Don't let any more time pass — get your passport
Seattle Times staff columnist
Getting a passport
To find out how to get a passport, see the U.S. State Department's Web site at www.travel.state.gov or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778.
Where: If you're renewing a passport, you can do it by mail, but if you're getting a passport for the first time, you have to apply in person. For a list of post offices and other facilities where passports are processed, type in your ZIP code at www.iafdb.travel.state.gov.
Cost: First-time passports for those 16 and older cost $97, not including photos. For those under 16, the cost is $82. Renewals are $67.
Time: Count on about six weeks processing time. Expedited service is available for an extra fee.
Emergency service: Passports are issued by appointment only at the Seattle Passport Agency in the Henry Jackson Federal Building, 915 Second Ave., Seattle. If you're traveling within two weeks and need emergency service, call 877-487-2778to make an appointment.
Thinking about hopping a seaplane to Victoria, flying to Whistler for some skiing, or signing on for one of those last-minute cruise deals to Mexico or the Caribbean next winter?
Get a passport. You (and your kids, including babies) will need one starting next year. Beginning Jan. 8, passports will be required for U.S. citizens and foreign travelers entering the U.S. from Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico through airports or seaports.
If you're planning to cross the border by car, take a ferry to Canada or go to Victoria aboard the Clipper, relax ... you won't need a passport until 2008, and by then, tourism officials hope to convince the feds to consider some alternative.
As of today, all that's required is to show proof of citizenship — just a birth certificate and photo ID.
Travel-industry officials are pushing to have the passport rules for air and sea travel delayed beyond next January, but no one's holding their breath.
Chances that Congress will go along "are fairly slim," says Cathy Keefe, of the Travel Industry Association, a trade group representing U.S. hotels, cruise lines and tour operators.
"Our biggest concern is the effect on the cruise industry because only about 35-40 percent of passengers have passports."
For Seattleites, the rules will apply to float-plane travel to and from British Columbia; cruises to Alaska that travel via Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.; and weekend cruises between Seattle and B.C.
Pushing for the changes is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which has been charged with beefing up border security since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Keefe says the travel industry supports the idea of everyone having passports, but feels there needs to be more time to get the word out.
Ken Oplinger, CEO of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce, was in Washington, D.C., last week with a business group lobbying legislators to consider exceptions for children.
"A 3-year-old will have to have a passport to board a flight between Seattle and Vancouver," he said. "That doesn't make any sense."
It's also not cheap. Kids' passports cost $82 each, not including photos.
Oplinger co-chairs the BESTT Coalition (Business for Economic Security, Tourism & Trade), a group started by chambers of commerce in border cities, including Detroit and Buffalo, N.Y. Its members succeeded in getting ferry travel exempt for next year, and are pushing Congress to delay the passport requirement for land border crossings until the summer of 2009.
In the meantime, if you're thinking of taking a cruise or flying to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean in 2007, apply for your passport now.
The usual processing time is six weeks, and since only about 23 percent of Americans have passports, demand is high.
The State Department issued 10 million passports last year and expects to issue 13 million this year and 16 million in 2007. Many will be the new electronic versions with a computer chip embedded in the back cover that contains the name, birth date, passport number and photograph.
People other than U.S. citizens, such as permanent legal residents (green-card holders) can continue to cross the borders with their usual documentation.
Parents with children under 14 will want to be aware of special rules. The government requires both parents to apply for a child's passport — to make sure one isn't trying to take the child out of the country. Either both parents must appear, or one can appear with a notarized consent form signed by the other.
And if you're a dad or mom who's behind in your child-support payments, plan on taking your kids on vacation in the U.S. As it stands now, you can't get a passport if you owe more than $5,000. Three million adults fall into that category, and in October the threshold drops to $2,500.
Tourism will take a hit
By 2008, passport officials say those crossing the borders by land may be able to use a new passport card.
The wallet-sized cards would cost around $50, about half the cost of an adult passport, and would be imbedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID) information. But the application process would be the same as for a passport, and there are privacy concerns.
The cards broadcast their information over a 30-foot to 50-foot radius. While that makes it easier for customs and border agents to process travelers and their documents, critics contend that it also makes it easier for thieves with their own electronic scanners to steal information.
Oplinger's group hopes to convince Congress to wait a bit longer and accept a driver's license as ID once the "Real ID" Act takes effect in mid-2008. That law will require states issuing licenses to verify proof of citizenship (or legal resident) status and other information, creating the equivalent of a federally-approved ID card.
Tourism in border states is expected to take a hit as people realize that they will need to plan ahead for what once could be a last-minute decision to go to Canada.
"Our feeling is that if something isn't done to ensure people can easily cross the borders, we're going to see a substantial drop in the number of folks making the trip across to either vacation in Canada or here in the U.S.," Oplinger said.
The effect of the new rules for air travel will be immediate for those who use seaplanes or private aircraft to reach B.C. resorts or fishing camps.
"It's going to virtually kill our tourist trade up here," said Bob Wright, CEO of Oak Bay Marine Group in Victoria.
Oak Bay operates seven resorts in British Columbia that attract 30,000 Americans annually, many of whom fly in by seaplane or small charter. "We look at this with a great deal of doom and gloom."
Craig O'Neill, director of marketing and sales for Seattle's Kenmore Air which carries travelers on seaplanes to Victoria and B.C.'s Gulf Islands, says lots of people make last-minute decisions to fly to British Columbia instead of drive.
"We do anticipate there will be some confused and disappointed passengers come January."
In a country where Keefe says "people from Detroit go to Canada for lunch," Frank Moss, deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services, says Americans will have to adjust to a new reality.
"At the end of the day, going to Canada is going to a different nation."
Carol Pucci's Travel Wise column runs regularly in Sunday Travel. Comments are welcome. Contact her at 206-464-3701 or email@example.com
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