By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/13/2010 10:00:59 AM ET 2010-07-13T14:00:59

A day late and $35 short.

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After months of procrastination, it seems that’s the cost of not renewing my passport in a timely manner. Fees for just about every passport-processing procedure are going up today and if you’ve snoozed, you’ll likely lose the next time you turn in your paperwork.

Applying for your first passport? If you’re 16 or older, it’ll run you $135, up from $100. Fifteen or younger? It’ll cost an extra $20, or $105. Renewals, meanwhile, are now $110, up from $75, while passport cards, the less-expensive documents designed for land and sea crossings between the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, will cost an extra $10 for adults and $5 for minors.

The new fees are based on a Cost of Service Study the government conducted in 2009 to determine the actual cost of providing passport services. According to the State Department, those costs include not just the physical production of passport books — which, by the way, run about $16 a pop — but also the costs involved in implementing new technology, operating expanded processing facilities and providing aid and emergency services to U.S. citizens overseas.

On the other hand, according to most of the people who commented on the new rules, when they were proposed this spring, that’s a lot of hogwash. Of the 1,797 comments the government received, nearly 99 percent opposed the increase, citing everything from the lousy economy to the impact on cross-border commerce to bald-faced government greed.

As for the rest, 22 commenters actually supported the plan.

New fees are nothing new
Personally, I think the majority of regular travelers will give the news a collective shrug. Yeah, the higher fees bite — c’mon, what fee increase doesn’t? — but most will consider it yet another rising cost of doing business (or pleasure), along with higher airfares, admission fees and restaurant prices. And while some of the other increases listed in the rules are genuinely shocking (e.g., from $0 to $82 for extra visa pages), $35 for something that lasts for 10 years can hardly be considered a deal breaker.

Nevertheless, the objections recall the hue and cry over the new passport requirements mandated by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and implemented last year. That rule, you’ll remember, required U.S. citizens to have passports (or passport-equivalent documents) for travel to and from select countries where a driver’s license or birth certificate had previously sufficed.

For some, those wholly new costs ($45 for a passport card, $97 for a passport) could be considered genuinely prohibitive, and there’s no escaping the fact that the new requirements made life in travel-dependent border communities even tougher. But for others, it all boiled down to government greed, black helicopters on the border and claims of “I’m an American, why the hell should I need a passport?”

This time — at least according to a random sampling of the comments — there seems to be less anti-gubmint invective. There are, however, several comments from travel companies suggesting that the higher fees will be a deterrent to their business. Maybe so, but when United Airlines complains that excessive fees will harm their business, you have to wonder what they’ve been smoking. Heaven knows it couldn’t be the baggage fees, summer surcharges and generally rising price of flying that are turning people off.

All of which is to say that I don’t buy the argument that higher passport fees will deter that many people from traveling. Business travelers will consider it another cost of doing business; leisure travelers will budget accordingly, and those who simply love to travel will focus, not on the cost, but on what they get for their money.

Cost vs. value
I was reminded of that recently as I flipped through one of my expired passports, a stamp-filled document that coincided with a former job as an editor for a trade magazine for the seafood industry. As part of my work, I traveled to Chile, New Zealand, Norway and dozens of other seafood-producing countries. (Unfortunately, I spent most of my time in-country touring fishing boats and processing plants, but that’s another story.)

The travel was often grueling (and exceedingly fragrant), but 10 years later, those passport stamps serve as visual reminders of experiences I wouldn’t have had any other way. (And, no, the company didn’t pay for my passport.) If similar experiences now cost an extra $3.50 a year, I can live with it.

Of course, that’s just me. You, as I suspect subsequent correspondence will demonstrate, may feel differently. If so, you still have options. You can limit your travel to domestic destinations or opt for a less-expensive passport card for (non-air) travel within the parameters of WHTI. And if you’re really angry about all this and feel it’s just another intrusion by a meddling government that’s ruining the country, you can renounce your citizenship altogether.

Alas, that’ll cost you $450.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.

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Explainer: Passport rules

  • Heading outside the country and don't know if you need a passport? Taking a cross-border driving trip? Here's what you need to know about the passport rules.

    Source: State Department, msnbc.com research

  • Goal

    The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) aims to strengthen border security and facilitate entry into the United States for citizens and legitimate foreign visitors by providing standardized, secure and reliable documentation that allows the Department of Homeland Security to quickly, reliably and accurately identify a traveler.

  • Timeline

  • July 13, 2010

    Applying for a U.S. passport got more expensive, jumping $35 for adults and $20 for minors (age 16 and below). A new passport now costs $135 and $105, respectively. Passport renewals for adults jumped $35 to $110. Fees for passport cards jumped to $55, up $10, for adults, and to $40, up $5, for children.

  • June 1, 2009

    As of this date, U.S. citizens traveling between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda by land or sea (including ferries), will are required to present a valid U.S. passport or other documents as determined by the DHS.

  • Jan. 23, 2007

    As of this date, U.S. citizens traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda are required to present a valid U.S. passport, Air NEXUS card or U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document.

  • Travel documents

    Under WHTI, the following documents will be acceptable to fulfill document requirements:

  • U.S. passport

    U.S. citizens may present a valid U.S. passport when traveling via air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda, and may also use a U.S. passport when traveling via sea and land borders (including ferry crossings).

  • Passport card

    The State Department started producing the U.S. Passport Card in July 2008. Also known as the PASS card, this limited-use passport in card format is available for use for travel only via land and sea between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. The Passport Card is about the size of a credit card and easily fits into a wallet.

  • Others

    WHTI-compliant travel documents for U.S. citizen travel via land or sea, as of Jan. 31, 2008:

    Trusted Traveler Cards (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST)

    State-issued Enhanced Driver's License (when available)

    Enhanced Tribal Cards

    U.S. Military Identification with Military Travel Orders

    U.S. Merchang Mariner Document when traveling in conjunction with official maritime business

    Native American Tribal Photo Identification Card

    Form I-872 American Indian Card

  • More information

  • Travel between territories

    WHTI will not affect travel between the United States and its territories. Citizens traveling directly between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa will continue to be able to use established forms of identification to board flights and for entry.

  • How to apply

    U.S. citizens can visit the State Department’s travel website (travelstate.gov.) or call the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 for information about applying for a passport.

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