People Do Weird Things With Their Passports

J Aaron Farr, Flickr

British travelers have been seeking replacements for damaged passports at a staggering rate, but the reasons why might defy logic.

According to the British Government, claims for emergency travel documents jumped 300 percent last year. As you might expect, some of those involved cases of IDs that had been lost or pick pocketed while traveling. But not everyone was a victim of crime — many travelers destroyed their passports as a result of reckless behavior. Storing their document in the freezer or using their passport as a coaster for their beer were two of the stranger reasons cited.

Getting a replacement passport can cost both time and money, especially if you have to cancel your flights while you wait. But some travelers are unfazed by the situation and have managed to find creative ways around the problem.In one instance, a British man had his passport tattooed onto his back during a backpacking trip to Australia. Surprisingly, the skin art was actually accepted as ID. Upon running out of money, the man managed to withdraw cash from an Aussie bank after removing his shirt to flash the teller his unusual passport.

Meanwhile, a Canadian man got into the United States using just an ipad. He had traveled several hours from his hometown of Montreal and only realized he had forgotten his passport as he neared the U.S. border. Taking a chance, he whipped out his ipad which held a scanned copy of his passport and amazingly, the official let him through.

And then there was the 9-year-old British girl who managed to pass through Turkish immigration after accidentally handing over a fake passport that belonged to her stuffed unicorn. Oblivious officials even stamped the toy passport as they waved her into the country.

Get an ISIC card – International travel tip

If you’re a full-time student, teacher or under age 26, there’s a bevy of discounts — museums, food, transportation and more — available to you overseas if you get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) or International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC).

The ID cards generally cost about $20 and pay for themselves within a week’s worth of travel, even quicker if you’re savvy about using the discount finder.

[Photo: Flickr | Ken_Mayer]

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.

Your driver’s license may not work for airport security check. Get ready for REAL ID

If you thought getting an American passport renewed this last year was a pain, be glad you have one if you do. You’ll be covered for getting past airport security if new regulations from Homeland Security go into effect this spring. The rules were just “unveiled.” If you only have your regular state issued run-of-the-mill driver’s license, it may be just too bad for you if your state doesn’t have a plan to comply to the REAL ID program. In this case, there may problems for that non-compliant state’s residents for passing through an airline security check this May. Or, the government may be bluffing.

In the continuing quest to foil terrorists, the idea is that states need to incorporate the REAL ID program into their mix of valid identification requirements. The REAL ID is a drivers’ license that is obtained through a process designed to ensure that we are who we say we are and not terrorists.

Hmm, when I look at my drivers license, there I am. Maybe there could be a statement under our pictures on our REAL IDs that say, “I promise that the person in the photograph is really really really me and I promise I am not a terrorist in disguise.”

As far as I can tell, if you were born before December 1, 1964, you have until 2017 to get a REAL ID. But, if you were born after this, you only have six years. The thing is, not all states are interested in this program so they may not apply for the waiver and therefore, you may have problems getting the REAL ID when the time comes. If you can’t get a REAL ID you could get a passport, or you could get a special federal border pass. I don’t think these federal border passes exist, but they could be used to go across the border to Mexico, for example.

The reason for this brouhaha and proposed $3.9 billion cost is that the terrorists involved in September 11, had an impressive array of fake ids and fake documents between them. There were 350 aliases. An off-shoot of this is that identity theft might be harder–or it could be easier.

Just to reiterate, people don’t have to get the REAL ID this year. THE PLAN IS IN THE WORKS, but from what I understand, states have to have a plan. Ohio, for example, has plans to start the stricter screening for a license in 2010. The regulations look a lot like the old regulations, but perhaps there are some extra layers I’m missing.

The photograph, by the way is of fake ids on a wall of Wet Willies in Savannah, Georgia. Thanks, Germany Jay for the pic. Maybe the government does have a point? I wonder if perhaps there is a name branding problem. What if the ids were called Elite IDs? Or Turbo IDs? Premier IDs? Platinum IDs? Something that doesn’t have a name that implies that the ids states are already passing out are fake. When I hear REAL IDS, it just sounds bogus to me. Maybe it’s just me.

For info about the states that have a beef right now with the government over this plan, read the AP article. It also gives more details.