Is a passport really needed?
For Americans who want to save money and go to a Mexico dentist, the question arises about whether a US Passport is really needed. In answer to that question, please understand the official policy, and the actual practice are often completely different. As of June 1, 2009, the US Customs Officials are supposed to require that all Americans, entering the US at a land crossing, present a US passport book, or passport card. However, the actual practice has not substantially changed from what it was prior to June 1, and if you simply have your State issued I.D., such as a drivers license and your birth certificate, you will be allowed to re-enter with no problems.
When the government officials try to implement a new policy such as this, they cannot immediately put it into practice and halt US citizens from coming home. A State issued drivers license is still a legitimate and conformable identification, and a birth certificate confirms US citizenship. With these, there is no legitimate reason for Customs to not allow you into the country. Imagine the newspaper headlines and subsequent scandal if a US citizen was denied re-entry, and something happened to them?
The politicians and Customs officials know it would mean political suicide. Working with clinics in Tijuana, I can have seen every single week there are patients who cross the border with no passport, and they have never had any problems going home. There has to be literally hundreds of people every single day who cross the border with the same documents as before June 1, and that translates to several thousand very week.
One US Customs official that I have known personally for several years confided to me that “there is no way that a US citizen will not be allowed into the country, and the worst case scenario, is that they will have to wait a little and be checked out a little more thoroughly to confirm their identity”. A few days ago, when I crossed and presented my passport, the US Customs official actually thanked me for having it. I said, “I thought everyone is supposed to have one”, just so I could see how he responded.
He said, “That doesn’t mean that they do, and it makes my job easier when you have it”. I took that to imply that a large percentage of people don’t have a passport, and that causes him the extra work of a few minutes of having to input their drivers license info into the data base to confirm their identity. When you multiple those few minutes by several hundred times a day, I can see his point. But the truth still remains, if you have dental, or medical needs, don’t let the lack of a passport slow you down. If there is time to get one, great. But if not, don’t even give it a second thought.