A passport is very similar to a driver’s license in the United States. It is an globally recognized document, typically used for international travel, verifying who you are and where you’re from. Most countries require a valid passport to enter or exit. All countries issue their own globally recognized passports, the US included. The U.S. Department of State is the division of the government with the authority to grant, issue and verify United States passports.
To apply for a new passport, you’ll need some documentation proving who you are and some time to go apply. Recent changes in the passport regulations require that most applicants must appear in person to apply for one.
US citizens that have never received a passport before should bring a certified birth certificate; current and valid driver’s license, government or military ID; two passport photos that meet the requirements below and fees of $97 plus optional $60 expedited service.
Children under 17 years old are required to hold a passport for most foreign travel. Children under 14 are required to have consent of either both parents’ or guardians’ to apply for a passport. For children born in the United States, a birth certificate, two photos and the fees are all that will be needed. Parents or guardians will need to show proof of citizenship and identity, like a valid passport, birth certificate or driver’s license.
Children or adults born outside the US will need to obtain a foreign birth certificate, report of birth abroad, certification of birth abroad or an adoption decree.
Photos for passports are required to be 2×2 inches. They must be identical, taken within the past 6 months, be in color with the full face, front view showing on a white background. The face must be between 1 and 1 3/8 inches from the chin to the top of the head. Hats, headgear and uniforms except religious dress word daily may not be worn. Prescription glasses (not sunglasses) or wigs worn as part of everyday attire may be worn if they are not obstructive.
To find a passport location near you, visit travel.state.gov and click on “Passports” then “Where to Apply for a Passport”. It typically takes between two and six weeks to receive a passport once it’s been issued. After you received your valid passport, you won’t have to worry about expiration for a full ten years.
Renewal of your passport is easier, quicker and less expensive than the original issuance. You are eligible to renew your passport if you have received it within 15 years, it is not damaged, were older than 16 when it was last issued and still have the same name or documentation for a legal name change.
To renew your passport, you must submit a completed application, two identical passport photos, the fee of $67 and your current, valid, not-mutilated passport. Expedited service is an additional $60. Renewals are usually processed and returned within two or three weeks.
You can check the status of a new or renewed passport by going to travel.state.gov, clicking “Passports” then “Online Application Status Check”. You’ll input your name, date of birth and the last four digits of your social security number.
Electronic passports are in the works in the U.S. The electronic passport, “e-passport”, will be very similar to the current paper passport. The addition of a small integrated computer chip on the back cover and a digital photograph will provide a number of additional benefits. First, the data stored will be much more difficult to penetrate and alter. Second, the digital photo will allow for biometric comparison through facial recognition technology. Additional anti-fraud security features will also be included on the e-passport. Traditional paper passports will still be accepted through their full period of validity.
Regardless of where your travel will be taking you, it is always a good idea to carry your valid, current passport with you. When things go astray, whether in Mexico, Malaysia or anywhere in between, your passport is your ticket to receive protections and rights you are due in that country. Keep it with you as you would your driver’s license in the US.
When are you required to have a passport? If you travel to Afghanistan, Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Cambodia, Chili, China, Cook Island, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iraq, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom / Great Britain, Venezuela, Vietnam and the British Virgin Islands, a passport (and possibly a visa) will be required.
For air travel to Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Mexico, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as the US Virgin Islands beginning in 2007, a passport will be required but hasn’t been in previous years.
Special passports are issued for diplomats or those traveling on behalf of the US government. These are issued for no-fee and are only valid for travel when on official business. Military personnel should contact their installation office. Federal employees should contact their Agency headquarters. Peace Corps officers should contact their travel office and Department of State personnel should contact their Bureau Executive or Personnel Technician.
As you enter foreign countries your passport will be stamped. As you exit, the Customs department of the US will verify where you’ve been, how long you were there and what items you have to declare (for taxation purposes.) The stamps are often considered the greatest souvenir of an international trip.
When venturing outside of the United States, always keep your passport on your person. Even if you are required to check all of your baggage, keep your passport with you. Should you lose your passport while in a foreign country, contact the Travel Department of the US Government at 202.955.0430 or the US Embassy in the country you are in.