This change is of particular importance to cruise travelers, hikers or others, who had previously needed only a birth certificate to return to the United States.
Always check the current requirements before you travel. It can take several weeks to get your passport, even if you have all of the required information at hand. You can apply for your passport at the post office. Check http://www.usps.com/passport/ for application information.
Sea Travel Identification Requirements
U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Mexico, the Caribbean, Bermuda or Canada will now need to show one of the following forms of identification: a United States Passport, a U.S. Passport Card, an Enhanced Driver's License or a Trusted Traveler Program card.
A U.S. citizen on a closed cruise that departs from and returns to the same port with no international port calls can still return with a birth certificate.
If your cruise stops in an international port and you do not get off the ship, you must still provide the required documents when you get back to the United States.
A U.S. Passport is issued by the State Department. It is internationally recognized as proof of your citizenship. To get a passport, you need a certified birth certificate (issued by the city, state or county), a naturalization certificate, a certificate of citizenship, a previously issued passport or a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. The application process is detailed online at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html
U.S. Passport Card
The U.S. Passport Card is also issued by the State Department. It can be used at land and sea ports of entry from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. It cannot be used for air travel. It is a less-expensive alternative to the traditional passport and is designed to make cross-border travel easier for U.S. citizens who live in border areas. It takes the same amount of time to process.
Enhanced Driver's License
Currently available through a small number of states, the Enhanced Driver's License makes it easier for an American to cross the Canadian border to the United States. They contain a radio-frequency identification chip that can be read at 39 land ports of entry.
Trusted Traveler Programs
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has several Trusted Traveler Programs that allow pre-approved travelers through dedicated lanes at certain ports of entry. There are four programs available.
NEXUS is for travelers crossing the U.S./Canadian border by sea, air or land.
SENTRI is for trusted travelers crossing the U.S./Mexican border.
FAST is designed for approved commercial truck drivers crossing either the Canadian or Mexican borders.
Global Entry is for international travelers entering the United States at a limited number of airports.