Avoiding passport headaches

Monday, June 8, 2009

We've all had the nightmares when it comes to traveling: missed or canceled flights, hotel rooms not as advertised, lost identification. These random events can ruin an entire vacation. Thankfully, there are some travel headaches for which you can prepare.

As I have said many times before, I always encourage Nebraska as a travel destination. Those planning an international vacation, however, should take note of new regulations which have recently taken effect.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) was passed by Congress as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The goal of the WHTI is to facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors while strengthening U.S. border security.

The standard documents required for international travel are designed to enable the Department of Homeland Security to quickly and reliably identify a traveler.

The first of these requirements took effect in June, 2007, and required all citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to present a valid passport when entering the United States via any airport.

As a result of a new law combined with a busier than expected summer travel season 2007 summer travel plans quickly overwhelmed government offices with passport applications, which led to longer than expected processing times for passports, and in turn rightfully frustrated travelers.

Though those delays were eventually dealt with and last summer was relatively smooth, a series of new rules and regulations have been implemented which could seriously impact your vacation plans. Recently, the next stage of WHTI was enacted - mandating even stricter requirements for all travelers, including American citizens - entering or re-entering our country. Again, these requirements/rules are intended to safeguard our borders against unwanted and illegal visitors.

Earlier this month the U.S. government fully implemented the land and sea phase of WHTI. From now on, all U.S. citizens - including children - entering the United States at sea or land ports of entry must either have a passport, passport card, U.S. Military Identification with military travel orders, or other WHTI-compliant documents.

Many of these documents are already available, and obtaining one as soon as possible will ensure you are ready for international travel.

New regulations previously enacted caused major delays for Nebraskans planning overseas travel. While I hope history will not repeat itself, some travelers have already experienced problems.

For more information about international travel to and from the United States, please contact my Grand Island office at (308) 384-3900 or visit www.travel.state.gov, www.getyouhome.gov or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.

Of special note: groups of U.S. citizen children ages 16 through 18, when traveling with a school or religious group, social organization, or sports team will be able to enter under adult supervision with originals or copies of their birth certificates or other proof of citizenship.

I encourage everyone planning an international trip to plan as far in advance as possible to ensure you have the proper documents. Even if you do not have plans set, obtaining a valid passport is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure any last minute or unexpected travels are not disrupted.

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