now until the end of the year traditionally is when the fewest Americans apply for passports, said Trip Atkins, assistant regional director of the Seattle Passport Agency, adding that it should take only a few weeks at this time of year. (Urgent requests can be dealt with by appointment at passport offices.)
With the tougher identification requirement for land/sea travel now approaching, here's a look at ID options:
What: A passport, formally called a "passport book," is the gold standard for crossing borders, proving both U.S. citizenship and identification.
The good: A passport is internationally recognized for travel worldwide by air, land and sea.
The bad: Passport fees can add up. A first-time passport is $100 for an adult, $85 for a child under 16. An adult passport is valid for 10 years, a child's for five years. For renewals, the fee is $75 for adults. Children under 16 can't use the same renewal process as adults, so the fee remains $85.
How to apply: Get details and forms at www.travel.state.gov/passport or phone 877-487-2778. First-time applicants and children under 16 must apply in person at a passport-acceptance facility; there are 9,000 across the country, including at post offices, libraries and local government offices. Find them by ZIP code at iafdb.travel.state.gov.
What: The U.S. passport card is a cheaper, limited alternative to a traditional passport, valid for land and sea travel only between Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative countries (the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Caribbean and Bermuda).
The good: A passport card is cheaper than a passport, $45 for an adult (valid for 10 years) and $35 for a child under 16 (valid for five years). It's also portable, resembling a driver's license. Travelers who want the convenience of both a passport and a passport card can get one for just $20 when applying for a passport.
The bad: A passport card cannot be used for international air travel and isn't valid beyond Western Hemisphere Initiative countries.
How to apply: Like the passport, the passport card is issued by the State Department: www.travel.state.gov/passport or 877-487-2778.
As for children
Children under 16 will be able to continue crossing land/sea borders using just a U.S. birth certificate (or naturalization certificate) after the new law takes effect in June. Either the original birth certificate or a copy can be used.
Groups of teens age 16 to 18, when traveling as part of a school, sports, religious or other group under adult supervision, also can use just birth certificates or naturalization certificates as ID at land/sea border crossings. However, all children must have passports for international air travel.