Passports and Visas for Florida
By James | Last updated August 18, 2023
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On January 23, 2007 the United States Government started to implement the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) as part of a policy to strengthen US borders which resulted in new passport regulations for US citizens.
This new initiative ultimately requires that all travellers to and from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, Bermuda and the Caribbean present a passport (or other accepted documents, namely a Merchant Mariner Document or NEXUS Air card) when entering or re-entering the United States. This includes children.
If you are planning on going on a Caribbean cruise then you will probably need a passport to re-enter Florida even if you are a US citizen
Air travel has been implemented first and land and sea travel will be transitioned over 2 years with full implementation by June 2009.
To assist the transition over the holiday season, the new regulations came into effect on January 23, 2007 rather than January 1 as originally planned and affected citizens of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda arriving into the USA by air. Other international travellers already needed to show a passport and are also subject to separate visa requirements including the Visa Waiver Program.
Sea (Cruise) Travellers
Most cruise companies already insisted on proof of identity but from January 31, 2008, an oral declaration will no longer be valid.
All US and Canadian citizens aged 19 and over must present proof of identity and citizenship in the form of a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) plus proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate or naturalisation certificate). Children 18 and under will only need to present a birth certificate.
If people do not have adequate identity papers, they could be delayed whilst U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers attempt to prove their identity.
Note that Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are US territories and therefore a passport is not required for US citizens if entering Florida from these destinations.
Around 5 million people go on cruises from Florida ports each year and some 2 million of those vacationers are from Florida.
Like cruise passengers, anyone crossing a land border from Canada or Mexico will also require a government-issued photo ID plus proof of citizenship from January 31, 2008.
Prior to the introduction of WHTI, only about 27% of US citizens possessed a passport and therefore many vacationers planning a cruise from Florida to the Caribbean could be affected by this new ruling. The number is now up to around 30%.
If applying for a US passport, you are advised to allow 6 weeks for processing unless you intend to use one of the passport express services.
A new US Passport Card becomes available from February 1, 2008 and anyone who has one of these cards or a full US passport, Trusted Traveler Program card or other secure documentation will be covered when the final WHTI requirements are completed in June 2009.
More information can be found on the web site of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.