Monday, January 22, 2007

Reminder about new U.S. passport regulations

As I pointed out in the December 2006 issue of the Smarter Cruising Newsletter, new U.S. passport regulations go into effect tomorrow (January 23) that may affect thousands of U.S. citizens (and others) planning to take cruises in 2007 and many more thousands planning to take cruises in 2008 and beyond.

The new regulations are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and are intended to buttress U.S. homeland security.

Here's the gist of it: If you need to fly out of the country to take your cruise, you're going to need a valid passport if you want to return to the U.S. Previously, you could fly to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean (with the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico), Central or South America or Bermuda and get by with lesser forms of I.D. No more.

Due in part to complaints by the cruise industry and Caribbean tourism organizations, the regulations have been postponed for a year (and possibly up to 18 months) for passengers traveling to the above areas strictly by land or sea. But if you need to fly to join your cruise, and your destination is outside the United States, you'll need a passport starting tomorrow.

Go to the U.S. State Department website for more detail.

My advice: even if you're not planning a cruise for a while, begin the process of getting a passport now if you don't have one (and only a fourth of U.S. citizens do). With the new regulations in effect, applications have been rising dramatically and waits may increase; count on a minimum of six weeks or two months unless you pay a hefty fee to expedite the process.

One more note: If you're planning a cruise to Alaska this summer and will be flying in or out of Vancouver or another Canadian city before returning to the U.S., you'll need a passport.

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