By JON W. SPARKS
Scripps Howard News Service
January 15, 2007
People winging it between the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda will have to produce a passport starting Jan. 23. The requirement does not include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
If you're going by boat or auto, however, you can get by for now with a birth certificate.
But travel agents are suggesting packing a passport anyway.
Janice Bomar, general manager of Bartlett Travel in Bartlett, Tenn., said "if you don't have a passport and you go on a cruise to Cancun and Aunt Sally dies in Memphis, you can't fly home. You have to finish the cruise out."
The new rules would also affect travelers who, for example, get sick during the cruise.
Time has now become of the essence. You might be thinking about spending spring break at these destinations, but Dallas Minner of Stress Free Travel in Memphis says that "if you haven't applied for your passport by now, you're probably in trouble."
Ordinarily it takes about six weeks to get one. With the new regulations, however, the pipeline is pretty full and delays can be expected.
Expediting, which can be pricey, is a way to get a passport quickly.
The State Department Web site (travel.state.gov) has information on expediting the application process, an option that usually takes about two weeks.
Private companies offer to get it for you even faster, including same-day service, and you'll pay the company's rate as well as government fees.
Timing and planning can make the difference between a good trip and no trip at all. "I suggest people not make travel plans until their passports are in hand," Minner said.
He recalled one couple who thought they'd applied well in advance - and received their visas and passports the day before they were to go on their honeymoon. The wait was especially nerve-wracking since the tickets were nonrefundable.
Memphis, Tenn., at www.commercialappeal.com
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