DO travelers need a passport? Ask a simple question, get a complex answer.
If you're reentering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico by plane or ship, you will need a passport.
If you're coming by land, you won't. You'll need something else.
That's the latest from the Department of Homeland Security, which last week announced a new, less costly security ID for land crossings.
The People Access Security Service card, still under development by Homeland Security and the State Department, is expected to ease land border crossings to and from Canada and Mexico, and will be cheaper than a passport.
The card "will be particularly useful for those citizens in border communities who regularly cross northern and southern borders every day," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week.
Chertoff described the card as "essentially like the kind of driver's license or other simple card identification that almost all of us carry in our wallets."
Details on obtaining the new ID card had not been released as of the Travel section's deadline Tuesday.
The card, which the State Department hopes will be ready by the end of this year, is part of stricter border security measures mandated under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
The act requires that by Jan. 1, 2008, all Americans use a passport or other form of secure ID to reenter the U.S.
Under a State Department plan, by 2007, some Americans will not be able to use a driver's license or birth certificate to reenter the U.S.; if they are traveling by air or sea they will need a passport.
Chertoff also said that by 2007, the U.S. would "transition exclusively to e-passports" containing biometric information. Late last year, the U.S. began rolling out electronic passports, which contain machine-readable computer chips embedded on the back page.
The chip contains the same data as on the photo page — a digital photo, name, date and place of birth, nationality — plus security and anti-fraud features, the State Department said.
Now's the time
IF you don't have a passport yet, "Start the application process early," advises Laura Tischler, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, because the State Department is expecting to handle more applications this year.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 31, 2005, the department processed more than 10 million passports. That number is expected to increase by 2 million this year, Tischler says.
Passport offices usually get the most applications from January to July, and processing a new application takes about six weeks.
See the State Department website, http://www.travel.state.gov , for a list of acceptable documentation and other requirements. Click on "Passports."
For people 16 and older, obtaining a new passport costs $97, including a passport fee of $55, an execution fee of $30 and a $12 security fee. Passports usually are valid for 10 years.
For people younger than 16, the total is $82, which includes a passport fee of $40 and $42 in security and execution fees. A renewal is cheaper: $67, including a $55 passport fee and $12 security fee. Most renewals can be handled through the mail.
There are about 7,000 places that accept passport applications in the U.S., including some courts, public libraries, post offices, county offices and municipal offices. There also are 13 regional passport offices, which can handle expedited passport requests.
If you need a passport quickly — if you're traveling within 14 days or need one within two weeks in order to apply for a visa — make an appointment by calling the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778.
The L.A. Passport Agency is in West L.A. at the Federal Building, 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000, Los Angeles, CA 90024-3602. Expedited service costs $60 extra per application.
Passport agencies will no longer amend passports, and if you need to request a name change or correct an error, you'll have to apply for a replacement. Requests for additional visa pages are still allowed.
A new passport agency in Aurora, Colo., opened last year, giving Midwest and West Coast residents an optional center if they need a passport in a hurry. The New Orleans office reopened with limited hours last month.
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How to get an application going
You will need to apply in person if:
You are getting your first passport.
You do not have your expired passport.
Your passport has expired and was issued more than 15 years ago.
Your passport was issued when you were younger than 16.
Your passport has been lost or stolen.
Your passport has been changed or damaged.
Most renewals can be handled through the mail.
If you need a passport within two weeks, make an appointment by calling the National Passport Information Center at (877) 487-2778, or see http://www.travel.state.gov . Click on "Passports." You can also download applications or check on the status of an application.
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