Q: Given the long lines that form at midnight at the passport agency in downtown Miami, I'm totally befuddled. Why is there so much confusion about passports?
A: On June 8, the new rules introduced in January under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative were relaxed through September. Until Sept. 30, U.S citizens will need only to show proof of a passport application as well as other official IDs, such as a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, driver's license or an expired passport in order to fly to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. If you have a government-issued application locator number, proof of your application can be obtained at www.travel.state.gov.
But, if you're taking a cruise, and it originates in Vancouver, you need a passport -- or proof of a passport application -- to fly to Canada. (If you're driving across the Canadian border, you only need your birth certificate. But next year, Americans will need a passport to drive into Canada -- and Mexico.)
However, things can get very confusing with cruise lines. Even though the government says you don't need a passport, some cruise lines want passengers to carry one. Since its the only document that proves both your U.S. citizenship and your identity, it facilitates a smooth reentry into the United States, Ryan Dooley, assistant director of the State Department's Miami passport agency, said. If, for instance, you had a family emergency and needed to leave a cruise and fly home, there could be delays if you didn't have a passport.
The National Passport Information Center is at 877-487-2778, toll-free. If your passport is in the processing stage and your travel plans have changed, you can update your "Passport Status Inquiry'' at www.travel.state. gov/passport/about/npic/ npic_896.html.
If you get to within 14 days of departure and still lack the document, make an appointment at the Miami Passport Agency in the Claude Pepper Federal Office Building, 51 SW First Ave., in downtown Miami. (Call the same number and select the automated appointment line.) Take proof of your travel dates.