Thursday, November 15, 2007

Travel To U.S. From Canada Take Your Photo ID

Update April 2009
The date for requiring passports for land and sea crossings to from US Canada changed several times. The current date is June 1, 2009. (Air travellers already need a passport).

Canadians see this link for details.
US (Americans) see this link for details.

Original post backgrounder:
As of January 31, 2008, travel to the U.S. from Canada, by land or sea, means making sure you have the required documents, or you won't be allowed in.

Since last January, the U.S. has required all air travelers show passports when entering the U.S.A., or when just flying through the U.S. in transit to a winter sun destination. But since many of those travelers who were just passing through were heading to countries that DID require a passport to enter, this wasn't a huge issue. They already had one.

Now, effective January 31, 2008, American law requires that visitors arriving by land and / or water (cruise ships, ferries, etc.) also must have a government-issued photo ID. The photo ID requirement offers several options to enter the U.S. by land or sea:
  • THIS: driver's licence AND a birth certificate or citizenship card (2)
  • Or THIS: Under 16: Birth Certificate (1)
  • OR THIS: Valid Passport (1)
To enter by air, you still need a passport. But even those Canadians who drive from Canada to spend the winter in the southern US. and don't carry a passport should consider getting one. Though it's not required yet, it likely will be at some point, and sooner than later. These 'Snowbirds' who drive south could find themselves having to fly home in the event of an emergency, and trying to arrange a passport or travel documents while out of the country would be a hassle you don't need.

See more information about passports for Canadians, and also an earlier post about frequent land crossers special card.

If you're planning a trip, why not check out my travel tips section.

Monday, November 05, 2007

comparing Air Transat, Air Canada Fares to Costa Rica

Update Traveled Transat Costa Rica
Today I ventured back to the Air Transat site. I had looked earlier under their packages for 'Latin America' (assuming that would include Costa Rica, silly me!) and found the link inactive. So when I looked more closely today, I clicked the 'South' link -- and there was Costa Rica.

The Transat site is easy to use - pick your departure city, enter dates in the easiest-to-use calendar I've seen, and choose a destination, scroll down and click GO.

Up come 34 possible tour packages (with fast loading itinerary and hotel details, pics and info) for February 5 departures to San Juan CR. I noticed one for Costa Rica Eco-tour, for 8 days, 7 nights, air, airport pickup and delivery, tour, hotel, most meals, and taxes. I looked at the itinerary, then curious as to what the single supplement would be, I clicked through to the Book Now pages. When I entered my data, I got an alert asking me to call the 1-800 number to book.

So I called, waited a minute or two for a person to answer, and told her my story. It seems this tour, plus another one I hadn't yet looked at called the Costa Rica Natural something - also 8 days, 7 nights, most meals, etc as the eco-tour one -- had to be booked via phone. If fewer than 6 people booked these tours, they'd be cancelled with the cancellation notice (or confirmation notice depending on how you look at it) delivered no later than 30 days before departure.

The booking agent stressed that the tour could get the required minimum bookings next week, next month, etc and I'd be among the first to know. But it did give me pause for thought : Fast forward to January 6, 2008. In comes a call or email from Transat saying "gosh -- too bad." And me scrambling to book something else or stay home.

She gave me fares for both tours, and both were only $250 or so above the double/triple occupancy, and told the air only price.

So here's where I stand right now.

Transat tours: Eco $2,169; Natural wonder $2,219. Drawback -- no final confirmation until 30 days prior, and one day less than another tour I am considering.

FIT (foreign independent travel -- a DIY holiday): Land only tour Costa Rica (day longer than Transat) including taxes and single supplement $1,280; Transat air only $600 including taxes; Air Canada air only Feb 6 return Feb 16 $950; Return Feb 18 $875.

Total FIT
Transat flight -- $1,280 + $600 = $1880 (9 days, 8 nights), extra night hotel*, departs 6:35 am
Transat flight -- $1,280 + $840 = $2,120 (9 days, 8 nights), extra night hotel*
Air Canada flight - $1,280 + $950 = $2,230 plus extra night(s) hotel*, departs a more civilized 9:15 a.m.
Air Canada flight - $1,280 + $875 = $2,155 plus extra night(s) hotel*
Total Transat holiday (Nolitour) $2,169 or $2,219 (8 days, 7 nights)

The difference between the lowest and the highest is about $350. Not a huge amount, to be sure, but that would pay for optional tours, tips, extra meals, etc.

With Transat, you can upgrade to a premium class for $240 tax-in return. this might be worth it as Transat, from my experience, crams seats more tightly than even Air Canada dares to. But they did offer seat selection for a few dollars and that is well worth it . (After a horrible 5 plus hour flight to Acapulco, I paid more for a roomier seat to Puerto Plata DR and got upgraded to first when they sold my seat twice.)

* Have to find out what extra nights cost, to see if worth it to stay extra nights to save on air fare. I suspect staying is the wiser option. After all, there must be something to do in San Juan, even if it's only to lie around the pool sipping rum punches and thinking of snow in Toronto.

Again, I'll sit on this for a few days and mull it over, and go have another look at the itineraries for all three land tours. They are fairly close, though the eco-tour includes white water sstuff that I could most likely do without. I do want the volcanoes, the spa and the cloud forest, etc. I can give the turtles a miss (I've done that in Sri Lanka and in Sabah), and I don't require a lot of beach time. An afternoon snorkeling will do nicely.

PS December 11/07
I haven't booked anything yet. I've mulled it over and am still not sure which way to proceed. Still thinking of Bermuda, but maybe when it's warmer.

PPS December 26, 2007
Finally booked my trip and it's to Puerto Plata Dominican Republic!
I'm as surprised as you are :-)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Costa Rica Best Holiday Place

Update: Finally got to Costa Rica - See this post 
Last night I checked into visa requirements for Bermuda, Turks and Caicos and Costa Rica, the three destinations I am considering as my winter vacation. (See previous post for other info).

Tourist visa requirements at the Turks and Caicos tourism info site say 'no visa for 30 days except for some eastern bloc countries'; Bermuda is good, too, and Costa Rica, ditto. This means no additional fees for visas, or passport photos, etc. for any of them. It's always a good idea to carry two extra passport size photos, though, just in case you need them, like if you lose your passport on your trip. I talk about this and much else on my travel tips section on my website.

So, looking again at Costa Rica, the search engine results showed a site talking about medical tourism to Costa Rica, and the penny dropped. In my quest for an interesting and warm winter vacation spot, I had totally forgotten about Jurassic Park and the dinosaur connection, which came to mind when I saw the medical tourism site.

Ah, the movie came out a long time ago, and others have claimed my attention long since. But when Jurassic Park was all the rage, I remember reading articles about Costa Rica, and some of them were about how tourists were flocking to Costa Rica for inexpensive medical and cosmetic procedures. They discussed how safe Costa Rica was, how the doctors were board certified and North American or European trained, etc. I filed it away and promptly forgot about it.

Until last night. All of a sudden, my winter holiday has taken on a whole new aspect. Two weeks away is about right to have some (ahem) work done, and no one would be the wiser. I'll give that some thought :-)

About hotels: Bermuda is too rich for my blood, and the Turks is turning out to be the same as Bermuda. Turks hotels start at about $183 US /night, and that's basic. Costa Rica seems to meet most of my requirements for a good holiday -- interesting things to do, including looking for dinosaurs, good value for money, decent weather, and now, apparently, the chance to have a little Nip and Tuck. I'l let that simmer for a while then think about booking.