Do you have a passport? You'll need one starting today

No whining! The deadline was supposed to come in 2006, and then Congress pushed it back. But today, the party's over. If U.S. citizens want to set foot outside this country, they now need some kind of passport. That includes cruise ports, Mexico, and Canada, places for which a driver's license used to do.

Just in time for summer travel, you can add the following price to the price of your vacation: $85 to $100 for first-time passport holders. Factor that into your budget. Fortunately, you only have to pay it once every decade, because that's how long a passport lasts.

The State Department also issues so-called "passport cards," which are the size of credit cards and cost $35 to $45. Those can only be used for land or sea crossings, such as on cruises or on drives into Canada or Mexico, and they won't work if you take a plane, even to those two countries.

A precious few overseas locations, such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, will still welcome you on a driver's license or similar low-level I.D., but even those places will make you have one if you stop anywhere else on your trip there or back.
Even if you don't intend to go anywhere international in the foreseeable future, it's always smart to have a passport waiting in a drawer somewhere in the house. As the Mother of federal I.D.s, a passport can be a silver bullet for times in your life when you need to apply for something. When it comes to identifying yourself and cutting the red tape, it's hard to do better than a passport.

Some cruises won't require a passport as long as you begin and end in the same American port, but even for those, identification rules just got more stringent: If all you have is a driver's license, you'll need a second form of I.D., such as a birth certificate. Just get a passport and forget about it, I say. It's sure to work.

If you waited until this long to get your passport or passport card despite my ample early warning, expect to face a wait of a few weeks while yours is processed by the government. There's bound to be a sudden logjam of applications now that owning one is no longer an option, and if you need it done with an instant turnaround, you'll have to pony up another $60 to work that magic.

Or you could stay home forever, of course, but as an American with the right to travel, why should you?

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