You Don’t Need A Passport To Cross The Border, Exactly

I have carefully studied the details of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (also known as WHTI, which must mean something dirty in instant messaging) to determine decisively the answer to the question on everyone’s mind. To whit: “Do I need a passport to get back into the United States?”

The answer is: not always, exactly.

You still need a passport if you travel by air. If you’re an adult crossing by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda you can manage without a passport but you’ll need at least one of a few different new forms of identification. A driver’s license and/or birth certificate will no longer do the trick for anyone over the age of 16, except in the case of a “closed-loop” cruise, and seriously, it would be easier to get a passport than to figure that one out.

I think every American should have a passport. But if you don’t want one, here are your alternatives for those land and sea entries:

– A passport card, which costs half what a passport does but isn’t accepted for air travel. Apply with the Department of State.

– An enhanced driver’s license, available at this time only in Washington state, Vermont, New York, and Michigan.

– Documents from one of the government’s Trusted Traveler programs, which allow speedier border crossings for vetted travelers.

Failure to produce the appropriate documents will not result in permanent banishment to a dusty (or frozen) border town. But you’ll probably spend a little more time with the Customs and Border Patrol than either you or they would like before you’re allowed to head on home.

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