One of the more frustrating factors for people travelling internationally is keeping up with their passport. Your passport is an identification document, certified by the U.S. Government, which allows you to travel to foreign countries. As you travel abroad, while carrying your passport, you are under the protection of the U.S. Government and grants you re-entry into the United States upon your return.
Acquiring and using a passport is where a lot of people run into issues. In this update, we hope to help alleviate some concerns or misconceptions about passports, and help facilitate your next vacation abroad!
1. Visa vs. Passport
One of the main misconceptions about passports, is that they are the "one document fits all" for international travel. While passports can be used to get in and out of most countries, there are some countries that require you to hold a Visa. A Visa is a visitation document that grants certain privileges when visiting a foreign country. Some countries require a Visa just for travel. There are also Work Visas and Student Visas that allow you to stay for extended periods of time for employment or education. In order to determine whether or not you need a Visa, in addition to your passport, you must check with the government of the country you plan to visit. The U.S. Department of State has a website that can provide information on whether or not you need to apply for a separate visa.
2. Cost and Processing
Another issue a lot of people have with passports is the cost of application and the amount of time it can take for the passport to arrive to you. The cost of a passport depends on what kind of passport you need. Also, the cost is different if you are a first time applicant, or if the passport application is for a child under the age of 16. The U.S. Department of State has a website that shows the cost of a U.S. passport. It also provides a calculator to help add up all of the fees associated with acquiring a passport.
As far as processing is concerned, the State Department tells applicants that their passport will take anywhere from 6-8 weeks before it arrives at your door. I can say, in our experience, that it has never taken that long to receive a passport. We recently had to do a passport for our child, a new applicant passport. We sent it off for processing and received it back in 3 weeks. We did not pay for expedited processing or rush shipping. Now, this may not always be the case, there are a lot of ancillary factors at play. You should always plan for 6-8 weeks, never bet your vacation on the possibility of it arriving sooner.
5. Passport Book vs. Passport Card
It is very important to know the differences between the two types of passports you can acquire. One of the most noticeable differences is the price. The passport card only costs $30.00 while the book can run $100.00+. Before you run off and start applying for passport cards, you should probably know the most important difference between the two. The passport book allows you uninhibited exit and re-entry into the United States using any method of travel. The passport card ONLY allows exit and re-entry using land or sea travel. This means that if you try and board an international flight back into the United States, using a passport card, you will be turned away at the point of entry. Passport cards are great for travelers who are going on cruise vacations or taking road trips to Mexico or Canada and want to save money. For all forms of travel, the passport book is always your safest bet.
4. Consider getting a passport book AND card.
People always look at us funny when we suggest acquiring a passport book and card. The main reason why we always suggest this is: SECURITY. Personal security is one of the most important factors for travelling abroad. When we went on our third cruise, we decided to get a passport card in addition to our passport book. We were able to get on and off the boat and re-enter the United States with our passport cards, while keeping our passport books safely secured and locked away in case we needed them. This practice works great in the event that your passport gets stolen or misplaced.
5. Make copies of your Passport Information Page
Another good security practice is to make color scans of your passport information page. When you make the scans you should send one to a close and trusted family member or friend and keep the other one on your person. This helps in case your passport is lost or misplaced while traveling overseas.
6. Always keep your Passport in a safe place.
Never Never Never Never NEVER! place your passport in your back pocket. We cannot stress this enough. Most people tend to put money, identification, and other important objects in their back pockets, and it is the one pocket that will most definitely get picked when traveling. We always carry our passports in a Lanyard around our necks or in our front pockets with our credit cards, money, and other ID cards. Also, be certain to double check your pockets when you get up from dining, public transport, or leaving your room. A lot of people don't realize their passport has fallen out of their pocket before it is too late. Be smart with your money and documents, it will save you a lot of headache and an annoying trip to the consulate or embassy.
7. Utilize all of your stamp space.
Most new travelers like the idea of having your passport stamped at a port of entry in another country. It is a cool "look what I did" sticker to show off to your friends. If you are not careful, however, your passport visa section can get filled up quickly by border agents who want to use a fresh page for your entry stamp. Be certain to tell agents where to put a stamp when you enter. The faster you fill up your visa section, the faster you will need to acquire a new passport, even if your passport is still valid.
So there it is... Passports may seem like a lot of work and attention, which they can be. You should always take your passport security seriously. That said, once you get in the process and have gone on a few international trips, it will become second nature to you. Please be sure to visit the State Department Website for more tips and information on acquiring a passport as well as how to protect it and what to do if you have lost/misplaced your passport.
-The No Excuses Travel Team.