Update August 2008 See new info for land crossings passports.
Mark January 23, 2007 on your calendar. From that date onward, all travelers arriving by air into the United States MUST have a valid passport, whether they are foreign citizens, or American citizens returning from a foreign holiday. (Canadians see Passport Canada travelling in North America.)
Then, 12-15 months after that, or about March 2008, EVERYONE who enters the United States by land, sea or air, MUST have a valid passport. (See US citizen passport information, and check here for US Customs and Border Protection information.
According to the U.S. site, fees for adults are $97, and passports are valid for 10 years. Almost everyone has to apply in person, after downloading a form. Passports for children vary by age, from birth up to age 16, and cost about $82.
Canadian passports cost $87 CAD (24-page passport) and $92 CAD (48-page passport), and are valid for 5 years. (See Canadian passports and fees ).
Frequent travelers to the U.S. will already have passports, and renew them well in advance of expiry date. But many Canadians living along our shared border cross back and forth regularly, to shop, visit, gas up the family car.
And many Americans living in border states cross into Canada, especially to Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. They come to attend major league sports games and go to plays, to shop and to sightsee. They come to fish and to holiday. Often they come on short notice. Thousands of them come to Toronto every August to celebrate Caribana, the festival of all things Caribbean.
Given that an American family of four will soon need a passport, with several months of lead time for processing, and need to pay over $400 US (don't forget all those passport photos!), and a Canadian family of four wanting to visit Disneyland will need to pay about the same for their passports, with similar lead time and only half the life (5 years as opposed to 10 for the US), I have to wonder how this will impact tourism for both our countries.
Will travel between the U.S. and Canada effectively be the domain of the corporate and the wealthy? Will Snowbirds (Canadian retirees who head south for winter) stop going to Florida? What about Canadian students heading south on Spring Break? Might they reason, 'If I need to pay for a passport for the U.S., why not go to Cuba, or Mexico instead?'
I don't have a crystal ball, so of course I don't know. No one does. All I can say is, keep a close eye on this. There may be repercussions that none of us foresaw, and none of which will make us happy.