Passport Rules Changing

Making my way to Canada this year to spend a week in the gloriously beautiful Canadian province of Newfoundland, I discovered a nasty little surprise. My wife and I got to the airport and discovered that Newfoundland requires Americans traveling there to bring a passport or birth certificate to enter by air from the United States. I had no idea. For years living in Seattle I came and went to Canada and needed only to show my drivers’ license. I was pretty damn upset because no one told us that the rules had changed, and so we had to go back and get our passports and needless to say, we missed our plane.

Well my hardies, the rules HAVE changed, although they have not taken effect Canada-wide quite yet, and when they do take effect, they will cover Mexico as well. Yes, visitors to the NAFTA states North and South will soon have to bring along passports to cross the country’s borders…well, the key is really getting back in. The rules take effect December 31 for air travelers to and from the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada.

A year later, on Dec. 31, 2007, the requirement will be extended to all land-based border crossings as well.

Now, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing.

It’s certainly a bad thing in that it makes going to Mexico and Canada a bigger pain in the buttocks. I keep my passport in a safe, locked place in my home, and I am just not sure that if I decide suddenly to take a road trip to Montreal that I’m going to remember it. I suppose I’ll have to. It may also be bad in that it might discourage Americans who want to travel “abroad” from going because they either a) don’t have passports or b) forgot them.

But perhaps we should look on the bright side. Maybe the new rules will inspire people who don’t yet have a passport to go out and get one. Given the rather awful statistics that say only 20 percent of Americans carry a passport (thus speaking loudly and clearly to our deficiencies as an internationally-aware, culturally sensitive nation) putting them in more Americans’ hands could very possibly help improve our awareness of those “others”, AKA foreigners, on the other side of the border.

By the way, Lonely Planet has been pushing this whole idea for a whle, and ,in fact, THIS is National Passport Month. So how’s that for good timing?