CruiseMates Newsletter

Yet Another Passport Law Update
by Paul Motter

CruiseMates has discovered an error in the information given on the Department of Homeland Security Web site. Unfortunately, we published the same misinformation in a recent article, and we will be fixing that right away.

The United States is currently in a transition phase leading up to permanent changes in the passport requirements for U.S, citizens leaving and re-entering the United States. These laws, which affect cruises to Mexico, through Canada and most of the Caribbean and will be enacted by June 1, 2009. They are known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, or WHTI.

Right now, as reported in this article about passport requirements, during the current transition to the WHTI, cruisers to the regions listed above can use the "two-document option" to re-enter the U.S. at a sea port. This includes a certified birth certificate and a valid state ID (such as a driver's license) from any U.S. state.

But after the WHTI becomes law in June, 2009, all cruisers will be required to have valid passports to re-enter the United States after a cruise within the Western Hemisphere. We were relying on the WHTI FAQ, a document available online (there is a link to it in the article cited above), but it turns out the FAQ is incorrect. The only exception to the need for a passport will be new ID cards options just now becoming available considered to be the equivalent of passports. These include the Enhanced Drivers License (EDL) currently offered by only a few border states such Washington State. Another option is the Passport Card, a credit card-sized ID card which is good for land and sea crossings, but not for air travel.

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Needless to say, we were chagrined to discover this reporting error, but not as much as the Department of Homeland Security who published the mistake on their Web site. To be specific, the WHTI Final Rule FAQ, page 6, says this:

How will the final WHTI requirements affect passengers going on cruises?
U.S. citizens on closed-loop cruises (cruises that begin and end at the same port in the U.S.) will be able to enter or depart the country with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and government-issued photo ID. A U.S. citizen under the age of 16 will be able to present either an original or a copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by DOS, or a Certificate of Naturalization issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The first sentence is incorrect. All adults will be required to show passports or the equivalent when re-entering the country. What is known as the "two-document option" which is currently in force during the transition to WHTI, will no longer apply. Only the part about minors under 16 is correct.

We discovered this error while talking directly with staff members of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol at a conference sponsored by the Travel Indstry of America.

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