Monday, January 22, 2007

Passports anyone?

Last Wednesday Karen put up a post about Americans' apparent dearth of passport ownership. I admit the subject rarely came up here at Bookwormom Central, despite living in Washington DC. It surely must be odd to Anyone Else living on our little blue marble, but until this month we Americans didn't need to have a passport to travel just about anywhere on this entire continent. Canada, Mexico, numerous little Carribean idylls? All passport unnecessary.

Not only that, but the individual American states do not require passports as official documnetation for various legal purposes. It is an option, one of many, on lists of acceptable documents in situations where we might need to prove our identity. Until January 2007, passports haven't been a necessary expense.

According to the official State Department website, a passport for an Adult costs $97 as of March 2005. In other currencies- 75 Euros, 123 Australian dolars, 114 Canadian dollars or 49 pounds Sterling per passport.

As a child I grew up in northern New England, very near the Quebec border. Once upon a time, all you needed to drive into Canada & return home was a US driver's license. As recently as 1994 & 1995 I've driven into Mexico (via South Padre Island) without needing any documents to drive up & down the island. Two years ago we went to the Bahamas for a week. None of which required us to have passports.

Speaking strictly for myself- international travel is increasingly expensive & out of reach for your average Jane America. The exchange rates alone are a killer, especially for the UK! The cost of 2 passports would be $194 plus processing time. It's cheaper to remain in country and have that 'extra' $194 to spend on food, drinks, souvenirs, etc.

For example, if Mr. Bookwormom & I wanted to drive up to Niagara Falls NY & Canada, a mere 503 miles (809 kilometers) from my home, a hard day's drive if you do it right; we can't take a boat over to the Canadian side unless we have passports. Now, I don't know how strictly they enforce these things, but technically we'd need a passport to simply float over the border under the Falls. That added $194? Could be gas money. T shirts. Chips at an Atlantic City casino.

For myself it has less to do with xenophobia than simple economics. As made obvious in Hurricane Katrina, there are many, many Americans living on the knife's edge of economic survival. Yet we all need to get away. The new passport laws make even quick getaways more expensive even for those who live right on the border. We are a country deeply divided between the haves and the have nots. Travel is rapidly becoming another symbol of this divide.


Jenster said...

Gone are the days when I can fly from Orlando to Little Rock, through Atlanta on my library card!

Your daughter will need a passport to go to Germany next summer, won't she? Is it cheaper for kids?

Niagara Falls and Canada were two of the attractions to this area for me. I guess we'll just have to look at Canada from this side. :o(

Marg said...

Your passports are much cheaper than ours, not to mention that travel to most places like Europe is much cheaper.

Holly said...

This was the exact response I thought when I read KS's blog. I went to Cancun Mexico 3 years ago and needed no passport. As you said, in America we aren't required to have passports as so many countries are.

Part of me was very surprised that only 20% of Americans have passports, but after I thought about it, it IS more economical to stay here. I'd like to see some of the world, but I'm a single mother with 2 growing kids. That will have to wait (unless I win the lottery sometime soon).

CindyS said...

Never had need an a passport even when crossing into the US. Now I will need one which is no fun but if I'm going to go south sometime then I guess I would get one then.

I'm not sure how long a passport is good for but if it was for life with only pic updates then I would be good with getting it done. If there is a yearly fee then I would say now. I'll get one if I know I'm going somewhere. Until then, I pretty much stay close to home ;)


Tara Marie said...

I also think there's such a vastness to the US that people from other countries don't completely grasp. We can go from tropical to arctic and everywhere in between. There's so much to do and see. We can drive for hundreds of miles and never leave our own state or we can drive for thousands of miles and never leave the country.

There are plenty of places around the world I'd like to visit and yet there is so much of my own country I've not seen either.

We'll get our passports to visit because there good to have and you never know when we might like to pop over the border to Canada.

Bookwormom said...

Holly- Many Americans just don't need passports for even occasional use. *shrug* Europeans may find it odd, but it's pretty typical.

Cindy- I too find it odd that I'll now need a passport to drive over the borders, but the world changes & not always for the better.

Tara- We'll get them too, but most likely in dribs and drabs, as the kids need them. With a soon to be college student our money will be going to higher education, not travel expenses.

Homesick Texan said...

This sort of news always reminds me of The Handmaid's Tale.

Bookwormom said...

H. Txn~ Haven't read it, sounds like I need to!