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Rules governing entry to the United States by all travelers  in the Western Hemisphere changed in 2008 and 2009.  See our article for the details.

 

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Travel Advice - New  Travel Document Requirements for  U.S. Citizens Traveling in the Western Hemisphere

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).

Our article examines when you will need a U.S. passport or other official document verifying your citizenship and identity for  travel involving the areas covered by the WHTI. 

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required 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.

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, 2007.

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,  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 will denote both identity and citizenship).

  • U.S. citizen children aged 16 and younger, who have parental consent (a notarized document), are allowed to cross land and sea entry stations with certified copies of their birth certificates in lieu of a valid passport.
  • U.S. citizen children, ages 16 to 18, traveling in official, supervised groups, are 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 affects 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.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative does 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 considering applying for a passport, see our article on the process here.

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