There is an American dream of backpacking through Europe. Joey Tribbiani regales his Friends with anecdotes from his time hiking in Barcelona. The two main Gilmore Girls spend an entire summer traipsing around overseas.
And yet, most Americans don’t have a valid passport. It may be because the process seems daunting.
A quick look at the official passport application site with its drop-down menus and 15 sidebars is overwhelming, but in the end, it’s just forms and fees. Standard government stuff.
If you share that backpacking dream but aren’t certified to travel internationally, it’s time to get a passport. Knowing these 10 things will help get you through the process with ease.
Getting a Passport Is Expensive
Break out your Benjamins. Your first passport will cost you $145, although fees are often increasing. It will give you access to international travel by air, sea, and land.
A passport card is significantly cheaper at $65. While you won’t be able to fly abroad, you’ll still be free to travel by land or sea ports-of-entry throughout Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. That’s exactly as much as you need to get your fill of cruise ship creme brulee.
It Takes a Lot of Time
You will need to apply for a passport several months in advance of your travel plans. Current processing time is between 6 and 8 weeks.
Sometimes It Takes Slightly Less Time
If it slipped your mind to get a passport for your honeymoon or you have other urgent travel plans, you can obtain a passport in 2-3 weeks by paying for expedited service. Be prepared to pay a $60 expediting fee and a 1-2 day delivery fee of $15.89.
You’ll have to apply in person at a passport agency or acceptance center. You can call the passport hotline, 1-877-487-2778, with any questions.
You Can Renew by Mail
It’s always nice to avoid a long line at a government agency. If you are renewing your passport, you might be able to do it by mail.
In order to renew by mail, your passport has to meet certain criteria:
- You have to be able to submit it with your application
- It can’t be damaged
- It has to be an adult passport
- It has to be from the last 15 years
- It has to be in your current name. If your name has changed and you can provide a court order, marriage license or divorce decree, you may still be able to renew by mail.
You’ll have to fill out form DS-82, include a photo, and calculate applicable fees. You’ll also have to find your checkbook or get a money order. Make sure you use the United States Postal Service or your application will be returned.
Unless You Have to Renew in Person
There are certain reasons you’ll have to renew in person:
- You can’t submit your passport with your application
- Your passport is damaged
- Your passport was issued before you were 16
- Your passport is more than 15 years old
- You are under 16
Renewing a Passport Is Expensive
If you are lucky and renewing by mail, you’ll only have to pay $110. If you don’t qualify, you’re back at $145.
It Requires a Small Collection of Documents
The list of what you need for a passport is no joke.
You’ll need to collect the following documents:
- Proof of citizenship (US birth certificate, a US Passport, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship)
- A photocopy of your proof of citizenship, front and back
- A valid US ID
- A photocopy of your ID, front and back
- A 2×2 passport photo
- A check or money order for applicable fees
- Either form DS-11 or form DS-82
Even with all the proper documentation, there are circumstances that can prevent you from qualifying for a passport. You won’t be able to get a passport if you are behind on child support or have unpaid federal loans.
Your Photo Has to Measure Up
Your passport photo shoot has to meet specific standards. Beauty isn’t one of them.
Face the camera with a neutral expression in front of a plain white or off-white background. Keep your eyes open. Only babies can get away with closed or sleepy eyes.
If you wear glasses, take them off. No hats, no headphones, no Bluetooth headsets, even if that’s part of your look. You’ll catch that phone call later.
If you wear a head covering for religious or medical reasons, you’ll have to provide signed documentation. Even still, your whole face up to your hairline must be visible without any shadows.
Once you get the image right, it has to be printed on matte or glossy photo paper, 2×2 inches in size. Your face has to measure between 1-1 3/8 inches from top to bottom.
You Can Make Changes
Sometimes you’ll have to amend the information in your passport. You can do that. And it might even be free!
If your passport is less than a year old, fill out form DS-5504, and go on your merry way. If your passport is older than that, you’ll have to use form DS-82 for renewals and pay that fee.
You can also add pages to your passport if you’re running low, you world traveler, you. Bear in mind that you need 2-4 blank visa pages to enter some countries. You’ll have to send in your passport book, along with form DS-4085, and an $82 fee.
Losing Your Passport Is Expensive
Losing your passport at home is a pain. You’ll have to fill out two forms (form DS-11 and form DS-64, which is a statement about your lost or stolen passport) and pay the fee for a new passport.
Losing your passport abroad or having it stolen is like lead in your stomach. Don’t panic! Find the nearest US Embassy or consulate and get it replaced right away. It will only take a couple days and you can have the fee wired to you if you need it.
Is It Time to Get a Passport?
If you have any travel plans on the horizon, don’t delay the application process. You can even renew your passport before it expires to ensure uninterrupted access.
Get started today. You don’t want to run out of time to get a passport!