A friend came up to me the other day and reminded me that I had promised to take him to Ghana. “Have you renewed your passport yet?” I asked, trying to think of some way of stalling this expensive and complicated obligation. “No, not yet,” he replied.

Then I read in the New York Times Travel section that fall is a great time to apply for a passport. According to the State Department, the fall is the least busy time, and if you wait till January, it will take a lot longer. Part of the delay involves the ‘Land and Sea phase of the Western Hemisphere,’ which means required ID and proof of citizenship for travel to all parts of Mexico and the Caribbean, where before you could go without this.

The government, after a deluge of complaints, is actually pulling back a bit from the earlier edict: From January 31 on, you’ll need a government issued document like a driver’s license PLUS a copy of your birth certificate, to prove citizenship, at the border. Eventually, though, a passport will be needed, probably by next summer.

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