Traveling to tropical climes won’t be as simple this winter, thanks to new passport regulations that will take effect Jan. 8, 2007.

U.S. citizens flying to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, including Panama, will be required to show their passports before they can get back into the U.S.

Previously, travelers were merely required to show photo identification and a birth certificate to return back home.

The new air travel regulations will leave many locals shelling out nearly $100 to obtain the extra documentation.

“The number of Laurel Countians who have a passport is very low,” said Kathy Stansberry, owner of Traveltime of London. “Maybe just 5 to 10 percent, but that’s just a guess.”

As a result, the passport offices are swamped.

According to U.S. Passport Services, the number of passports being processed has risen by 60 percent compared to two years ago.

London Post Office employees, who process local applications, have also felt the crunch.

“On average we probably do five a day, though we’ve always been busy,” window tech Helen Pierce said. “We’re probably up 25 to 30 percent from that.”

The turn-around time to receive a passport hovers between four and six weeks.

Passports will not be required for those who are returning to the U.S. by car, by train or by sea, including travelers who are taking cruises. The deadline for those methods of travel has been extended to Jan. 1, 2008.

Stansberry believes the deadline has been extended because cruise travelers are more easily tracked.

“They’re going to be on a certain itinerary,” she said. “They’re not as mobile.”

Staff writer Tara Kaprowy can be reached by e-mail at tkaprowy@sentinel-echo.com.

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