Things Travelers Need To Know
Passports and Visas
Travel Advice - Passport ins and outs
A passport is an official government document that certifies one's identity and citizenship. The issuance of a passport permits the citizen, to whom the passport is granted, the ability to travel outside of, and return to, his or her own country.
For U.S. citizens, the best place to find passport information is at the official Web site for the Department of State. Also, be sure to see our article on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the new passport requirements for re-entering the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada.
The Passport Card, an alternative to the Passport, is a credit card sized, official travel document that can be used to enter the United States only from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda and only at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. The Passport Card cannot be used for international air travel to any location from the United States. See our article on Passport Cards for more information.
What Does a U.S. Passport cost?
As of January, 2017
A passport can be renewed by mail if you were 16 or older when it was issued; it was issued in the last 15 years; or it is not damaged; and, your current passport is submitted with your application.
Where Do You Apply for a Passport?
To obtain a passport for the first time, you need
appear in person at one of 7,000 passport acceptance facilities located
throughout the United States. Bring two photographs of
yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a valid form of photo
identification such as a driver’s license. You can expedite the process
by downloading the passport applications forms (described below) and
completing them before your visit to the acceptance facility.
Note: Do not sign the DS-11 application form until asked to do so by the
Passport Acceptance Agent.
There are a 14 regional passport agencies, which serve customers who are traveling within 3 weeks (21 days), or who need foreign visas for travel. Appointments are required in such cases and must be scheduled in advance. A list of the locations of the regional passport agencies can be found here.
It is recommended that you apply for a passport several months in advance of any planned travel.
If you do not live close to one of these centers, use the mail based "expedite" instructions provided above. Also, always check with the State Department for the latest updates on passport information.
Finally, if you are renewing your passport and do not have the time to shepherd your passport renewal application through the system, you can always use a "passport runner", a business that, for an additional fee, will assist in the expedited processing for you. Passport services companies usually charge from $50 to $150 plus regular passport fees for their services.
What Else Should I Know About Passports?
Official Passport Application forms can be found at passport acceptance facilities,or downloaded or filled out online from the State Department here. Alternatively, the form can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778).
When applying for your first passport, you must apply in person. To enhance the accurate identification of passport applicants and aid in the prevention of international child abduction and trafficking, the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs has begun requiring the personal appearance of all minors applying for U.S. passports.
The application for a passport must be accompanied by proof of citizenship (previous U.S. Passport or certified birth certificate), proof of identity (for example, current valid driver's license, government ID, Military ID, or Naturalization Certificate), two 2" x 2" passport photos (identical) taken within the last six months that show your current appearance (vending machine photos are generally not accepted). Photos should be full face, front view, with a plain white or off-white background. As of November, 2016 you may not wear glasses (of any type) in a photo to be used with a passport application. Note that over 200,000 passport applications were delayed in 2015 to require resubmission of unusable passport photos.
Passport Agencies accept payment by credit card, debit card, and check. Passport Acceptance facilities usually accept checks, money orders and cash in payment for the passport fees. Credit cards are not accepted at some facilities
Passport processing usually takes at least six weeks, so plan ahead unless you want to spend the sixty bucks to expedite the processing. Our advice is to apply early.
Passports are valid for 10 years from the date of issue for those 16 or older, and for only 5 years for those younger than 16.
Some governments will not allow visitors to enter their country unless the visitor’s passport is valid for six months beyond the date of entry. Always determine whether the countries that you are visiting enforce this rule. If your passport will expire before the six-month date, renew your passport before departing the United States.
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