Starting in July, a 10-year passport will be available for Canadians planning to travel outside of the country.
"I think people like the idea of having a 10-year passport," said Karren Moore, owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Prince George. "When you have a five-year passport, really it's only valid for 4 1/2 years because it has to be valid for six months past the date that you travel.
"If you're going to the States, where you're allowed to be there six months without a visa, they want your passport to be valid for the time you're allowed to be there. If it expires before six months past the time you get back, then they could refuse you at the border."
The 10-year passport will cost $160. The cost of a five-year passport jumped on Jan. 1st from $87 to $120, and it now costs $57 for kids three-and-younger, a $20 increase for a travel document valid for three years. Until this year, fees had not increased in close to a decade and Passport Canada says it's been losing $5 for every passport it issues, drawn out of a surplus fund that was expected to run out this year.
The fee increases are needed to pay for additional security features. The new ePassports, available July 1st, will include a chip containing personal information on the passport holder that can be scanned and read by border officials in other countries. The chip produces a digital signature that will show electronically if a passport is not authentic. At some airports, travellers with chip-enhanced ePassports can use automated customs and immigration kiosks. The 36-page ePassport has iconic watermark scenes related to Canadian culture and history that make passport forgery more difficult.
As of March 2014, if you are among the 55,000 Canadians annually whose passport gets lost or stolen, it will cost $45 to replace it. Until then, there's no charge. The five-year fee for Canadians to apply from outside of the country has also been hiked, from $97 to $190 ($100 now for children). A 10-year out-of-country application will cost $260.
If you do plan on renewing your expired passport, don't wait too long. Canadians who renew within a year of the expiry date can submit a simplified renewal application. The simplified form eliminates the need for a guarantor and applicants are not required to send a birth certificate, proof of citizenship or other identifying document. All you need is the completed form, the renewal fee, your expired passport, and two unaltered identical photos taken within a year.
The only alternative to a passport for travel between the Canada and the U.S. is the NEXUS card, available only to low-risk, pre-approved applicants. The NEXUS card costs $50 and is valid for five years.
In Prince George, passport applications are accepted at the downtown Canada Post office at 1323 Fifth Ave., and at the Service Canada Centre, 1363 Fourth Ave. Because there is no passport office in the city, all applications have to be mailed or sent by courier, and it will take at least 20 business days for processing. That wait time can be cut to 10 days if the application is delivered in person to one of 34 regional passport offices. In B.C., the offices are in Vancouver, Burnaby, Victoria and Kelowna.
If you've waited too long and are worried about missing that flight to Mexico because you don't have your passport, there is a way to speed up the process. For $70 extra, the urgent service promises a passport within 24 hours. It also requires a hand-delivered application and an airline e-ticket. An email confirmation of a travel booking is not sufficient. If you can wait four business days you can spend an extra $30 and apply for the express service, which also requires a personal visit to the passport office and an airline ticket.
Gone are the days when members of Parliament could expedite the application process for their constituents. Jeanne Clough, executive assistant for Dick Harris, MP for Cariboo-Prince George, remembers when it was a regular occurrence for her office to receive boxes of passports that would then be sent to constituents.
"That was something we could do on behalf of the constituents until about six years ago, but because somebody [in another constituency office] misused the services and privacy issues were broken, it was taken away, said Clough.
"It was an unfortunate thing because we did have a lot of people on an urgent basis if someone was dying or they had to travel for work, and we just can't do it anymore. It is unfortunate, especially when you live in remote areas like this."