U.S. Passport Information

US Passport

On a typical day in 2015, 271,000 people arrive in Mexico from the USA alone. Yes, that totals 26 million a year. At the border, airports, and sea ports officers use the latest technologies and procedures to assure that travelers from throughout the world are processed rapidly while assuring that individuals who have ties to terrorism or a criminal background are barred from entry. For those U.S. Citizens who are planning on visiting Cuernavaca or for anyone from another country that are planning on returning to the United States, the laws concerning passports were changed in June 2009. At one time, U.S. citizens could cross the border into Mexico or Canada without a passport to take advantage of lower prices on their daily needs, including the purchase of prescription drugs that were often 1/20th of the cost of the same prescription in the United States. All that changed in 2009.

Effective June 1, 2009 all US citizens were required to hold a US passport to leave or re-enter the United States by land, sea or air. Yes, if you came down to Mexico before June 2009 without a passport, you will not be able to re-enter the United States without a passport. This is the final stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. (WHTI) Verbal declarations of citizenship and multiple forms of identification (driver license and birth certificate) were no longer accepted effective June 1, 2009.

What was initiated by the Bush administration as a reaction to 9/11 incident the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires all citizens to hold a valid passport to return to the United States.

Number of Passports Increase

At the initiation of the program only about 20% of US citizens held passports, the lowest of any industrialized nation, including communist China. Nearly a decade after the plan was enacted a much larger percentage of citizens now hold passports. More aptly called the Western Hemisphere ANTI-Travel initiative this policy has dramatically hurt the Mexican travel industry nationwide and here in Baja.

Trusted Traveler

Also, you may have seen some people at the airport who seemingly go right to the head of the line and present a photo I.D. to pass through security. These are recognized travel documents that can be purchased and upon approval the holder becomes a “Trusted Traveler”. If you are a frequent flyer in and out of Mexico, it might be a great idea to get this card. See below for more information.

Traveling with minors to Mexico

Children must also have valid passports when traveling to Mexico to return to the United States.

It is very important to note that when one parent is traveling with a minor child that parent must have signed AND NOTARIZED documents indicating that the parent not present agrees to allow the child to enter Mexico. This has been enacted to prevent separated parents from ‘friendly abduction’ of a child and fleeing to Mexico. The Mexican government is very strict about enforcement of these rules, do not expect exceptions.

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and Air Travel for U.S. Citizens

When traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, you are required to present a U.S. passport, except as noted below. This applies to everyone including newborns, infants and children.The only exceptions to this requirement are for:

  • U.S. citizens on active duty with the U.S. Armed Forces, traveling with military, but only on official orders
  • U.S. citizen merchant mariners traveling in conjunction with maritime business, with U.S. issued Merchant Mariner Document
  • Travelers with a NEXUS card used at a NEXUS kiosk at Canadian Preclearance airports
  • U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents with a Permanent Resident Card or other evidence of permanent residence status and required documentation; refugees and asylees with a Refugee Travel Document

U.S. Passport – This is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies a person’s identity and nationality. It is accepted for travel by air, land and sea. Please visit the U.S. State Department’s website at www.travel.state.gov for information on passport fees. Passports are valid for 10-years for adults and 5 years for children under the age of 16 years old. They are issued by the U.S. Department of State.

U.S. Passport Card – This is a limited-use international travel document valid for entry into the U.S. by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, per the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. It is not valid for international air travel. This document fits in your wallet and costs less than a U.S. Passport. U.S. Passport Cards are valid for 10-years for adults and 5 years for children under the age of 16 years old. They are issued by the U.S. Department of State.

Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) – Several states and Canadian provinces are issuing this driver’s license or identification document that denotes identity and citizenship. It is specifically designed for cross-border travel into the U.S. by land or sea. The following states are issuing this type of WHTI-compliant document: Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington. For information on costs, validity and issuing agencies, visit the appropriate state government website. Click here for list of links and more information.

Trusted Traveler Program Cards – Global Entry for U.S./Mexico/Netherlands, NEXUS for U.S./Canada, SENTRI for U.S./Mexico, or FAST for Commercial Truck Drivers, enrollment cards can speed your entry into the U.S. and are issued only to pre-approved, low-risk travelers. The cards are valid for use at land or sea; the NEXUS card can be used in airports with a NEXUS kiosk.

Special Groups – Information for Children, Groups of Children, Native Americans, “Closed Loop” Cruises, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, U.S. Military, Merchant Mariners, Ferries and Small Boats, and Boaters.

Children: Beginning June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 16 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.

Groups of Children: Beginning June 1, 2009, U.S. and Canadian citizen children under age 19 arriving by land or sea from contiguous territory and traveling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organization, or sports team, may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.

The group should be prepared to present a letter on organizational letterhead with the following information:

  • The name of the group and supervising adult,
  • A list of the children on the trip, and the primary address, phone number, date of birth, place of birth, and name of at least one parent or legal guardian for each child,
  • A written and signed statement of the supervising adult certifying that he or she has obtained parental or legal guardian consent for each participating child.

Native Americans: Native Americans will be able to continue presenting tribal documents until June 1, 2009, provided they are affixed with a photo. Customs and Border Protection is working closely with interested Native American tribes toward the development of an enhanced tribal card that complies with WHTI.

“Closed Loop” Cruises: U.S. citizens who board a cruise ship at a port within the United States, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship may present a government issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization). Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the foreign countries your cruise ship is visiting. Check with your cruise line to ensure you have the appropriate documents.

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents: Document requirements for Lawful Permanent Residents will not change under WHTI. U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents can continue to use their permanent resident card (Form I-551) or other valid evidence of permanent residence status.

U.S. Military: U.S. citizens can present a valid U.S. Military identification card when traveling, but only on official orders.

Merchant Mariners: U.S. citizens may present an unexpired Merchant Marine Document in conjunction with maritime business.

Ferries and Small Boats: Passengers on ferries and small boat operators are processed much like travelers entering the U.S. through a land border. They are required to present a WHTI-compliant document.

Boaters, who have an I-68 form, will need to follow the new travel document requirements. Ensuring that you have a WHTI-compliant document (U.S. Passport Card, Enhanced Driver’s License/Enhanced Identification Card, Global Entry/NEXUS/SENTRI/FAST/EXPRES or Passport) will enable you to continue to utilize telephonic clearance procedures currently in place for I-68 holders.

An I-68 form is not considered an identity document or a travel document.

Knowing what documents are required and having them ready when you return home will help streamline the entry process and ensure your return to the U.S. is as smooth
as possible.

Lawful Permanent Residents

Air Travel – All travelers including children must present a passport or secure travel document when entering the United States by air.

Land/Sea Travel – Lawful permanent residents may continue to present their Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card. More information available at CBP.gov.

Citizens from Other Countries

Air Travel – All international visitors regardless of country of origin must present a passport or secure document when entering the United States by air.

US-VISIT biometric procedures apply to international travelers holding a non-U.S. passport or visa with these limited exceptions. Find out how US-VISIT works.

Land/Sea Travel

Canadian Citizens – Beginning June 1, 2009 – US-VISIT biometric procedures may apply to some Canadian citizens. Find out if US-VISIT applies to you.

All Others

  • Travel Document Requirements – Visitors Traveling Under the Visa Waiver Program  International travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program need to present an e-Passport if their passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006.
  • US-VISIT. Entry and exit process for visitors requiring a visa, using biometrics such as digital fingerscans and digital photographs, to ensure the person crossing our border is the same person who received the visa.
  • ESTA Internet-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to screen Visa Waiver Program (VWP) applicants prior to traveling to the United States.
  • e-Passports. The United States requires that travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program have an e-Passport if their passport was issued on or after October 26, 2006.
  • Travel For Non-U.S. Citizens (CBP) Information for visitors to the United States that are visiting for the purpose of working, studying, business travel or immigration.

More information available at www.getyouhome.gov.

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G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca with his pet cockatiel, Pepe.