New rules for crossing the border

A driver receives information on the new rules for identification at U.S. borders from a U.S. Customs & Border Protection agent in Detroit, Michigan. Travelers will need to present proof of citizenship such as a U.S. passport or birth certificate. A drivers licence and oral declaration of citizenship will no longer be sufficient.

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Tess Vigeland: If you're a frequent flyer between the U.S. and our neighbors to the North and South -- that's Canada and Mexico for the geographically challenged -- you know you need to produce a passport to get back into the States.

But if you've been driving or boating across the border, things have been a bit more casual. State Department spokesman Cy Ferenchak explains:

Cy Ferenchak: Up 'til January 30th, customs and border protection officers had the latititude of accepting what they call an "oral declaration without documentation."

In other words, you could say you were a U.S. Citizen, and if the border cop bought it, welcome to America.

Well, no longer. As of last Thursday, to get back home by land or sea, you'll be required to produce some paperwork, no matter how honest you look. Here's the checklist:

Ferenchak: One document, like a passport, or it can be two documents, like a birth certificate and a government-issued photo ID card.

Most commonly a driver's license, but anything issued by the government with your name and photo on it will do. Here's the good news: land and sea travelers who want something more compact than an address-book-sized passport to lug back and forth across the border now have another option.

Ferenchak: The passport card is a credit-card-sized card that you can carry in your wallet. You fill out an application at a passport acceptance faciliyt. If you're a new applicant, a passport card for an adult will cost $45.

Compare that to a hundred bucks for a standard passport.

The first cards should ship out this spring. Keep in mind though: it's only good for land and sea travel among the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Carribean.

And if you want it -- or a regular passport for that matter -- apply now. It takes 4 to 6 weeks to turnaround an application, which means that spring break trip to Tijuana could be in jeopardy.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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