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Passports: You can’t travel without one!

UPDATED: December 2017

Obtaining your passport is one of the most important things to consider before going out of the country.  You’ll not get beyond the check-in counter at the airport without a valid passport.  Travelers must have a passport if visiting a country outside the United States of America.  New rules require a passport even when traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.  Obtaining a passport, or even renewing an old one, can take some time.  The average delivery time is 4 to 6 weeks. It is a good idea to always hold a valid passport, however most Americans do not consider it a necessity.  Be sure to apply for a passport as soon as you know you will be traveling outside the United States.

As a general rule, your Passport must be valid for six (6) months after your travel is complete.  Rules differ by country, but for European countries, this is the case.  Additionally, most airlines will not allow boarding for an international flight unless your passport is valid for six (6) months beyond your travel dates.  See this link for more information:  https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html.

How to get a passport

Before applying for a passport you’ll need a few items for the application process.

  1. Proof of citizenship: You’ll need an original birth certificate or a certified copy of the birth certificate (a photocopy won’t work).
  2. Two passport photos: These are special sized photos required by the passport agency.  You can have them taken at many places like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and CVS.
  3. A valid form of photo identification such as a driver’s license or official I.D. card is needed.

There are many places you can go to get a passport. Some include:

  • Federal, state and probate courts,
  • Clerk of the Court Offices,
  • Post offices, and
  • Some public libraries.

For a complete list check https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html

You must apply for a passport in person. A parent cannot apply for their child unless the child is present.  Cash, major credit cards, debit cards, and personal checks are accepted (payments must be for the full amount).

The application fee for a new passport is $110, plus a $25 fee added for processing.  You may pay the passport application fee in the form of a check, cash, or credit card. If paying by check, make it payable to “Department of State.” However, the agency processing fee of $25 may require cash payment.  This is paid to the agency where you submit the application, such as US Post Office or Clerk of the Court.

Passport validity periods vary depending on the age of the applicant.

  • If you are 16 years or older, a new passport is valid for ten (10) years from the date of issue.
  • Passports are valid for five (5) years for those under 16 years of age.

Renewing your passport

Adult passports are good for 10 years.  Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the return date of your travel. This is important.  You can renew your passport at the same locations listed above or in certain cases it can be done by mail.  For complete details on how to renew your passport in person or by mail visit: 

https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html

If you have a passport that was issued when you were age 16 or older AND it is less than 15 years old, you can renew by mail.  Simply complete a renewal application, include your old passport, two new photos, and renewal fees of $100 (payable by check).  Make checks payable to “Department of State.” The full name of the applicant and date of birth, must be written on the check.

FASTER SERVICE: For a FEE, a passport renewal application can be expedited.  See the application and website for details.

You have your passport, so now what?

Once you have received your passport there are a few things you should consider.

  1. Make copies of the first couple of pages of your passport. Give one copy to someone at home and bring another copy with you on tour. I usually put it in the outside pocket of my suitcase.
  2. When traveling, keep your passport with you at all times. The safest and best way to do this is to keep it in your moneybelt. I put mine is a small plastic sandwich bag to keep it dry. Keeping your passport safe is very important.  If it is lost while out of the country you’ll be stuck for several days trying to get a replacement.  Replacing lost passports requires a trip to the U.S. Embassy which will take precious time away from your tour experience.
About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

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