State Dept. Offers Passport Alternative Card

Congress has extended a deadline requiring travelers to use passports for identification when crossing land and sea borders into the United States until June 2009, but travelers still are required to bring proof of their citizenship such as a birth certificate. A similar requirement was implemented for travelers crossing the border by air last year as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

The State Department said it has created a "ready reserve" of officers to process an expected sharp increase in passport applications, and, beginning Feb. 1, will begin accepting applications for a passport alternative card. About the size of a credit card, the passport alternative costs $45, compared to $97 for a regular passport, and the cards are not valid for air travel. The first cards will be issued some time this spring.

The cards also contain a radio frequency identification chip that transmits a serial number corresponding to secure government databases with information on the cardholder. The chips can be read from 20 feet away.