New rules prompt surge in passport applicants

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PORTLAND (AP) – New rules that will soon require U.S. citizens to have a passport in order to travel by air to Canada and other Western Hemisphere countries drew Elizabeth Wing to the U.S. Post Office in downtown Portland for a “passport fair,” even though she had no specific travel plans.

“I don’t know if I’m going to travel, but if I want to go to Canada, I want to be able to,” said Wing, 25, of Yarmouth.

Scores of people who never had passports or whose passports expired took advantage Saturday of the opportunity to be walked through the paperwork, the photos and the payment process.

As of Jan. 23, air travelers from the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean or Bermuda will for the first time need a passport. And after January 2008, the rule will be expanded to include all land and sea travel to those destinations.

It normally takes six to eight weeks to obtain a passport, but the wait can be reduced to about two weeks for an additional fee of $60. Passport fees are $97 for adults, $82 for children under 16.

Some applicants were attracted to the passport fair by the convenience of having everything in one place, along with some personal attention.

Alison Amdreasen of Portland, was getting passports for herself, her husband and three children. They like to go to Toronto to catch Red Sox games, and their teenage son is considering going to college in Canada.

“We thought we might as well make it easier at the border,” Amdreasen said. “We’ve had the applications for six months and haven’t done anything with them, so here we are.”

Doug Sanders, who works at Irving Oil and regularly flies from Portsmouth, N.H., to New Brunswick, had let his passport lapse and got caught flat-footed by the new rule.

“We have a corporate jet that I can’t get on,” Sanders said.

Also at the fair was Ollie LaChapelle of South Portland, who enjoys traveling to Quebec with her husband, Jim, and their grandchildren from their camp in Eustis.

“We drive across several times a year, at least,” said LaChapelle said.

Trevor Herring of Yarmouth, whose passport expired 14 years ago, said he and his wife of four years may take a long-delayed honeymoon. “We’re thinking about a cruise in the Caribbean,” he said.

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