New passport laws go into effect today

J. H. Osborne • Jan 22, 2007 at 11:36 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - New travel rules in place today mean you'll need a passport to re-enter the United States from neighboring countries.

U.S. citizens have in the past been able to visit Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean without showing a passport when they came home. Another form of identification, a driver's license for example, would suffice.

No more, if you arrive back in the United States by air.

Now a passport is required. And that requirement will expand to include all modes of travel in coming months.

"Basically this is for any airline travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Anyone flying there will have to have one," said Don Lindsey of AAA East Tennessee.

Those areas are popular destinations for many Northeast Tennessee residents, Lindsey said.

"This is going to affect a good many folks there as well as everywhere else," Lindsey said. "This has been coming for quite some time, though, so a lot of people have been getting prepared."

The passport will be required by next year this time for travelers on cruise ships, Lindsey said.

The basic cost to get a passport is $97 - but can run closer to $200 if you choose to "expedite" delivery.

Lindsey said that cost doesn't seem to have much impact on individuals planning trips, but it can come as an expensive surprise to families or other groups.

"The good thing is it lasts for 10 years, and it's about the most secure form of identification you can have," Lindsey said. "At $10 per year, it's not a bad deal."

If you apply for a passport today in Sullivan County, it'll probably be eight weeks or so before your new passport arrives at your home, said a county employee who helps get the applications on their way to the federal government.

"We've done passports like crazy lately," said Teresa Necessary, deputy clerk in the Sullivan County Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Blountville.

Satellite offices in Kingsport and Bristol also have been busier in the past few months.

The increase began around the middle of 2006, Necessary said, and really picked up around Jan. 1.

Lindsey said AAA has noted the same trend across the region.

"Everybody's working it out one way or the other," Lindsey said. "They're either finding a way to get it or postponing their trip until they get it."

If it's your first time getting a passport, or if your old passport is no longer valid, you'll have to go in person to one of about 9,000 locations set up nationwide to take your information - like Sullivan County's Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Blountville, or Law Court Clerk's offices in Kingsport and Bristol.

The Blountville location has been processing five to 10 applications per day since Jan. 1, Necessary said.

You'll need to bring:

• A $67 check or money order to be sent to the federal government, and $30 in cash, check or money order for the local processing fee.

• Two passport photos.

• An official birth certificate - with either an embossed seal or a watermark, depending on the state - or record of naturalization.

• A driver's license.

• Children under 14 must be accompanied by both parents. Children between 14 years old and 18 years old must be accompanied by at least one parent.

• For children 14 and under, the fee to the federal government is $52, not $67. The local processing fee is $30.

• You can apply for a passport anywhere, not just the county in which you reside. Southwest Virginia residents, for example, can submit applications in Sullivan County - or Sullivan County residents can submit applications in Hawkins County, and so on.

For a complete list of locations visit www.iafdb.travel.state.gov.

The Departments of State and Homeland Security announced late last year that the requirement for citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere would become effective today.

The requirement is the result of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission, according to the Department of State's Web site.

In fiscal year 2006, the department issued a record 12.1 million passports to American citizens, according to the Web site, and anticipates issuing 16 million passports in fiscal year 2007.

U.S. citizens can find information about how to apply for a passport at travel.state.gov or by calling 1-877-487-2778.

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