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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 Passpor,t 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 July 13, 2010

  • If you are older than 16 and you do not have a U.S. passport, applying for one costs $135.  If you are under 16, the passport application fee is $105. These costs include an execution fee of $25 for all first time passport applications.
  • The fee for renewing a U.S. passport is $110.
  • Adding visa pages to an existing passport costs $82.

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.

Acceptance facilities include many Federal, state and probate courts, post offices, some public libraries and a number of county and municipal offices.  You can find the location of the nearest Passport Acceptance Facilities at this site from the U.S. Department of State http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/

There are also 14 regional passport agencies, which serve customers who are traveling within 2 weeks (14 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.

  • The process usually takes six weeks, although the process can be expedited by paying an "Expedite Fee" of $60.00. Anyone may request expedited handling.
  • If you apply by mail, clearly mark “expedited” on the envelope.
    • In addition, it is suggested that you send your materials by "overnight delivery" and include a self addressed, pre-paid overnight-delivery envelope for the return of your passport.

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, downloaded from the Internet at http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/ds11/ds11_842.html.  The page has two forms available; one can be filled out online then printed and the second can be printed out and filled in by pen.  Alternatively, the form can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778).

  • On March 8, 2005 newly designed forms DS -11(Application for Passport) and DS-82 (Application for Passport by Mail) replaced the previous forms.
  • For TDD/TTY users, the number is 1-888-874-7793. Live operators are now available on weekdays from 8:00am to 8:00pm, Eastern Time. Twenty-four hour, 7-day access to automated information continues to be available.

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.

  • This applies to all regular, official, and diplomatic passports for children under the age of 14, even if the child has previously been issued a passport. Prior to the introduction of this requirement, parents were not routinely required to bring a child under the age of 14 with them when they applied on the child's behalf.
  • Now, when applying for a passport on behalf of a minor under the age of 14, parents are required to have their child present and submit documentation of parental relationship and consent, as well as comply with all other documentation requirements for the issuance of a passport

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.

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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