Be sure to pack more ID for Canada trip


Are you planning to drive or take a train, bus, ferry or boat between Washington and British Columbia? Remember that beginning Jan. 31, all U.S. and Canadian citizens must have more identification to cross the international border — and Washington state will issue a new ID-encoded driver’s license to help travelers on their way.

Under a new U.S. law, all travelers, including children, who don’t have passports must show proof of their citizenship at land and sea border crossings — a birth certificate or naturalization certificate — to re-enter the United States from Canada. Passports already are required for air travel.

Additionally, travelers 19 and older also must show government-issued photo ID such as a driver’s license. Such photo ID is not required for children 18 and younger; they can travel by land and sea with just a birth certificate for now.

“If you don’t have these documents [for land/sea travel], it’s going to slow down your border clearance,” said Mike Milne, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Seattle.

“We won’t take verbal declarations of citizenship any more. You’ll have to go into a secondary-clearance area and be asked more questions. Ultimately, a U.S. citizen will get back into the United States, but it will certainly slow down the process,” said Milne.

For decades, a simple verbal declaration or driver’s license was all that was needed to drive across the U.S.-Canada border for U.S. and Canadian citizens (citizens of other countries have always had to show more documentation or proof of legal residency in the U.S.). But the U.S. has been tightening border security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks through what’s called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which regulates travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico and Bermuda.

For entering the U.S. from those countries, a passport already is required for air travel and will be required for land/sea border crossings likely beginning in June 2009; the birth-certificate/photo-ID requirement that begins Jan. 31 is just an interim step. Passports were due to be required for all cross-border travel starting in June, including by land and sea, but that has been delayed a year after congressional and industry protests. That was spurred by the months-long delays last year in issuing passports, which snarled many Americans’ travel plans, after the air-travel passport requirement kicked in.

Washington’s alternative

Many Americans already have a passport since it’s the most secure and standardized travel document and is required for most international travel.

But for those whose travel will be limited, Washington state is offering alternative ID in what’s called the enhanced driver’s license.

Approved and developed with federal authorities, the license can take the place of a passport (or the birth certificate/photo ID requirement) for land and sea travel to Canada — for example a driving trip or ferry to British Columbia — and other Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative countries. It won’t be valid for air travel. On Jan. 22, state residents can start applying for the enhanced driver’s license, which includes a radio-frequency identity tag (like that within new U.S. passports) and machine-readable information. The new license — which is voluntary — will serve both as proof of identity and U.S. citizenship at border crossings, as well as being a standard driving license.

Washington is the first state in the country to issue such licenses; it will cost $15 more than a traditional driver’s license. Applicants must phone (beginning Jan. 22) to set up an appointment for a personal interview, and provide documents that confirm their U.S. citizenship, Washington residence and their identity.

Other states — Vermont, New York and Arizona — plus British Columbia are hoping to introduce similar enhanced licenses that would be an alternative to passports (for land/sea travel), said Washington Department of Licensing spokeswoman Gigi Zenk. Gov. Christine Gregoire, a supporter of the program, will be the first to be issued a Washington enhanced driver’s license, said Zenk.

The Washington program is voluntary; travelers can get the enhanced version when they renew their license or can upgrade to it when or before their standard license expires.

“It’s much less expensive. And the biggest benefits are the ease of travel and convenience — you don’t have to have a passport or get your passport out of the safety-deposit box,” said Zenk.

It’s unclear how long it will take to get an enhanced license; Department of Licensing staff have been specially trained, but it’s first-come, first-served and could take weeks. But it is cheaper: A new U.S. passport for an adult costs $97; a first-time, adult Washington driver’s license costs $45 plus $15 for the enhanced version. For adult renewals, a passport costs $67; a driver’s license renewal is $25 plus the $15 fee for the ID-enhanced version.

Other alternative ID available for those traveling between the U.S. and Canada is the Nexus pass. The pass, for prescreened travelers who must provide extensive personal and citizenship documentation and have an interview with federal officials, lets travelers use a designated fast-clearance driving lane at many U.S. and Canadian border stations, including the Peace Arch crossing at Blaine. The Nexus pass also can be used by air and sea travelers for immigration/customs clearance. It’s not a quick fix, however; obtaining the pass can take months because of all the security clearances.