Returning from Canada gets tougher June 1
As of June 1, you'd better pack a U.S. passport or passport card if you're planning a trip to Canada.
The new border rules originally had been scheduled to take effect in January 2008, but they were delayed to give people more time to come into compliance.
Don't count on a second reprieve.
"We expect full implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative to occur June 1. It's not going to be delayed again," said Joanne Ferreira, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Anyone who has travel plans to Canada in the early part of June and who hasn't already applied for proper documentation could face problems. Obtaining a passport currently requires four to six weeks of lead time. Expedited service is available for a charge, but even this option currently takes two to three weeks.
"The biggest issue is with people making short-term bookings. You won't be able to do that anymore without a passport," said Gerry Cariou, executive director of the Northwest Ontario Sunset Country Travel Association.
While he anticipates some short-term travel hiccups, Cariou said, "We don't expect any significant long-term impact."
Cariou and others in the Canadian tourism market have a lot riding on Minnesotans clearing the border with minimum difficulty.
"Any time you put up a barrier to travel, that's a concern," said Cariou. "Minnesota is our No. 1 source of tourists, so obviously we want a very smooth-operating system."
A U.S. passport costs $100, is good for 10 years and allows the bearer to travel by land, water or air.
The newly created passport card costs $45 and remains valid for 10 years, but is good only for ground travel.
Some states also are set up to issue special chip-embedded driver's licenses that can be used to cross the Canadian border. Minnesota does not yet offer this option, but a bill introduced by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, would make such a license available to residents in the future at an additional charge of $15.
Ferreira said four states currently offer these enhanced licenses: Michigan, Washington, New York and Vermont.
Patrizia Giolti, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Border Service Agency, said U.S. citizens will not be turned back at the Canadian border for lack of passports or passport cards as long as they can produce other sufficient forms of identification.
"Our policy has not changed," Giolti said. "A passport is still the best tool, but we do look at other forms of ID, too."
The harder part could be for U.S. citizens lacking proper passport or passport cards to return home from Canada.
Ferreira said American border agents will try to be "flexible." She said Americans trying to re-enter their home country without proper documents will not be turned away as long as their citizenship can be confirmed. But delays should be anticipated in such cases as agents work to verify citizenship.
Lisa Sticca, chairwoman of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said she used to see more U.S. license plates in Thunder Bay parking lots. "We used to have lots of people coming up to enjoy the outdoors, to go fishing or to go shopping," she said. "We don't see that happening as much any more."
But Sticca doubts border issues are to blame for decreased tourism activity from the U.S. She suspects the economy has played a larger role.
On the Web: www.getyouhome.gov.