Here's a last-minute holiday gift suggestion that will come in handy real soon: A U.S. passport.

The U.S. Department of State is reminding Americans that beginning Jan. 23, 2007, U.S. citizens traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda will be required to present a U.S. passport, Air NEXUS card or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document.

That's a change from a previous policy that allowed Americans to travel freely within the hemisphere. Congress amended portions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2006. It will not affect travel between the U.S. and its territories such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana islands and American Samoa.

As early as Jan. 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda will be required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents as required by the Department of Homeland Security.

Passports are issued through the Post Office and we expect lines to form early. We expect spring break trips to be the first real test. More information is available by visiting the state department's Web site at travel.state.gov or calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.

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