U.S. travelers required to carry passports

The new regulations, in place today, will apply to flyers as well as cruisers.

Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 11:13 p.m.

As prices on travel packages go down, security regulations continue to go up.

Beginning today, American travelers entering the U.S. by land, air or sea from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean are required to carry a U.S. passport.

"The basic, number one rule is that everyone should get a passport," said Vince Gargiulo, owner of Cruise Planners, a Gainesville travel agency. "That would be the safest way to travel."

The new regulations also will apply to cruisers, with an exception for "closed loop cruises," which travel within the Western Hemisphere and depart from and return to the same port.

Although closed loop cruisers are not required to have a passport to travel, Gargiulo still recommends that everyone get a passport as soon as possible.

If someone on a cruise fell ill and needed to return to the U.S., they would not be able to.

"It's an easy way to travel," Gargiulo said. "It's easier than having all these documents with you - like your birth certificate."

Travelers also have the option of obtaining a passport card, a cheaper, wallet-size card that can be used to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean at land and sea border crossings.

The passport card cannot be used for international air travel.

"Traveling internationally, you have to have (a passport)," said Bob Todd, owner of World Class Travel, a Gainesville travel agency specializing in international travel.

"You can't even fly to Mexico without a passport anymore."

Passports take about four to six weeks to obtain, so Todd advises anyone planning to travel this summer to get one as soon as possible.

"The passport office is a bit overwhelmed right now, so if you need one quick you better go ahead and pay the expedite fee," Todd said.

Todd said that security has tightened for domestic travel as well.

Airlines now require a passenger's full name be printed on their tickets and, beginning in August, the date of birth also will be required.

For international travel, passengers will need to give their date of birth and passport number in advance.

"Airlines are basically going to pre-screen their passengers," Todd said. "It's all steps in the right direction for increasing security."

But while security goes up, the price to travel is moving downward.

Todd said the poor economy has led to less travel and is fueling the drop in prices.

"When they're not filling up the planes, that's when the prices go down," Todd said.

"There are a lot of bargains - it's amazing. And there are more and more every day," he said.

Gargiulo said he has also seen drastic price cuts, with many cruise lines giving upgrades and cash back as incentives to travel.

"Now is the time to travel," Gargiulo said. "I would just say look around and see what you can find. There are a lot of great deals out there."

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