Writing this article has been like sculpting molasses. Trying to find authoritative information about the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) is an example of dealing with bureaucracy at its best.
For the last couple of years the U.S. government has been implementing changes to the rules for the use of passports for travel between the United States and other countries in what is being called the Western Hemisphere. At this time, the WHTI covers travel to and from the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region (17 nations).
We thought it a good time to update you on the latest proposals on the WHTI. Our article examines when you will need a U.S. passport (or other official document verifying your citizenship and identify) for travel to and from the areas covered in the WHTI.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required that by January 1, 2008, travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada have a passport or other secure, accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States. However, the plans for implementing the WHTI changed on September 29, 2006. The rules also changed again in the summer of 2007. Next, the rules changed again in March of 2008. Now it appears we have some clarity about the final rules. Note that the rules for entry to the U.S. by air (and now in effect) were implemented on a different schedule than the rules for re-entering the U.S. by sea or land.
New Rules and Dates of Enforcement
1. The WHTI requires that all air travelers (including US citizens) entering the United States from the Caribbean, Canada, Bermuda or Mexico must present a valid passport. Due to the government’s inability to issue passports in a timely fashion, the passport requirement for air travelers was delayed and not implemented until January of 2008.
2. The passport requirement for land or sea re-entry to the United States, which was to occur on January 31, 2008, was postponed until June 1, 2009. As it now stands, on and after June 1 2009, those entering or re-entering the US from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Bermuda, by land or ship must present either a passport or other documents deemed acceptable by the Department of Homeland Security. The best way of crossing the U.S. border and then re-entering the country is to have a passport and take it with you when you depart the United States. Two other official documents are recognized. The first is the new Passport Card, which we cover here. The alternative form is a State or Provincial (Canada) issued enhanced driver’s license, a secure document that denotes both identity and citizenship).
• In February of 2007, the U.S. Government proposed that when the land and ship portion of the initiative goes into effect, U.S. citizen children aged 16 and younger, who have parental consent, would be allowed to cross land and sea entry stations with certified copies of their birth certificates in lieu of a valid passport. This plan will now be implemented on June 1, 2009.
• U.S. citizen children, ages 16 to 18, traveling in official, supervised groups, will be allowed to cross border with a certified copy of their birth certificate.
• The exemption described here does not apply to air travel.
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is a significant change from prior travel requirements and will affect all United States citizens above the age of 18, who do not currently possess valid passports. This new requirements will also affect certain foreign nationals who currently are not required to present a passport to travel to the United States.
Most Canadian citizens, citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, and to a lesser degree, Mexican citizens (due to the potential use of a proposed Border Crossing Card) will be affected by the implementation. Information for citizens and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean can find more information at this U.S. government website http://www.getyouhome.gov/ .
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does not and will not affect travel between the United States and its territories. U.S. citizens traveling between the United States, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa will continue to be able to use established forms of identification to board flights and for entry.
If you are a U.S. citizen and want to know more about applying for a passport, see our article on the process.
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