There was once a time when Americans traveling to and from Canada could do so with little advance preparation other than a hotel reservation. Almost any form of identification would be sufficient to cross the border into Canada and then later to return to the United States.
So it was with upset and anxiety that my wife and I recently learned we might not be able to board a cruise ship leaving Boston for the Canadian Maritimes, because a Boston port official had seen that her passport had expired. In her rush to leave our apartment in New York, my wife had grabbed the wrong passport from a pile of such booklets—some old, one new—in her desk drawer.
But not to worry, said the port official. The ship would permit her to board, and then to cruise the Canadian ports, with a driver’s license and birth certificate (which could be faxed to us by our daughter from New York). The only problem was that we would not later be permitted to board a flight in Montreal (the final cruise stop) for the return trip to New York. We would have to travel by train for 11 hours from Montreal to New York, because the trains-—unlike the airlines-—woud probably permit such improvised identification (he stressed the word “probably”), whereas the airlines definitely wouldn’t.
So we could proceed on our cruise, after phoning our daughter to find the said driver’s license and birth certificate in a desk drawer and fax them to us at the port in Boston. With only minutes to spare before the giant ship departed, we boarded the vessel. Once on the ship, we also learned that the said daughter would not be able to Fed Ex the proper passport to us at one of our later stops in Canada, because Canadian customs would not permit passports to be mailed in that manner. So we possibly would be able to return home by train, forfeiting the two air tickets that we had already bought for our homeward flight.
And then, by sheer accident, we learned there was a U.S. consulate in Halifax, Canada, one of our stops (who knew?). Alighting from the ship in that city, we rushed to that American haven, and had another adventure.
If you have ever had to visit a U.S. consulate recently, you will remember the experience as fraught with tension. The front door is locked. You communicate via voice microphone. Out comes a security guard packing a pistol. You are made to leave all belongings outside. Once inside, you are ushered into a small plain room and are dealt with by a single employee of the consulate.
There we learned that by paying an additional $135, we could obtain a temporary passport of two months’ validity for my wife (this, after mysterious phone calls were made to Washington, D.C.). Thus equipped, our saga ended. After many days of tension and anxiety, we were safely approaching our final stop abroad.
Next time you go to Canada, make sure you are carrying a valid passport.