passports Wendy VanHatten
With summer and fall travel just around the corner, let’s talk about passports. You may have had one for years; others are just starting to travel outside their own country. Are you going to Canada? Do you need a passport to travel there?
First…What is a passport?
It’s a legal document issued by your home country telling other countries you are a citizen of that sovereign nation. Entering another country, it allows legal permission to stay in that country for a certain amount of time. Depending on a foreign government’s relationship with the United States, an American passport holder may be denied entry by the other nation as a matter of political prejudice. This is the case in North Korea, where a U.S. citizen will be denied entry. Or, when American border officials deny a Cuban national’s entry into the mainland U.S.
When should you get a passport?
“If you are traveling internationally in less than two weeks, or need to obtain a foreign visa within four weeks, we recommend scheduling an appointment at a passport agency near you,” the U.S. Department of State says. “If you have more time, we recommend submitting your application at an authorized passport acceptance facility.”
Where can you get one?
If you need to travel soon, you can obtain a passport by making an appointment at your local State Department agency. If you are planning well ahead of time, more than six months before your trip, you can begin the process at home by going to the State Department website . Fill out the form, print it out and bring it to the Passport Acceptance Office. Check with your closest U.S. Post Office as many have passport offices. They may require an appointment, so be sure to check before you go.
But don’t sign it yet! “Passport applications must be signed in person in the presence of an approved agent at the Passport Acceptance Office,” the City Clerk of Chicago says. “Signing a passport application outside of the presence of such agent will invalidate the entire application, requiring the applicant to complete the entire application again from scratch.”
Do I need a photo for my passport?
Yes. You’re going to need to submit, with your application, official passport photos. The important word here is official.
Where do I get an official photo taken?
Go to your U.S. Post Office, drugstore like CVS and Walgreens, or Costco. They take hundreds of official photos for passports. Their photos will meet the following criteria: that the photo is in color, 2″ x 2″ in size, the applicant is facing forward with eyes open, and the applicant is in front of a white or off-white background.
What else do I need to bring to the Passport Acceptance Office?
You will need proof of identity and citizenship. An applicant must present an original copy of his or her birth certificate, or certificate of naturalization, or an expired passport that isn’t older than 15 years. You also need a valid photo identification card such as a driver’s license or ID card from any state.
How much will a passport cost?
This will cost some money and you can actually receive one of two formats depending on how and where you want to travel; a book and a card. If you’re going to fly into another country, you need a book. A passport card, invented for the Canadian, Mexican and Caribbean land border crossings and seaports, is actually unnecessary if you have the book already. So don’t waste your money.
A brand new passport book, for someone that has never had one before, will cost $135; $110 application fee plus $25 execution fee. If you are renewing an expired passport, it will cost $110.
How long does it take to receive my passport?
Your passport will be sent to you via U.S. Mail. You can track the progress of your passport issuance by going to the State Department website’s application status page.
Wendy VanHatten
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