March 14, 2006

And now for something completely practical: Got passport?

Allow me this brief detour from storytelling to impart some dry but important travel information. While preparing the paperwork for Adam’s passport renewal (the kid’s on his third – truly his mother’s son), it occurred to me that many folks may be unaware of the new travel requirements U.S. citizens will have to meet beginning December 31, 2006.

Do you have a passport?

If you don’t and there’s as much as a distant hint of a remote possibility of a trip to even close neighbors like Canada and Mexico in your future, you’d be wise to get one.

Until now, American citizens could enter or reenter the U.S. from Bermuda, the Caribbean, Panama, Mexico and Canada without passports. That will change on December 31, 2006, when, due to post-9/11 legislation, all Americans entering the country by air and sea, including those returning from destinations previously exempt from the passport requirement, will need the document. Travelers entering over land crossings have until December 31, 2007 to start packing a passport. Without one, you may get out, but you won't get back in.

If you have a passport you haven't used in a while, check its expiration date. (A note about passport expiration dates: Many countries that require U.S. citizens to get visas will only issue them if your passport will be valid for several months after your visit. Russia, for example, requires six months' validity beyond your travel dates. If your passport expires this September, and you're planning to visit Moscow in July, you may think you're good to go. You're not. The Russian consulate wants an expiration date of January 2007 or later in order to stamp that magic visa in your book.)

If you need a new or renewal passport, put the task in motion sooner rather than later, as there’ll likely be a rush on the nation’s passport-issuing offices before the summer travel season heats up. (If you’re a member of a traveling family and the one who tends to dull domestic chores like bill-paying, income tax-filing and the like, you probably own the burden of maintaining all family members’ vital life documents. Dig those little blue booklets out now and give them the once-over. It’d be a shame if four of you jetted off to Cancun but only three of you were allowed to come home...)

Getting or renewing a passport is fairly painless (except for the inevitably hideous photo that looks nothing like you and haunts you from the first page of that tiny blue book for 10 years). The U.S. Department of State's site,, has forms and instuctions.

The most painful part is the price: first-timer adults will pay $97, kids under 16, $82. If you’re renewing, the cost is $67 for adults and $52 for kids. And, if you’re in a hurry, expedited service will add still more bucks to the bill. (Another reason not to wait.)

An item in a recent issue of National Geographic Traveler noted that some 75% of Americans are passport-less. Get yours now. Someday soon, your company might decide to reward its top employees with a long weekend in Bermuda. No passport? Then you’re elected! To man the office phones at company headquarters while your coworkers swim, snorkel and dance on the decks of a twilit booze cruise.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.