Although border crossing authorities will be lenient for the first few weeks (after June 1 st 2009), Canadians need to have more than a regular driver’s license as ID in order to enter the states, even if it’s only for a few hours. Canadians from Ontario, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Quebec that are looking to cross the border into New York, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota or Michigan must now have a valid passport, enhanced driver’s license or Nexus Card (fast card) in order to cross into the U.S. Welcome to the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. - GB


Your passport's more precious Monday

 Entry to U.S.; Border officials promise to be lenient - at first

Travellers heading into the United States by car or boat from Canada will still be allowed in with only a driver's licence despite new regulations starting Monday that stipulate a passport is required.

But U.S. border guards will make scofflaws wish they'd brought along the right documentation.

As of June 1, new laws come into effect under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Department of State anti-terrorism policy known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, initiated after the 9/11 attacks.

Canadian travellers to the United States will require a passport, enhanced driver's license or "trusted traveller" card (Nexus card or Fast card) to enter, as will Americans returning from Canada. Children under 16 - and youth 18 and under travelling as part of an organized group - can still get through with only a proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate.

By air, a passport or Nexus card is required for all.

U.S. officials promise to be lenient, at first.

"We're encouraging travellers to have approved documents for Monday," said Joanne Ferreira, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "But we're going to be flexible and practical. ... We won't deny entry to U.S. or Canadian citizens.

"They might face delays while officers have to confirm identity or citizenship."

While Ferreira is pleasant, accounts by travellers who have tried to enter the U.S. recently with only a driver's licence indicate border guards may be less so, bringing drivers in for questioning and to fill out lengthy forms. Once you're on file, pulling a similar stunt again will result in delays that could last hours and involve fingerprinting.

Extra border staff and managers will be on hand to deal with the work, Ferreira said.

To date, 91 million Americans, or 30 per cent of the population, have obtained passports, Ferreira said. Another one million have Passport pass cards and half a million own Nexus cards that allow quick passage. Fifty-four per cent of Canadians (48 per cent of Quebecers) own passports.

Passport Canada has been filling out up to 22,000 passport requests a day in recent weeks, up from the usual 17,000 processed during the high season of November till March, spokesperson Jean-Sébastien Roy said.

Although a passport is suggested, Americans travelling by car or boat can enter Canada with just a driver's licence, but it might involve further questioning to verify identity, officials at the Canadian Border Security Agency said.

In a normal year, the new rules would be a cause of major concern, because Americans make up 25 per cent of tourists here, Montreal Tourisme spokesperson Pierre Bellerose said. But with the economic downturn and hotel bookings down 10 per cent in April compared with last year, those who rely on tourism for their livelihood have bigger concerns, he said.

In Plattsburgh, N.Y., which bills itself as "Montreal's U.S. suburb," business leaders weren't concerned about the new regulations - even though Canadian tourists spent $310 million in the Clinton County region in 2004 - saying people had had ample time to prepare.

But they are concerned by what they see as a lack of investment on the Canadian side of the Champlain/Lacolle border crossing, the sixth largest gateway between the two countries and Quebec's busiest. The United States recently spent more than $100 million extending the number of check-in lanes from six to 10, putting in a reserved truck lane, a Nexus lane and card readers to speed traffic.

The Canadian entry point, which can see lineups of three hours, hasn't kept pace, said Susan Matton, vice-president of economic development for the Plattsburgh Chamber of Commerce.

"So getting back home for Quebec citizens and tourism into Quebec for U.S. citizens going north I think is going to be challenging this summer," she said. "I think there are going to be some serious backups."

Canada recently committed $10 million to upgrades at the Lacolle crossing, Canadian border officials said.

For more information on border crossing requirements, visit www.getyouhome.gov/html/eng_map.html and click on Canada

rbruemmer@thegazette.canwest.com

montrealgazette.com

 

WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO CROSS THE U.S. BORDER BY LAND OR BY SEA STARTING JUNE 1

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires U.S. and Canadian travellers to present a passport or other document that denotes identity and citizenship when entering the U.S.

PASSPORT

Cost: Adults (16 years and older) 24 pages $87 48 pages $92 *Children (3-15) $37 *Children (under 3) $22

Valid for: 5 years 3 years, for children under 3 years of age

Processing time: Two weeks if you go in person, four weeks by mail, 2-9 days if you pay $30 extra, or 24 hours if you pay an extra $70

or

ENHANCED DRIVER'S LICENCE

Cost: $40 more than a standard driver's licence, or $51.97 if you want one before your current licence expires

Valid for: 4 years, like regular licence

Processing time: a few days

or

NEXUS CARD

Cost: $50

Valid for: 5 years (Note: handy for anyone who crosses the border regularly, as it allows one to use the quick Nexus line, and cost works out to $10 annually)

Processing time: 6 to 8 weeks

or

FAST CARD

Cost: $50

Valid for: 5 years

Similar to the Nexus card, but for commercial truckers

Processing time: 6 to 8 weeks

EXEMPTIONS*

U.S. and Canadian children under age 16 - or youths under 19 and travelling with a school or religious group, social or cultural organization or sports team - may also present an original or copy of a birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate or a Canadian Citizenship Card.