United States Department of State
State Department Passport page
State Department Visas site
State Department current travel warnings
- Passport Acceptance Facilities
International travel has become a labyrinth of rules, regulations and fees. Here are some tips to help travelers navigate the waters.
Writer’s note: I generally will not post anything personal on this site, opting to make it less about “me” and all about “you, the reader”. However, I am under assignment for a travel article that is taking me overseas to Dublin, Ireland (which I intend to share with all of you) and I’m finding it’s harder than you’d think to plan a trip abroad. This article is geared towards those traveling from the US to anywhere else in the world.
When planning a trip abroad, it’s probably fair to say travelers should allow themselves three to four months of planning time. This is part 1 of a series designed towards better planning a trip abroad.
PASSPORTS & VISAS
For first-time passport holders, you must decide if you need a Passport Book
, which allows for travel around the globe, or a Passport Card, which allows only for travel between the United States, Canada and Mexico. (And in spite of what you’re told by the State Department, travel between these three countries IS international travel)
The United States Department of State website is rife with information related to re-newing or getting that first passport. The website states to allow four to six weeks of turnaround time for this part of your travel planning.
If you are getting a passport for the first time, all paperwork must be turned in to the proper authorities in person with requested documentation in hand. However, before presenting yourself and your paperwork for a passport, two photos must be presented as well. The rules related to this photo are specific and can be found here. Requested documentation is one of the following:
- a notorized birth certificate issued by the city, county or state in which you were born.
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
- Naturalization Certificate or Certificate of Citizenship.
In addition to supplying these documents, a FormDS-11. A DS-11 is the only form for applying for a first-time passport and it is recommended that it be filled out online versus filling it out by hand. By filling it out online, once completed and printed out, a bar code is created that has all necessary information embedded. (I don’t want to say it speeds up the process to do it this way but my son and I got our passports back in three weeks. Please don’t take my word that it is a three week process. That’s just how long it took for us to get ours back).
Once all necessary documentation has been collected, you can do the rest one of three ways:
- Federal Post office:Call first. Most require an appointment.
- County Courthouse, usually in the county seat: Again, call first. Though they might not require an appointment, they still might have special hours for processing.
- Passport agency (but only if you’re traveling in less than two weeks)
Visas are different than passports and are documentation that grants permission from the country to which you’re going to actually visit there. US citizens don’t require a visa for every country they visit if it’s less than a certain time period. To find out which countries require a visa and which don’t, the State Department has a list. For country specific information, please visit their site, Americans Traveling Abroad.
RENEWING YOUR PASSPORT?
Renewing your passport is slightly easier than a first-time application. If your prior passport is less than 15 years old, you can renew by mail and save some fees. The only exception to this is when a minor has turned 16 since their last passport was processed. For minors 16 years and older, the process is the same as a first-time applicant and it must be done in person. However, children under the age of 16, when receiving a passport, have an expiration of five years and the ages of 16 and above it becomes a 10 year passport.
When re-newing your passport, you can take care of it in person at any of the aforementioned facilities, but there is a service charge made payable to the facility. By re-newing in person, you can save the extra fees and it doesn’t add any time to the process.
When renewing your passport, whether it’s in person or via the mail, always include your expired passport.
WHAT IS THE COST?
On July 13, 2010, the fees related to passport books and cards went up. Check the site before you go and remember, in most situations, credit cards are not accepted but checks and money orders are.
IS IT DANGEROUS?
Travel to some countries carry with it some potential dangers and pitfalls. The Department of State maintains a database of travel warnings for various countries and locations. Check the site before you purchase your tickets to make certain you’re not entering into a potential life-threatening (or otherwise) situation. When researching a destination, check both the long-term and short-term travel warnings and advisories.
IF YOUR PASSPORT IS LOST OR STOLEN…
Before departing, know the nearest United States embassy or consulate at your destination. Any problems pertaining to both documents and legal situations will need their intervention and assistance. While the Department of State does not require you to register your trip with a local embassy or consulate, they do recommend it to help streamline any emergency assistance you might need while in another country.
My next article will be about finding the best airfares… Look for it!