Grab your flip-flops and sunscreen and don't forget your passport when you're packing for your Caribbean cruise or road trip to Canada or Mexico.
New rules that went into effect Monday require U.S. citizens to present proof of their identity and citizenship when re-entering the country from the ground or sea after having visited Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or 17 nations in the Caribbean region.
Acceptable identity and citizenship documents include a passport, a passport card, an enhanced driver's license or a trusted traveler card.
The changes are requirements of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a program of the U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security. Similar requirements for people entering the country by air went into effect in 2007.
The tougher identification processes are based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. Congress passed them into law in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
Cruise ships, however, get a break from the new rules if they travel in a "closed loop," leaving from and returning to the same U.S. port.
Jennifer de la Cruz, director of public relations for Carnival Cruise Lines, said most of her company's trips are "closed loop" so "the impact is going to be minimal." About two Carnival ships leave from Charleston each year, she said.
But, de la Cruz said, the company still "strongly encourages everyone to get a passport," even those booked on a closed-loop cruise. If a passenger had an emergency and needed to fly home from another country ahead of the cruise ship, he would need to present a passport, she said. "If you don't have a passport, that's going to be an issue for you."
Byron Miller, director of public relations for the State Ports Authority, said "the impact on the Charleston cruise business will be minimal" because most cruises are closed loop, and most foreign vessels enter the U.S. at other ports before cruising to Charleston.
A State Department official said demand for passports is high because summer generally is a busy time, and more people are applying to meet the new requirements. But the department has the resources to meet the demand, she said. Currently, routine passport application processing takes between four and six weeks.
Passport application processing costs $100. Renewals cost $75 if a passport hasn't been expired more than five years.
A representative at the Charleston Post Office on Cross County Road, one of several local Passport Acceptance Facilities, said that for an additional $92.50, people can purchase an expedited passport, which they will receive in seven to 10 days.
U.S. citizens returning home from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean by land or sea must present one of the travel documents listed below:
U.S. passport: Verifies a person's identity and nationality.
U.S. passport card: A new, limited-use travel document that fits in a wallet.
Enhanced driver's license: Several states and Canadian provinces are issuing driver's licenses or identification documents that denote identity and citizenship. They are specifically designed for cross-border travel into the U.S. South Carolina does not offer such documentation.
Trusted Traveler cards: NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST enrollment cards are issued only to pre-approved, low-risk travelers. The NEXUS card can be used in airports with a NEXUS kiosk.