As of January 23, 2007 an official passport will be required of all United States citizens who are traveling out of or returning back to the United States by air. Previously citizens were able to go back and forth to Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Bermuda by simply applying for a visa. The changes are due to the increased risk and fear of terrorism and other acts of violence throughout the world directed at the United States.
The United States Department of Homeland Security is now considering issuing a card to U.S. citizens that contains a radio frequency chip. This chip, inserted in a card known as the PASS card, can be read from distances up to approximately 30 feet away. Its purpose is to alleviate the delays and confusion when travelers re-enter the United States after visiting Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean. This would save time and money for those who do not wish to obtain a passport because they do not intend on traveling to any other countries. The United States State Department would be in charge of issuing this card if the government decides to make this an option. The PASS card would be required by June of 2009 and would only apply to travel by car or ship, and not to those traveling by air.
These changes in the law have caused much confusion at post offices across the United States, where people have routinely applied for passports in the past. Many post offices have extended the hours available to those who need to file their applications or even set up additional stations in the lobby or in front of the post office to serve the long lines of people waiting to apply or just to ask questions.
Check with your local post office to see what documents you will need. The requirements are different for those renewing a passport from those applying for the first time. More people tend to apply for passports as we get closer to the summer, so allow extra time if you have plans to travel by a specific date.
It may be a good idea for all U.S. citizens to have a passport. People from many countries around the world consider a passport to be a necessary and expected form of identification. As our world continues to change we must be flexible and open to new ideas. Carrying a passport as well as a driver’s license may become part of this new global economy.