I'm getting ready to renew my US passport for the first time. Since I got this passport the ID requirements at the US-Canada border have gotten stricter, so I've been using my passport when driving across that border.

I have no current international travel plans within the renewal window, but I have relatives in Canada and one never knows when a family emergency might occur, especially with older relatives. Renewing the passport requires temporarily surrendering the current (still-valid) one. A little Googling tells me that I wouldn't be able to cross this border (in both directions) with an expired passport at all, so waiting doesn't help.

How do I retain my ability to drive to Canada and back home while my passport renewal is being processed? I don't have an "enhanced" driver's license (whatever that is). I do have a copy of my birth certificate. My only citizenship is US.

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    Have you thought of expediting the passport application? – user102008 Nov 27 '14 at 3:41
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    "A little Googling tells me that I wouldn't be able to cross this border (in both directions) with an expired passport at all" Not true for the entering U.S. direction. A U.S. citizen (who can satisfactorily demonstrate his/her U.S. citizenship) cannot be denied entry to the U.S. And an expired passport presents a pretty strong presumption that you are a U.S. citizen; of course they would put you through inspection and check it, but ultimately, they have to let you in if it checks out. – user102008 Nov 27 '14 at 3:45
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    @MichaelHampton I found that question before asking this one, but (a) the question there is just about going to Canada, and (b) the answer there says you need the passport to return (so have it shipped to you in Canada). OTOH, the comment just above yours suggests that a US citizen can't be denied entry for not having the physical passport. Maybe user102008 will raise that concern on the answer there? – Monica Cellio Nov 30 '14 at 19:19

Actually, I called a US Port of entry today, July 25, 2016, to inquire if my mom would be allowed entrance to the US without a passport. My mother, a US citizen, has been visiting with me in Canada and needs to get her passport renewed. A photocopy of her US passport is all they need for her to be allowed re-entry. Just in case, I am also going to bring the documentation showing we have made application for the renewal passport.

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    Thanks! How did she get into Canada? Did she have a valid passport at the time (and applied for the renewal from Canada)? – Monica Cellio Jul 26 '16 at 2:06

If you travel to and from Canada frequently, you may want to obtain a NEXUS card. This costs $50 and is good for five years. In addition to offering identification good for crossing the border, it also expedites clearance. In addition it would allow you to use the dedicated NEXUS lanes at border crossings, which often have shorter waits.

One catch is that you must travel to a NEXUS enrollment center for an in-person interview with CBP and CBSA, and there may not be one near where you live.

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    Just to be clear, once you have a NEXUS card, you can use it instead of your passport, not in addition to. However you occasionally meet staff who don't know that. – Kate Gregory Nov 27 '14 at 19:12
  • Oh that's interesting; I thought NEXUS was just for expedited service, not for credentials. – Monica Cellio Nov 27 '14 at 21:17
  • @Kate Gregory Have you ever been refused entry due to those officials forgetting? – verve Nov 28 '14 at 8:34
  • I have not, but have read elsewhere of people who were given a hassle and had to insist that someone (often airline check in or gate staff) read the rules. – Kate Gregory Nov 28 '14 at 11:08
  • From Nexus Q&A: (1) Is the NEXUS card a WHTI compliant document? Yes, it is a WHTI compliant document for entry into the United States. (2) Can I use my NEXUS card as proof of identification and citizenship in non-NEXUS lanes when entering Canada? Yes. If you are a Canadian or U.S. citizen, and a NEXUS member, you may use your membership card as proof of identification and citizenship when entering Canada by land, air (when coming from the U.S.) or boat when using non-NEXUS lanes. – Adam Lawrence Jul 16 '19 at 15:35

If you have a Passport Card, you can use this for land crossings to Canada while your passport book is being renewed. If you don't have a passport card, you can apply for one by mail.

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    Oh, the passport card isn't linked to the passport application itself? (Passport cards weren't a thing yet back when I got this passport, and once they were announced I figured I was covered because I had an actual passport. Until now.) – Monica Cellio Nov 26 '14 at 23:08
  • Hmm. I'm actually not sure whether they are linked or not. I can't find a definite answer to that on the State Department site. – Greg Hewgill Nov 26 '14 at 23:10
  • What I see (at your link) is that you "can" apply for the card at the same time you apply for the passport. It doesn't say you have to. For most of the lifespan of the passport one doesn't also need the card, so basically I'd be paying the application fee to cover the 4-5 weeks while the passport is not in my possession. I wonder if there's an easier way, but it sounds like that would work if necessary. – Monica Cellio Nov 26 '14 at 23:14
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    Ultimately applying for a new Passport Card at this point will not resolve the issue, as it takes time for the PC to be processed, produced and mailed as well. – user13044 Nov 27 '14 at 1:54
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    Yes, but either way, the Passport Card takes time to be made, same as renewing a passport. Often renewing a passport is a quicker turn around than getting a new one. – user13044 Nov 27 '14 at 2:08

You can enter Canada with just your US birth certificate, BUT you can not come back to the USA without your passport.

So in an emergency you could travel north to be with family, but once there you would have to wait until your new passport is sent and then forwarded to you by someone who has access to your mail.

If you live in Washington, Michigan, New York, Vermont or Minnesota, you can swap your standard drivers license in and get an Enhanced DL, which serves the same as a Passport Card. But not sure what the local processing time might be in those states.

But from the sounds of your wording, perhaps you have not sent it in yet? If so and if the family health issues are a real concern why not pay for expedited service?

  • There aren't imminent health issues; it's more that I feel like I'm taunting Murphy with this renewal, so I want to see whether there's an option that doesn't leave me unable to travel. Thanks for this information. – Monica Cellio Nov 27 '14 at 2:19
  • Note that, although it may be feasible, it is technically breaking U.S. law for him/her to leave the U.S. without a valid U.S. passport, or one of the other acceptable documents. law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1185#b Though there doesn't seem to be any practical consequences. – user102008 Nov 27 '14 at 3:39
  • @CGC - It is illegal to re-enter the USA without a passport, so yes they can deny re-entry. Perhaps after many hours of wrangling with CBP they might allow you back in with secondary documentation OR they may turn you around and tell to go to the Embassy and get a temporary passport. – user13044 Nov 27 '14 at 7:09
  • @tom you are correct, (I am removing my comments) – CGCampbell Nov 27 '14 at 15:44
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    @Tom: "so yes they can deny re-entry" No, they cannot. A U.S. citizen (who can satisfactorily prove their U.S. citizenship) cannot be denied entry to the U.S. – user102008 Jan 15 '15 at 0:36

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