The requirement for everyone arriving by air is already in place, and so we have been advising cruisers that while you can still board a ship with a certified birth certificate and a form of government issued ID (a driver's license), should an emergency arise and you need to come home by air, if you do not have a passport you could encounter a significant problem.
We have been recommending applying for passports as soon as possible for the last 18 months. We predicted the last minute rush would cause a slowdown in the government's ability to process applications. In fact, the average wait time for a passport is now over three months, up from the typical four to six-week processing time. That is the average, some people report waiting as long as six months.
And if you think the U.S. Border and Customs Agents are not serious about their jobs listen to this; While tourism is up worldwide since the 1990s by an astounding 80%,
the number of tourists coming into the United States has dropped by 17% since 2001 (according to the TIA; Travel Industry Association). And by far, the number one reason cited for this slowdown is scrutiny at our borders by the U.S. Border and Customs Agents.
You are legally required to show a passport to get into the U.S. when arriving by air transportation. If our border guards are that tough on people with full documentation, just imagine what you might face trying to enter the country without the proper documentation.
A passport is good for ten years, and it is by far the best proof of U.S. citizenship you can own. Driver's licenses are available to non-citizens. Having a passport gives you the right to travel anywhere and by any means with no worries about proving you are a citizen. It is worth the investment.
That being said, I do know a couple, age 92 and 94, who live on a very limited budget. They will be celebrating their 70th anniversary on a Caribbean cruise this November, 2007, before the deadline sets in. They are choosing not to apply for their passports before the cruise simply because of the expense. They have certified copies of their birth certificates and state issued ID cards.
Our travel agent has told us they can still buy travel insurance, and if they need medical evacuation requiring a flight back to the U.S. then each situation is being handled on a "case by case basis." However, it is a gamble, and a situation where there will be a delay under the best of circumstances.
For the latest updates on passport requirements for cruisers, refer to this page in CruiseMates: Passport Requirements, and for more information on travel insurance for cruisers, go here: Travel Insurance for Cruisers.
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