Planning on traveling to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Mexico or Canada after June 1, 2009? Then you need to know about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). Starting June 1, 2009, all U.S. citizens must show proof of U.S. citizenship when entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean countries, whether your travels are by air, sea (such as a cruise ship), or land (such as from Canada or Mexico).

What Documents will you need to Show Proof of U.S. citizenship?
The best single form of identification and citizenship is a U.S. passport, which is required for international air travel. For U.S. citizens traveling by sea or land, a U.S. Passport Card or an Enhanced Driver’s License, available in some border states, are also acceptable travel documents.

Although previously U.S. adult citizens could present a driver’s license and a birth certificate as acceptable travel documents, after June 1, 2009 these will no longer be valid for entry back into the United States.

For U.S. citizens under the age of 16, birth certificates will continue to be acceptable for land or sea travel, but a passport will be required for international air travel.

All identification documents must include your name, a photo and your date of birth.

What is the Goal of WHTI?
The WHTI will help facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors into the United States. If you have travelled internationally before, you were probably asked to show your U.S. passport upon re-entering into the United States. For many years, U.S. citizens have not been required to present a passport or identification to enter or re-enter the United States. The WHTI simply assures that all U.S. citizens have valid documentation.

– Fact: The WHTI is a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. It will enable the Department of Homeland Security to identify travelers and help strengthen border security.

Getting a Passport to Comply with WHTI:
If you are travelling to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda in the next three months, it’s best to apply for your passport to comply with WHTI.

If you are applying for your first U.S. passport or are under age 16, you must apply for a U.S. passport in person. You can locate the closet Passport Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency online from the U.S. Department of State’s website. When you apply for your new passport, you will be required to complete Form DS-11, provide additional identity documentation (ex. a birth certificate) and provide your social security number.

If you need to re-apply for a new passport or renew your old passport, you will be required to fill out Form DS-82. You can apply for a new passport by mail or online, and it is often easier to reapply for a passport online. When you apply for a passport online, you do not have to wait for your forms to be sent via mail. Furthermore, you can often track the progress on the processing of your passport online.

Check Current Travel Documents for WHTI Compliance:
Do you need to apply for a new passport? If you already have a passport, make sure it is still valid.

Reasons you may need to Re-new your Passport:
– It was issued more than 15 years ago
– It is damaged
– It was issued when you were under 16 years old
– It does not have your current name (if you were married or changed your name legally)

Once you have determined if you need to apply for a new passport or renew your current passport, fill out the appropriate application ASAP because processing times for such travel documents may be more than a month.

How long does it take to Process an Application?
According to the U.S. Department of State, processing times for passport applications are approximately 4-6 weeks.  

If you already own a valid, up-to-date U.S. passport, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will not affect you. However, if you are making summer plans to visit another country or take a cruise, make sure you have a U.S. passport. With the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative starting on June 1, 2009, U.S. citizens entering or re-entering the United States will be required to provide a U.S. passport or other approved documentation.

Additional information about WHTI passport requirements and WHTI – Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative compliant documents can be found online.