Homeland Security’s new border crossing rules to take effect June 1, 2009

You have another 14 months to prepare for the Department of Homeland Security’s tightened border identification requirements. The new requirements will officially take effect June 1, 2009. At that time, US citizens will need to present documents that work as both identification and proof of citizenship.

The identification policy is the final step in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which changes the document requirements for travelers who were at one time exempt. Simply put, if you are traveling to and from the United States by land or sea — you always need a passport when traveling by air — you can do so with a passport, WHTI-compliant documents, or a government issued id like a driver’s license, along with a proof of citizenship like a birth certificate. But come June 1, 2009, you will be expected to have a passport or WHTI-compliant card.

Residents of border states will have the advantage of specialized travel cards — like Washington State’s Enhanced ID — that will allow them to cross the border without a passport.

But if you’re not a resident of one of these states, what’s the best thing you can do? You are being told 14 months in advance, so apply for that passport early and avoid the last minute rush of travelers that will all be wanting their passports come May 2009.