Update: The U.S. government announced Thursday February 22, 2007 that children are exempt from the new passport law, which requires a valid Canadian passport to be presented at U.S. land borders when travelling to the U.S. by ground. The new exemption will not apply at airports, where children will still require passports. The passport law is already in effect for air travel, and will apply at land border crossings by June 2009.

It’s that time of the year again. Public servants across all levels of government are getting ready to take off to more tropical and warmer destinations. Winter break is almost here and InterGovWorld presents a special guide to help you prepare before you say goodbye to the Canadian winter for a few weeks anyway. InterGovWorld takes a closer look at the online aspect of applying for a passport, the new U.S. passport laws, and how you can save time and energy with a passport checklist before you venture off on winter vacation.

As of January 23, 2007 the laws have changed. It is now not possible to travel by air to the U.S. without a passport. With 33 offices across Canada, Passport Canada is feeling the squeeze from new regulations, especially now when students, public servants, and families are temporarily migrating to warmer weather.

What exactly is Passport Canada doing to alleviate the bottleneck of passport applications and how can you ensure that your hard-earned vacation away from the public service won’t be sabotaged by forces beyond your control?

Take proactive and preventive action

When applying for a passport you can’t complete the application process online but you can save yourself significant time and effort by filling out the initial form online. Once that is complete the information is entered into Passport Canada’s secure server and becomes accessible in their database once you get to their office.

It also enables you to speed through lineups and potentially receive a priority number for already having the initial steps completed.

By filling out the form online you eliminate the probability of error and missing information because the form will not print until it has been filled out correctly. This provides assurance and confidence that there are no mistakes and nothing has been missed.

When asked what marketing strategy Passport Canada has embarked on to make the public more aware of this new online step in the application process, spokeswoman Francine Charbonneau said, “Honestly, it is something we really haven’t wanted to advertise too much because right now we are so busy that the server tends to crash.”

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) hosts Passport Canada’s server called Secure Channel,” she said. “There are service outages that usually occur on Mondays and we usually encourage people to use weekday evenings or earlier in the morning as the best time.

“The secure part of it is 100 per cent functional but the access to it might not be.”

This isn’t the first time problems with Secure Channel have arisen. Recently, Secure Channel was one of the initiatives that Auditor General Sheila Fraser gave a failing grade in her scathing report on mismanaged public service IT projects.

However, despite the heat that Secure Channel has taken for being ineffective and unreliable, Charbonneau reassures that “the online aspect of applying for a passport is a great tool for people to use,” but also noted that the more people will use it the more congested and unstable it will become.

Express options

In the event that your situation is more serious and you can’t afford to go through the regular application process there are other options. You can apply for either an urgent or express passport. An urgent passport can be acquired within 24 hours and an express passport within two to nine days.

Passport Canada is applying stricter guidelines to the urgent and express applications due to the higher volume they are seeing.

“It is a case by case basis,” Charbonneau said. “You have to prove your sense of urgency and we’re not talking about a last minute flight to Florida because you got a good deal on a ticket.”

It is meant to be for a death in the family, an illness, a sickness, needing to get to a destination such as a last minute business trip, she said.

“They are analyzed on a case-by-case basis so we are telling people there are no guarantees just because you have a last minute flight. We’re really asking people to plan ahead right now.”

Plan ahead

When asked what is the most important thing Passport Canada wants people to know during this busy and frantic passport application season, Charbonneau said “planning.”

“Please don’t go booking flights if you don’t have your passport in hand,” she said. “Our service has always been standard and they’ve never been guarantees. Right now we do have delays of up to 25 business days.”

If you’re applying by mail it could take up to two months to get your passport, according to Charbonneau.

“We’re receiving on average approximately 21,000 applications a day,” she said. “Our infrastructure is currently set up to only process 20,000, creating some backlog.”

Don’t take risks

If you don’t have a passport don’t take chances traveling in and out of the U.S., even if that isn’t your main destination. A lot flights connect there.

“If you’re flying on an international flight you need your passport to get into the States, regardless,” said Charbonneau. “It is the law now. From what Passport Canada has been observing, the U.S. has been lenient in some circumstances but they do have the right to say ‘No, you’re not entering our country to anyone.”

“They might have a grace period right now but that is not a guarantee and it is also the airline’s discretion to let you on the airplane without a passport.”

Passengers boarding U.S. domestic flights are not legally required to have a passport; however, all passengers must show proof of their identity, according to the Passport Canada web site.

What if you’re traveling by ground?

“If you’re driving into the U.S. Passport Canada is not as concerned right now,” Charbonneau said.

The laws regarding passports and entering the U.S. by ground are expected to change somewhere between January 2008 and June 2009.

Be safe

1) Flying to the U.S.

As of January 23, 2007 it became the law to have a passport when traveling in and out of the U.S. by air on an international flight. A lot of flights connect there so make sure you have your passport before making any arrangements. Passengers boarding U.S. domestic flights are not legally required to have a passport; however, all passengers must show proof of their identity.

2) Traveling to the U.S. by ground

Nothing has changed if you are traveling by ground without a passport but the U.S. is expected to change the ground passport rules somewhere between January 2008 and June 2009.

3) Applying online

You can save yourself a significant amount of time and effort by filling out the initial passport application form online. After you’ve submitted the form the information is stored in Passport Canada’s database ready for your visit to the passport office.

You can also potentially secure a priority number in the process from Passport Canada by going the online route.

This is only available to Canadians 16 years of age or over.

4) Emergencies

If you can’t wait in lineups, deal with Public Works and Government Services’ crashing server and you need your passport immediately, there are other options.

Urgent passport option: passport within 24 hours
Express passport option: passport within 2-9 days

These applications are measured on a case-by-case basis. There are no guarantees and it is up to you to prove your sense of urgency.

5) Children

When traveling in and out of the U.S. by air, children can no longer use their parent’s passport.

Update: The U.S. government announced Thursday February 22, 2007 that children are exempt from the new passport law, which requires a valid Canadian passport to be presented at U.S. land borders when travelling to the U.S. by ground. The new exemption will not apply at airports, where children will still require passports. The passport law is already in effect for air travel, and will apply at land border crossings by June 2009.

6) Timelines

If you apply for a passport in-person expect a delay of up to 25 business days.

If you apply for a passport by mail expect a delay of up to 40 business days.

These delays are due to the high volume from winter travel season combined with the new U.S. passport requirements.

7) Don’t take risks

Don’t take risks and don’t assume anything. Passport Canada is aware of the U.S. granting leniency to some situations that lack a passport but there are no guarantees and certainly no assurance that the same treatment will be given to you.

It is also up to the airline’s discretion to let you on the airplane if you don’t have a passport.

8) Be prepared

Passport Canada says that unlike a birth certificate or driver’s license, a passport can be replaced if it is lost, stolen, damaged, destroyed or inaccessible on your trip.

A passport may be required for financial or legal transactions such as cashing travelers’ cheques.

Passport Canada also advises that many countries require passports to be valid for a number of months beyond the date of a visitor’s entry. For that reason, before traveling to a country, ensure that your passport will be valid long enough by contacting the consular mission of the country you plan to visit.

9) Visa requirements

According to Passport Canada, all countries have special entry requirements. Since those requirements may change consult the nearest diplomatic mission of the country you intend to visit. You may also consult the Foreign Affairs Canada’s Travel Reports. These provide general information on most countries as well as information on entry requirements.

10) Planning

When making travel arrangements without a passport take into account that Passport Canada gets 21,000 applications a day. This backlog coupled with an unreliable server that routinely crashes means that no one should book their flight unless they have their passport in hand.



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