The Common Law

Do I need a passport to travel to Mexico?

I'm going to Nuevo Laredo for a shopping weekend. Some of my friends have told me that a new law says I need a passport to go to Mexico. Is that true?

Yes if you fly; no if you drive. You will need a U.S. passport if you fly to Mexico. You will not need a passport if you drive or walk across the border, but even that may change within the next year.

Starting on Jan. 23, all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda have been required to present a valid passport. It is anticipated that as early as January 2008, U.S. citizens wishing to travel to these same destinations by land or sea (including ferries) may be required to present a valid passport (or other documents as determined by the Department of Homeland Security) in order to travel.

This is a fairly significant change as the U.S. government has traditionally allowed its citizens to travel to and from many Western Hemisphere countries without passports. The shift in policy is a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which requires the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State to develop and implement a plan to require all travelers, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike, to present a passport or other document – or a combination of documents – that denote identity and citizenship when entering the United States. The goal of the initiative is to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors by providing standardized, secure, and reliable documentation that will allow the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably, and accurately identify a traveler.

Don't have a passport but thinking about traveling abroad soon? American citizens can visit the State Department's Web site, www.travel.state.gov, or call the U.S. National Passport Information Center (877/4USA-PPT) to apply for a passport. The State Department recommends that a person allow six weeks for processing of the passport application, although expedited procedures are available at additional cost.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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