The new rules, that seem like they have been “coming” forever, are finally almost here. As of June 1, 2009, a passport or passport card is required to go between Mexico, Canada and the United States on land or by sea. You need a passport to travel by air internationally. Period. Even a newborn baby.
Some states, however, have made it much easier to travel by land or sea. A few states and provinces have created an enhanced drivers license (EDL) or ID card that will work in the same way. The optional card will cost a little more, $15 in Washington for example, and have the electronic chip that transmit the necessary information to border control. So if you stay in North America (and don't ever fly even in emergency) and live in Washington State, this is the easiest and cheapest way to go. For some reason the EDL is okay for the borders on land and sea but not the air but that's government for you. The passport business would probably see their numbers go down substantially.
You need to apply for these licenses in person and have the usual documents, proof of birth, residency and so on. You also need a biometric scan which is where they take a good photo of your face and do all these computerized measurements with it. How far apart are your eyes, nose, lips, etc. This prevents anyone but your doppelganger from getting through.
Some border agents stuck out there may not be aware of this new option so I recommend that you print out this white sheet PDF and take it with you to present to them. Then they can either believe it or at least find someone else who has training or can look it up.
NEW RULES MADE EASY
Travel by air
Passport. You need a full passport. It's $100 and good for 10 years. I recommend this so you have it. What if you have to fly home in an emergency? What if you have to travel to a loved one in an emergency? What if you are a banker and need to flea the country on short notice? For what amounts to $10 a year or two overpriced coffees, you can have it and be ready. Otherwise, you may wind up spending $145 instead of $100 now. Get one
Travel by land or sea
Passport card. It's an id card that works partially like a passport for land and sea travel between US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda. But it's not good for air travel. $45 for 10 years. Get one
Enhanced Drivers License. These are a great option if you are in one of the few states with them.
Please feel free to ask any clarification questions here and I'll help you. I've gone through enough red tape already that I may be of assistance or can give you tips.