New passport rules to go into effect next year |

New passport rules to go into effect next year

Susan Wood
Travel agents say now is the time to get prepared for new passport rules that go into effect next year.

Come Jan. 8, U.S. tourists traveling to and from Mexico, Canada and Bermuda will find they need to plan more than packing the swimsuit and French accent.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is requiring travelers to pack a passport to countries that once had no means of record keeping. The deadline date announced in August was postponed a week.

The upcoming rules are causing a backlog of passport requests – especially since one office was destroyed in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.

Passports used to be issued in three to five weeks. Now, they’re received in six to eight weeks, according to the El Dorado County Recorder-Clerk’s office. The county office in Placerville has processed 595 requests between July 1 and Sept. 22 to the San Francisco passport office, with that number expected to rise.

The heightened rules spawned from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 caught the attention of Emerald Travel agents, who realize most people don’t plan ahead as far in advance to travel to Mexico like they do a European destination.

“It’s a spur-of-the-moment thing usually. They just want to go some place warm,” Emerald Travel agent Jane Starkey said. Tahoe’s long, back-to-back winters contribute to the desire.

Starkey added about half her clientele travels to Mexico, a quarter take a cruise and 5 percent visit Canada.

“This is huge to our Hispanic population,” Starkey said.

The rules for the upcoming year apply to air and ship travel. But by New Year’s Day in 2008, the passport restrictions will also be enforced on land border travel in and out of the United States.

Starkey’s cohort Dianne Rees said she’s concerned because she believes few know about the new passport requirements.

Sure enough. Mercedes Ruiz, who works at the Family Resource Center in South Lake Tahoe, said she was unaware of the upcoming restrictions and is planning a trip to Mexico in January.

“A lot of people don’t know,” she said.

Alisen Heinen of Cruisescape Travel in Minden said her office has made a point of informing its clients of the changing rules.

“Most people book (cruises) so far in advance, they’re fine. But if they (try to) book in less than 10 working days, then we discourage it,” Heinen said.

Otherwise, expediting a passport can cost an additional $60. The fee doubles the rate to order a passport.

Information on federal regulations can be obtained at

Travel restrictions

Passports needed for Mexico and Canadian air and ship travel

Jan. 8

Land border travel: Jan. 1, 2008

Information: or

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