Now might be a good time to see when your passport expires. Millions plan to renew in the next few years, and we mean millions more than usual. The potential bottleneck that will ensue will certainly slow down travel, so If you have big vacation plans and need a new passport, do it fast.
In 2007, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative went into effect and the U.S. doubled down on the borders. This meant that people who frequented Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean suddenly found themselves in line for passports like those heading overseas. Long gone were the days when you could drive back and forth through the Canadian border with just your driver’s license. Times have changed.
Despite hiring extra workers and building extra passport agencies, the State Department expects numbers upwards of 17 million. Ben Finan from the Bureau of Consular Affairs told USA Today, “Right now, it will take roughly six weeks for a passport renewal, which is two weeks longer than the process took last year. You can also request an expedited passport, which will take three weeks to process and cost an extra $60 on top of the standard $110 renewal fee.”
On top of the extended renewal times, remember that many countries require a valid passport for at least 6 months past your travel return.
Perhaps this is a good time to review what acceptable forms of documentation are. If you plan to visit just the neighboring countries, a full passport isn’t always needed. Choosing wisely will shorten the time it takes to get what you need. You have the choice of a full passport booklet, a passport card, or a NEXUS card.
A passport card is almost as good as the real deal. It lasts as long (10 years), and is cheaper, but again it’s only valid for Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or other limited neighboring countries. However, the card restricts air travel. If you plan on driving or taking a cruise, you may want to consider this. It also gives you access to a Ready Lane, an expedited border entry. There are other differences, but you can get more information here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/information/card.html
NEXUS cards require a 30-minute interview. Like the ID cards, they expedite border processing, but only between the United States and Canada. It does include air, unlike a passport card. If you feel this is closer to your needs, apply here: http://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/nexus.
Ok so you have that squared away, but depending on if you live in certain areas in the United States you might need additional documentation.
Wheels are in motion to complicate things for Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and Washington. The REAL ID ACT set new standards for identification. Basically it made standard driver’s licenses obsolete for identification entry into federal buildings. Most states have upgraded their licenses to federal standards, except, you guessed it, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, and Washington. Good news though, currently the REAL ID ACT does not include airports…yet. The Department of Homeland Security will eventually require TSA agents to accept only licenses issued under the REAL ID. When? Well no one seems sure, but if you happen to live in the aforementioned states, you may want to consider applying for extra verification. Learn more here: http://www.dhs.gov/real-id-enforcement-brief.
Renew early, even if you don’t travel until 2017, this bottle neck has a good chance of slowing everyone down. Be proactive and research now. It will save you from a lot of hassle later.