Crossing borders with new entry requirements

Planning a trip across the border? What you need to know about new entry requirements coming into effect in 2008.

Puzzled by new entry requirements for Canada and the United States? You’re not alone. Changes to the rules governing what documents you need to get in and out of the country have caused a lot of confusion and congestion during 2007. Whether you’re planning a winter getaway, travelling for the holidays or indulging in a day of cross-border shopping, here’s what you will need to know to get in.

What is the WHTI and why all the fuss?
If you haven’t already heard of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), it’s the U.S. law that requires travellers to have a secure document (i.e. a passport, NEXUS card, etc.) to enter the United States. The initiative is the result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission to improve border security. It was written into law as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The Canadian government has been working with the U.S. to improve border security practices.

The first phase of the WHTI came into effect on January 23, 2007. As of this date, all travellers must have a passport, NEXUS card, or WHTI-compliant document to enter the U.S. by air (including U.S. travellers re-entering the country). This rule includes travel to U.S. Territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and even affects travellers transiting the U.S. on their way to another destination (such as a cruise or stop-over).

The changes caused a lot of confusion, and the influx of passport applications raised passport processing times on both sides of the border. Passport Canada experienced a sharp increase in the volume of passport applications, and in the U.S. the delays became so disruptive that the Department of State was forced to temporarily relax travel restrictions for its citizens until it could deal with the backlog. Travellers experienced a lot of unnecessary hassle, and many simply chose to stay home or postpone vacations.

The governments have since improved services at passport application centres ahead of the implementation of the second phase: Land and Sea Travel.

Where do things stand for Land and Sea Travel?
Currently, most travellers only require a driver’s license (or other government-issued photo I.D.) or a birth certificate, though customs officers don’t always request to see them. Verbal declarations of citizenship are still accepted, but travellers should carry proof just in case.

However, stricter requirements for Land and Sea entry will come into affect on January 31, 2008 – but don’t panic about getting a passport just yet. This date is when border patrol will stop accepting verbal declarations of citizenship and start asking you for documentation. Government-issued photo I.D. (such as a drivers’ license) and a birth certificate will suffice for most travellers. Unlike current requirements, you will be asked to produce both documents, not just one.

When will a passport be required for Land and Sea? The Canadian government is pushing for a 2009 start, but it’s up to the U.S. government to determine the date. The U.S. Mission in Canada warns that by end of Summer 2008, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials will require a WHTI-compliant document for Land and Sea entry. The U.S. Homeland Security website notes that 60 days notice will be given before new legislation comes into effect to allow people time to obtain required documentation.