Washington---11 Oct. 2006-----Starting January 8, 2007, Americans traveling by air to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, South America, Central America and the Caribbean countries will need a passport. With the deadline looming, many travelers are finding that AAA travel agencies are one-stop service centers for Americans traveling overseas. The new requirements are part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, a provision approved by Congress in 2002.
As the deadline draws near, more Americans and Canadians will be visiting the 1,000 AAA and CAA office locations for assistance with passport applications, passport photos, travelers’ cheques, International Driving Permits, foreign currency, preloaded debit cards and more.
“Americans need to appreciate the potential hassles that come with waiting until the last moment to get their passports,” said Robert L. Darbelnet, President and CEO of AAA. “Canada and Mexico are the biggest international destinations for U.S. travelers and the first months of the year are high season for the Caribbean and travel to Mexico.” According to recent figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce, 20 million Americans visited Mexico and 14 million Americans visited Canada in 2005.
Under the new requirements, airline passengers from the U.S. and Canada traveling to countries in the Western Hemisphere will be required to present a valid passport for entry and reentry in the U.S. With only weeks until the law goes into effect, AAA is urging travelers to act sooner rather than later.
According to the U.S. State Department, less than 27 percent of Americans have a valid passport. This could mean real delays if travelers wait until the end of the year to get a passport for their 2007 travels, said AAA.
Through a partnership with Travisa, a visa processing company, AAA members and nonmembers alike can get a new passport in as little as one business day by paying an additional processing fee. Travelers need only bring a birth certificate or naturalization certificate and have a signed letter of authorization from a post office or county clerk. AAA can provide all the required forms and can help with the application process.
Travisa also processes travel visas for Americans and Canadians traveling overseas. According to a AAA survey, 1,051 AAA/CAA offices in the U.S. and Canada provide in-office passport photos for members and nonmembers and many offer the service for free or at a nominal charge for AAA members.
By comparison, the traditional passport application involves downloading an application, paying for a passport photo and appearing in person at a local Passport Acceptance Facility. The traditional process takes from two to six weeks.
“There are a number of good reasons to have a passport, like last minute vacation opportunities or overseas emergencies,” said Darbelnet. “A passport also is one of the most universally accepted forms of identification in North America.”
AAA is North America’s largest full service leisure travel agency, and AAA offices are one-stop service centers for international travelers. AAA is one of only two organizations authorized by the U.S. State Department to issue the U.N. sanctioned International Driving Permit (IDP) for vacationers planning to drive overseas. This document, combined with a U.S. driver’s license, certifies that U.S. citizens are legally able to operate a car in a foreign nation. The IDP is a translation of the U.S. driver’s license into 11 languages. The IDP, which sells for $10, is often required by overseas car rental companies and can be helpful if a driver is pulled over by foreign police. AAA issues more than 350,000 IDPs annually and so far this year, the number of IDPs that were distributed to AAA clubs is up 17%. Other products useful to international travelers include the Visa AAA Travel Money Card®, a pre-loadable debit card that includes lost luggage protection; the AAA Visa Card, which has one of the lowest foreign currency conversion rates; and AAA Spiral Guides and AAA Essential Guides, which cover major international destinations from Amsterdam to Thailand. AAA clubs also offer dozens of retail books and maps including the top selling AAA Europe TravelBook®.
“People think of AAA for auto travel, but there is no other location that offers as many services for international travelers as your local AAA club,” said Darbelnet. “Getting your passport, planning your trip, making reservations with exclusive AAA member benefits and savings, and acquiring the money you need before you leave can be done in one place and at one time.”
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 49 million members with travel, insurance, financial and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.
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