Fairmont The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac overlooks Quebec City. Americans will soon need a passport to visit this and other Canadian cites. (Photo courtesy of Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac)

Planning a ski trip to the Canada or a spring break trip to Mexico? You’ll soon need a US passport to travel to these destinations that currently only require a driver’s license or birth certificate.

As of January 8, 2007, Americans will need a passport for all air and sea travel with Mexico and Canada. And by December 31, 2007, a passport will be required for land crossings from the US to Canada and Mexico. The US Department of State already requires American citizens to carry a passport to travel to and from the Caribbean and Bermuda.

So if you’re one of the 75 percent of American travelers who don’t hold a passport, go in person to one of 7,000 post offices, public libraries and government offices that accept passport applications (see list at iafdb.travel.state.gov).

Bring two passport-size photographs, proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a certified birth certificate, and a valid form of photo identification, like a driver’s license. A new passport takes six weeks and costs $97. Need it faster? Two week Expedited Service is $60 extra.

And if that’s not speedy enough, there are independent companies that specialize in getting a passport even faster than the Department of State can promise. But for a fee, of course. These companies can be found at the National Association of Passport and Visa Services (www.napvs.org) .

The speediest these companies seem to be able to deliver the goods is one to three business days. For example, Passportsandvisas.com (5775 Blue Lagoon Drive, Suite 100, Miami, FL 33126; -800-860-8610 ) charges $59 for seven to 10 day service, $89 for four to six days, $129 for two to three days and $149 for one day service. These charges are on top of US government fees. And FedEx charges are extra.

And on August 14, 2006, the US State Department began issuing e-passports, electronic passports that come with a computer chip embedded in the back cover. The data found on the inside of your passport is contained here, as is a digital photograph. a biometric identifier in the form of a digital image of the passport photograph, which will facilitate the use of face recognition technology at ports-of-entry. From a travelers perspective, the promise is a faster transition through immigration. The reality may be different, however, as airports struggle to keep pace with the new technology.

For more information, contact the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, at 877-487-2778 or www.travel.state.gov.

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