Do you have your passport? Better get it now.

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By Kay Helbling

Those of us on the west coast are so comfortable with the ease of travel up to Canada or even down to Mexico. We simply grab our driver’s license or maybe a Voter’s Registration Card, jump in our car, and off we go. And that’s the way it’s been, up until June 1 that is.

If you want to drive or ferry across the border to visit those beautiful Canadian gardens or enjoy one of those $400/week cruises through Vancouver, B.C. to Alaska, you’ll need to get prepared now. As of June 1, 2009, the U.S. government will be enforcing the full requirements of the land and sea phase of WHTI.

When folks figure out these requirements are in full effect there could be a 6 week to 2 month backlog in getting passports issued or renewed. Your OregonReporters don’t want that to happen to you.

WHTI rules were established as a part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to strengthen the security of our borders. It has taken five years for the full requirements to take effect. One of the last requirements to phase in was the stringent document requirements for anyone re-entering the U.S. by land or sea from foreign soil, which does mean Canada and Mexico.

You must now have a passport, passport card, or other travel documents approved the DHS, and believe me the “other” no longer means the quick and easy documents of years past. Here’s what your other options are:

The Passport Card, which may be a quicker fix, but it is only valid for land and sea crossing to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean region, and Bermuda. It is not a substitute for air travel or travel to other foreign countries.

The Trusted Traveler Card can speed your entry into the U.S. but are issued only to pre-approved, low risk travelers with a NEXUS, SENTRI, or FAST card. Again it is only good for land and sea travel, except with the NEXUS card in airports with a NEXUS kiosk.

The State Issued Enhanced Driver’s License provides special identification documentation on your driver’s license, but they are only available in some states and Canadian provinces. Again, only applies to land and sea travel.

As you can see, the “other” options clearly do not provide you the comprehensive land, sea and air travel flexibility you may want or need. Give yourself the time to get your passport renewed and you’ll be good to go, wherever and whenever the summer travel bug hits you.

One last word of caution. The WHTI document requirements deal with entry or re-entry into the United States. You should always check the entry requirements into other countries that you may plan to visit.

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband.