A United States passport is a valuable photo identification that is now necessary if you plan to travel outside the borders of the U.S. While you may not need a passport to travel outside the U.S., you will need one if you want to return.
The process to get a passport can be long and the rush fees are expensive, so it’s best to always have a valid passport on hand, regardless of your travel plans. As a travel writer and editor, it’s one of my most important international travel tips.
How To Get A Passport
The State Department has a detailed website (travel.state.gov/passport) with all the information you need. All the forms you need are right there, you fill them in, print them out and then bring them to a passport office, along with an official passport photo. A tip: there’s probably a passport photo booth or kiosk in or near the official passport office. You will need official proof of citizenship, like an original birth certificate or other legal documentation.
Passport applications can be submitted at passport centers, official satellite offices inside some post offices and other government agencies, as well as U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. New adult passports cost $110 plus a $25 processing fee.
U.S. passports are valid for ten years. However, most foreign countries will not accept your passport if there is less than six months left before it expires. This rule is followed very strictly, our son had a problem when traveling with friends to London. Even though their trip was only for a week, a friend of my son’s had a passport expiring in five months. American Airlines would not let him travel and they had to re-book the trip, after he renewed his passport.
Don’t write or mark up your passport, it makes it invalid. Also be sure you have enough empty pages before traveling. Some countries that issue a full-page sticker-like visa, like China and Brazil, require several blank pages for the visa and other stamps, if yours is filled up, renew it.
Having a valid passport on hand leaves one less thing to worry about for international trips. Normal processing times are between one and two months so having a valid passport means avoiding that wait or paying a rush fee.
You can’t forget the fun factor here too. Having a valid passport leaves you the option to jet off to an international destination on a whim (or drive to one if you live close to the border). With airfare sales and other promotions, it gives you the flexibility to travel on a moment’s notice, which can be fun and exciting.
In addition to travel use, the passport serves as an additional legal photo identification. It can be used for opening a bank account and other transactions requiring government identification. If you lose your drivers license, the passport can be very helpful in obtaining a replacement and serving as identification in the meantime.
If a friend or relative is injured or otherwise detained or stranded abroad, you may have hours to find a flight and make the trip. Having a passport on hand means you are free to leave immediately in an emergency situation.
Ted Sherman is a world traveler and editor of travel4people.com. You can follow him on Twitter:
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