November 23, 2006

To the passportless 73%: A call to action

Only 27% of Americans have a passport. Which means that, unless the other 73% get their applications in, the sunny beaches of Mexico and the Caribbean could be pretty empty this winter.

Come January 8, 2007, passport requirement rules change. On that date, if you want to travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean by air, you'll need a passport to reenter the United States. Your birth certificate, driver's license or voter registration card won't cut it anymore. In 2008, the passport requirement will extend to reentry from those countries and regions by any means of transport, including by boat and road. The new rules have been well-publicized for at least a year and a half, yet more than three-quarters of Americans have not applied for their little blue books.

So, if you're a passportless family that's always spent February school vacation in the Bahamas or a passportless college kid who's been dreaming of spring break in Cabo, come January 8, 2007, unless you travel by boat or road, you're not going. If this is the winter you'd planned to fly up to Quebec City for Carnival, if you don't have a passport, you'll have to get your ice sculpture fix a little further south - maybe Maine or Wisconsin. A little skiing at Whistler or Banff? You'll need a passport to go with that lift ticket.

Jamaica is so worried about the looming loss of American travelers that the Jamaican Tourist Board recently cohosted, with the State Department, a series of user-friendly passport application events in the main commuter train stations in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Get a passport. It's easy. Get your picture taken for less than twenty bucks at places like camera shops, Wal-Marts, or big chain pharmacies with photo departments. (You can't use the pix from the smile-and-hug-your-friend kiosks at the mall.) Download a passport application and full instructions from, then bring it, with required ID and fee, to a passport office or to one of the many post offices that process passport applications. About a month later, your little book, good for 10 years if you're 17 or older, arrives in your mailbox.

Then, you're good to go -- and good to come back. Book a package tour to Cancun. Fly to Ottawa to skate the Rideau Canal. Plan a long weekend in Bermuda. (Or maybe venture farther afield. Once you have a passport, the world's your oyster...)

If the 73% passportless majority doesn't get moving on this, Florida's going to get mighty crowded.

(For those of us who have passports, now's the time to check the expiration dates on every family member's document. If any are six months or less away, renew them today.)