There’s Still Time to Get a Passport before Spring Break

New Rules for the Western Hemisphere

More than 70 million U.S. citizens have valid passports and that number is likely to increase pretty rapidly thanks to the federal government’s new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Since January 23, everyone-including U.S. citizens-must have a valid passport to enter the country through an airport from anywhere that is not a U.S. territory. The exclusion that had spared citizens from Bermuda, Canada, and Mexico no longer applies.

For those Spring Breakers making last minute arrangements to unwind, there is still time to apply for a passport.

“The majority of the travelers we get are aware of the passport laws and have taking the proper steps in getting one ahead of time,” said David Gray, a vacation travel agent for Carroll Travel in D.C.

It takes about six weeks for a passport application to be processed and will cost about $97. Travelers needing a passport immediately can pay an additional $60 to receive their passport in two weeks.

“I don’t mind getting a passport if it will ensure my safety while traveling out of the country,” said 26- year- old Stacie Ambers, who is applying for a passport to go to Jamaica on her honeymoon in June.

A passport is a record that confirms the identity of its holder and is recognized wherever you travel. Applications for a passport, which can only be issued by the U.S. Department of State, can be obtained at courthouses, post offices, county offices, some public libraries and at 13 regional passport agencies.

To apply for a United States passport you must obtain a passport application and present it filled out along with proof of U.S. citizenship, two, two-inch square color photos taken on a plain white background, and current identification cards such as a driver’s license verifying that you are the person on the pictures. For children, a parent or guardian must be present with identification to submit the application.

More than 12.1 million passports were obtained by U.S. citizens in 2006 and by the end of 2007 the estimated number of passports outstanding will possibly be about 16 million.

Chris Rief, 23, who works at a D.C. Ritz camera store, said he has not yet seen any new traffic for passport photos inspired by the new requirement.

“We just do a lot of passports in general, but [there] has not been a recent increase,” Rief said. Generally about 5 to 10 people come in to take passport photos daily, he said.

The passport requirement will be extend to include everyone entering the U.S. by land and sea by January 1, 2008.