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North Dakota creates passport alternative for border crossings

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GRAND FORKS - North Dakotans traveling to Canada and Mexico after June 1 will have a less expensive option than a passport to ease Canadian border crossings.

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The new state-issued federal passport cards, or "passcards," will cost $55 less than passports for those 16 and older and $50 less for those younger. And they'll fit in a wallet, just like a driver's license.

While several states issue enhanced driver's license for border crossings, North Dakota's Department of Transportation studied but ultimately rejected the concept, said Linda Butts, deputy director for driver and vehicle services.

"A new card being offered by the state department -- a passport card -- appeared to be the most cost-effective," she said.

Meanwhile, the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario have developed an enhanced identification card that meets U.S. federal guidelines. That card should be available by May, said Brian Smiley, media relations coordinator for Manitoba Public Insurance.

In addition, the three provinces are developing an enhanced driver's license that should be available later this year.

"By obtaining the card, it meets documentation requirements," Smiley said. "It makes their lives somewhat easier in crossing border."

The U.S. passport card differs from a passport in that it easily fits into a wallet and may be used as a border crossing document when returning from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda by land or sea.

But residents traveling by air must use a passport.

"Not only are these changes of major importance to North Dakotans, it will also impact our Canadian neighbors," Butts said.

"Our goal is to safely move people and goods, and we want to keep our citizens informed of the steps needed to comply with the upcoming changes and to assure readers that our good friends up north will be able to continue visiting our cities for shopping and recreation," she said.

A passport costs $100 for those 16 and older and $85 for those younger (renewals are less).

A passcard costs $45 for those 16 and older ($25 if you have a passport) and $35 for those younger.

The passcard is valid for 10 years for those 16 and older and valid for 5 years for those younger.

North Dakotans may apply for the passcard at any one of 59 sites in the state, places such as courthouses and post offices.

Minnesota residents also will need the federal passcard for land or sea travel.

For U.S. citizens planning to enter the U.S. by land or sea, starting June 1, one of these documents will be needed:

- Passport.

- Passport card.

- Enhanced driver's license, offered by only a few states.

- "Trusted Traveler" card such as SENTRI and NEXUS for frequent border crossers.

The rules have some exceptions.

U.S. and Canadian children younger than 16, for example, will need only proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate; in organized groups, the cutoff will be age 18.

A summary of the current and new rules may be found at www.getyouhome.gov, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site.

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