Several years ago, a group of us bridesmaids went up to Montreal for a bachelorette weekend. Three were flying from Chicago, one from New York. I was driving from Boston. Now, the New York bridesmaid had always entered Canadia by car and flashed her license to cross the border. Of course, she didn’t realize that when flying, you had to show a passport.
This was 2002 – post 9/11, but this was our young, blond-haired, blue-eyed anxious friend who always gets herself in and out of situations like this (like the time she convinced the St. Louis police not to give her a speeding ticket, and even got them to escort her to the mall with sirens blaring so she could get the giant plastic security tags off her brand-new suit 25 minutes before a job interview). Back at the airport, she pulled out all the contents of her wallet short of bribing the border patrolmen, throwing her drivers’ license, her old college ID, her work ID, her business cards, her credit cards, anything bearing her name and picture and proof that all she wanted to do was go to her friend’s bachelorette party. Somehow, she managed to talk her way into Canada, and once in Canada, talk her way to the hotel, where she promptly phoned her dad and had him Fed-ex her passport.
Today, I highly doubt she could be so convincing, particularly now that citizens require a passport or a federally-issued ID (not a state-issued license) to cross in and out of Canada and Mexico. This also extends to those traveling to and from the Caribbean and Bermuda by sea.
If you’re not a big worldwide traveler and don’t want to get a passport, although I think a passport is one of the most excellent things to have on hand, you can 0pt for the U.S. Passport Card. Note that this card is only valid if you’re traveling by land or sea, but if you’re flying you will still need a regular passport. You can register for either a passport or passport card here. A passport card costs $45 for adults and $35 for children; passports cost $100 for adults and $85 for children. You’ll need proof of American citizenship, such as original birth or naturalization certificate, two 2×2 passport photos, and application.
The advantage to the passport card is that it fits nicely into your wallet and stays there for as long as you have your wallet, unlike the bulky passport which can be easily forgotten in some desk drawer. However, if for some reason you need to fly back rather than take the transport you came in, you’ll still need a passport. Plus you get to collect lots of fun stamps in your passport.