62 DAYS AND COUNTING
The new rules that become effective on June 1st will affect travel from 19 countries in all (see list below), many of which are destinations that millions of Americans have been traveling to and from for years without carrying valid passports. Shortly, new rules mandate that "most" U.S. citizens entering the country by land, sea, or air must establish both identity and citizenship and therefore must possess one of the following: passport, passport card or other travel document approved by the Department of Homeland Security.
The other travel documents include: Lawful Permanent Resident Cards; certain Native American tribe member cards; North American trusted traveler program cards, such as NEXUS (Northern Border program), SENTRI (Southern Border program), or FAST (Free and Secure Trade program); military ID with official travel orders; U.S. Merchant Mariner Documents; or enhanced driver's licenses (EDLs).
WHEN IS A VALID DOCUMENT NOT VALID
Certain of the above documents have restrictions on their use. For example the wallet-size passport card, which is more convenient and cheaper than the passport book, cannot be used for international air travel. This new travel document can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. Another less known fact is that a U.S. Passport must be valid for up to 6 months after your trip. You’ll need to consult every country that you visit to determine the specific entry / exit requirements for passport expiration.
There are many caveats contained within the new rules, so it is best to consult the following websites to learn more about your specific circumstance. The final responsibility for proper documentation rests with the traveler not the cruise line, airline, cruise specialist, or any other travel professional. You’ve planned for this trip and want to be sure you aren’t denied boarding nor do you want problems when entering or exiting any country during your trip.
State Department - overview of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - see Travel page
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – see Crossing U.S. Borders page
Canada Border Services Agency - for travel to/from Canada
As a cruise specialist, I have been recommending that all passengers have a valid passport, even when travel with other documents (such as a driver’s license and certified birth certificate would suffice). The rationale behind that recommendation was simple, at least in my mind. Whether you are traveling by air, by sea, by car, or by foot: Once you leave the United States, it doesn’t matter how you left, what matters is that you have the proper identification to get back in. Countries that you visit on your trip will also require you to follow their entry and exit requirements. A passport is the only document that is universally recognized and accepted for entrance, albeit there may be other requirements, such as visas.
Another less obvious reason for my recommendation is based on the unexpected. What happens if you need to interrupt your vacation for any reason? Would you be able to leave each and every country on your itinerary and re-enter the United States with the documentation in your possession?
Keep in mind that your mode of travel could change from cruise ship to airplane. The WHTI rules have been implemented in stages, so depending on the date of travel; you could have a different answer to my question.
WHERE CHANGE IS TAKING PLACE
According to the State Department, here's a complete list of the 19 countries affected by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative:
Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica (except for business travel), Mexico, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE LEAVING HOME
The time to check your documents for expiration date, entry / exit requirements for all countries on your itinerary, required vaccinations, visa requirements, travel advisories, and other country specific information is either before you book your trip or shortly after that. This hopefully gives you adequate time to obtain any documents or vaccinations you might need. Plan early to have a worry-free trip. If you expect the unexpected, you’ll be prepared for any problem that you might face during your trip. We’ve had to interrupt our trip in the past and we have seen many medical emergencies while on cruises, so they do happen. The last thing you want when there is an emergency is complications.
Finally, I recommend that all my clients purchase travel insurance. You may think you are healthy and nothing will happen; the weather may be perfect and not prevent you from arriving on time to your destination; you may not lose your job right after you book your trip; and you will also win the largest jackpot in history next week. Well, maybe the last one is stretching things.
Read more about our exclusive CruiseAssurance program.