For as long as we can remember, the only documentation needed by a U.S. citizen returning home from Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas or certain other locations by air was a driver's license and a birth certificate. No more. Beginning Jan. 23, 2007, all U.S. citizens -- including children -- need a current passport, even if you're arriving via private aircraft. That's according to a federal law enacted in 2004, as implemented by the departments of State and Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Some exclusions do apply, and individuals traveling between the mainland and U.S. territories are exempt. Of course, all of this -- including new passports with embedded chips -- are part of the nation's continuing anti-terrorism efforts.
The new requirement's deadline was announced in November, and apparently will be implemented despite attempts by various organizations, including AOPA, to seek a delay. For what it's worth, as early as Jan. 1, 2008, all U.S. citizens traveling by land or sea may also need a passport instead of the customary documents. Citizens obtaining a new passport may or may not receive one of the new documents with an embedded chip. Rollout of the new passport began last year in some locations but, for the time being, not all new passports will contain the chip.