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ASK JOURNEYS: New e-passports are secure, officials pledge

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There's one thing I can always count on from the readers of this column: Whenever I make an error the travellers who are in the know are quick to let me know it.

And many did just that when I did not correctly identify Zagreb as the capital of Croatia in a previous column, and suggested that it was the capital of the former Yugoslavia. The capital at that time was, in fact, Belgrade.

QUESTION: I am able to wait for the new Canadian passports to become a reality this spring before I need to apply for a new one, I have a couple of questions.

I have heard different answers about whether or not the new passports can be scanned by these electronic devices that seem to be on the rise that are being used by "thieves" to steal people's information from credit cards and such, even from several feet away.

Will all the new passports be valid for a 10-year period? I certainly would prefer that over the hassle of applying every five years.

ANSWER: For those who may not be aware of the issue relating to the first part of this reader's question, there has been a dramatic rise in the frequency of use of electronic technology to read the information from the radio frequencies on the chip cards (RFID) that have taken over the credit card and related industries.

These devices can easily retrieve information from a distance. An entirely new industry has spawned to protect these cards from those readers as a result.

The new e-passports will utilize this RFID process, but officials assure us that no additional passport wallet will be required to protect information that is contained on the document.

In order for it to be read by someone trying to gain that information they would have to be within ten centimetres of the reader, and the passport book would actually have to be opened to Page 2 at the time where the most sensitive information is contained.

Passport Canada suggests that it is extremely unlikely that information that resides on the chip can be captured without your knowledge.

However, RFID chip protection for your credit cards and other similar information containing units should be shielded.

Addressing the second question you pose, Canadians will have the choice of applying for a five or 10 year passport.

It should be noted that the new passport options will only be available for applications after July 1, when the new e-passports are actually introduced formally to the public.

If you require a new passport before then, you will still receive the existing non-chip based document.

For more information about the new enhanced Canadian passport, please visit www.ppt.gc.ca/eppt/index.aspx?langeng.

QUESTION: I am Canadian snowbird writing from Florida.

My friends have been emailing me information about a new state law that requires me to have an International Driver's Licence. Apparently, this law came into effect on Jan. 1, after we left Canada.

What do I need to do to get one from here?

ANSWER: It was a ridiculous and foolhardy law that was hastily run through their legislative bodies. It has been met with derision and disdain by just about everyone, and in fact may be against the Geneva Convention, as it now appears.

In 2012, Florida hosted almost 90 million visitors, with over 3-1/2 million of them Canadian. While it is the winter residence for thousands of Canadians who drive south every year in their own vehicles, it's also a state with a significant percentage of visitor car rentals.

Well over a million Floridians are employed in the tourist industry, and it would be a safe bet that most of them are up in arms at the concept of forcing people to purchase a document many have never heard of, which can also be purchased for a simple fee without any additional test requirements whatsoever.

The state has said that no one will be ticketed or charged for not having the International Driving permit, and it's a pretty safe bet the legislators will undertake a hasty retreat and remove the legislation sooner rather than later.

Nevertheless, some analysts have suggested that because the law is in place now, there could be a problem with insurance claims should accidents occur.

QUESTION: We are heading to Cuba in April and in a previous column you advise taking mostly cash for purchases. How much do you suggest would be wise and also for tips?

ANSWER: You ask a really tough question here because everyone spends differently. Depending upon your credit card you can use it for excursions if it is not in any way cleared through an American financial institution.

Tips don't have to be big at all since they really do appreciate anything you give them. But they do appreciate generosity

If you don't leave the resort you will need very little actually cash. If you are going "downtown" it can change the dynamic, but there are not shopping centres there as we know them.

To fix a price is hard but I personally would travel with at least five to seven hundred dollars. Whatever your level is it is wise to take a little extra just in case.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 D3

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