The U.S. State Department's new rules requiring passports for travel within the Western Hemisphere won't become effective for months, and in some cases years. However, "to avoid a last-minute crunch, we're encouraging people to apply for travel documents as soon as possible," said Daniel Smith, an assistant secretary in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Currently, you need proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate) and a photo ID (such as a driver's license) to re-enter the United States from most of our closest neighbors to the north and south. Under the new rules, as of Dec. 31 you'll need a passport to return from the Caribbean, Bermuda and Panama.
By Dec. 31, 2006, you'll need a passport to re-enter the United States if traveling by air or sea from Mexico or Canada. By the end of 2007, land crossings from Mexico and Canada will also require passports.
The new rules are expected to increase U.S. passport applications from last year's 8.8 million to 17 million.
The biggest mistake people make when applying for a passport? Showing up with a "birth certificate" from a hospital as a proof of citizenship. Those hospital certificates are just souvenirs. Get the real thing from the state in which you were born. Details: (877) 487-2778, www.travel.state.gov.
-- Washington Post