Author: Family Travel Forum Staff
Tags : Air Travel, Baby, Health, Insurance & Safety, Kids, Multigen, Teens, Tips & Documents
Getting a U. S. passport (or replacing or renewing an old one) is a travel essential for any age traveler, since a U.S. citizen's birth certificate will no longer suffice to cross borders. It's a great souvenir of your family travels, too.
So whether your family has planned an exotic getaway, or has a new baby on board, whether your passport's about to expire or just needs more pages; don't wait to acquire or renew your U.S. passport. Believe us, you can get one more easily if you plan ahead, or more expensively if you're running late. And if you only have a minimum of 24 hours' lead time, it can still happen before your trip.
Here are some of our tips and resources from the U.S. Passports and International Travel office to make the whole process easier for you.
Who Needs Documentation to Cross Which Borders
All U.S. citizens traveling by air and land (with a few tiny exceptions) anywhere, including the nearby countries in the Caribbean, Mexico, and even Canada need passports. Note that an online eligibility tool is now available, so be sure to fill it in and determine if your requirements will differ from those below.
- All US Citizens 16-years of age and older must present a valid passport to travel outside of the country to Canada, even by car or boat.
- Exceptions include kids age 15 and under who can present an original or copy of their birth certificate or other proof of citizenship to travel by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and 17 Caribbean nations.
- Teens between the ages of 16 and 18, when traveling with an organized group, can follow the same procedures as younger children. If not with a group, they, as all adults, will need their own passports.
- All new US passports must be Biometric Electronic passports
- Plan ahead for any government-issued documentation because waits can be long. The Department of State expects a record-high of more than 20 million passport applications in Fiscal Year 2017, increasing the competition for quick service.
Never Plan to Fly Internationally? Get a US Passport Card
To meet demand, the US developed the U.S. Passport Card. This wallet-sized document -- only good for land and sea cross-border travel between the U. S. and certain Western Hemisphere countries -- utilizes a vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip to give DHS officers access to photographs and other biographical information before the traveler reaches the inspection booth. According to the DHS, "for privacy protection, no personal information is stored on the electronic chip itself." It is not valid for international travel by air, but it only costs $30 for applicants age 16 and older whether or not they already have a passport book. It cannot be done online because you will need to submit one photo and your forms to an agent in person; visit U S. Department of State for applications and information.
Ordering U.S. Passports By Mail
Potential applicants renewing by mail must meet certain qualifications (see website) and provide their expired passports. Xerox everything, then bring it back to your authorized district mail center, or send it directly to the nearest Passport Center, as noted on the website, US State Department Passport Info.
How To Apply for a Passport
If you have a few months' lead time, head to your local post office or library or one of the more than 8,000 Passport Centers noted on the national passport website to pick up an application, or download one from the site.
What You'll Need for a U. S. Passport
- 4 to 6 Week's Lead Time (a huge improvement over the old days, but we suggest you apply 10 weeks ahead, just in case)
- Application (download and fill out before appointment)
- Proof of Citizenship (previous passport, birth certificate)
- Two Photos (professional quality)
- Proof of ID (previous passport, driver's license)
Taking Your Passport Photos
As of November 1, 2016, no passport photos will be accepted if the applicant is wearing eyeglasses. The Department of State has gotten very strict about photo quality and readability, and more than 200,000 applications were rejected due to poor photos in 2015. We know you can have two identical 2"x2" color photos taken, for less than $20.00 at your nearest Duane Reade Pharmacy or other commercial printer, however, we really like to do this ourselves, particularly with squirmy young ones.
Here's how. At home, center the subject's head so it takes up about 1/3 of the frame, take several very clear shots, then print duplicate 3 1/2" x 5" prints and cut them neatly into 2" squares. Officially, the digital requirements are between 600x600 pixels and 1200x1200 pixels; follow the instructions on the State Department's Photo Samples web page to make sure you're following the latest guidelines. Make sure images are super sharp, no shadows, no hats or eyewear; passport application officers have become strict about clarity, quality and type of photo paper as they laminate them into your passport book. If you're unsure about printing, you can bring a flash drive memory stick to a printer and have it done on the correct paper.
Passport Fees are Exorbitant, Watch out!
Notes that passport fees have skyrocketed with the inclusion of Security and Execution Charges, as well as with the new requirement for Biometric passports. Prepare to pay $135 (first time passport, valid 10 years), $135 (children under 16 years, valid 5 years only), or $110 (renewal, valid 10 years).
The only good news is that some Caribbean and Mexican resorts offer summer family travel specials in which they reimburse any family member who had to purchase a passport to get there!
Who Must Apply for a U.S. Passport in Person
If you are a First Time applicant of any age, you will need to see a Passport Center officer in person with proof of U.S. citizenship and identity; parents can provide these papers for accompanying children but must have their own photo IDs.
Anyone needing to renew an expired passport that was issued when the passport holder was less than 16-years of age must also apply in person. There are now 8,000 U.S. passport acceptance facilities nationwide. Most of the local Passport Centers accept applicants by appointment only.
Getting Children's Passports
Remember that every citizen, no matter the age, must now carry her own passport. Strict guidelines for the issuance of passports to minors under the age of 16-years require the presence of both parents, with proof of parentage, or one parent's appearance with a notarized statement of consent from the second parent (or divorce papers, death certificates, lawyer's letters, etc.)
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on same sex marriage,” comments a State Department official, “regarding the two parent consent requirement for passport issuance, the basic premise of two-parent consent — that all legal parents/guardians of a child, as determined by state law, must consent to passport issuance — remains the same.”
Additionally, minors ages 18 and under are recommended to have at least one guardian in attendance, but these rules are complicated, so be sure to check the national passport website before arriving at their office.
Note: We recommend that any parent who has a different surname than their child also carry a photocopy of the child's birth certificate while traveling, providing legal evidence of "guardianship" in case of need.
If custody issues are a concern, parents may also request that their children's names be entered in the U.S. passport name-check system. The Children's Passport Issuance Alert Program provides notification to parents of passport applications made on behalf of minor children, and denial of passport issuance if appropriate court orders are on file with the CPIAP. The Office of Children's Issues will provide more information.
Rush Hour - When You Need a Passport Yesterday
If you're in a desperate rush, bring your travel tickets (departure must be dated within two weeks of passport application), necessary documents and cash to your regional passport center, wait on line to fill out the application, sign it, pay an additional $60 Expedite Fee, and return in person or have the passport delivered to you within two to three weeks.by overnight mail for an added fee.
If you can't manage this, help is available. For a fee of $100-$175 per passport (on top of the regular Passport Agency fees), expediters can do the legwork for you. They'll get you the forms, take your stuff and wait and deliver your documents within 24-48 hours.
Nationwide expediters include Travco Services (800/987-2826) and It's Easy (866/487-3279). Several regional expeditors include the following: In New York, Passport Plus Visas (212/759-5540); in San Francisco, The Center for International Business and Travel (800/929-2428) and in Washington, DC, A. Briggs Passport Plus (800/806-0581).
Confused by all this Passport Information?
There's good news for Spanish speakers, as of June 2015: For Spanish language information on how to apply for a U.S. passport, passport application fees, and other travel information visit Travel.State.Gov/Pasaporte. For more information, take advantage of the National Passport Information Center's toll-free phone assistance line, 877/487-2778, manned by English and Spanish speaking live operators from 8am-10pm weekdays, EST. TDD/TTY users may call 888/874-7793; recorded assistance is available 24/7 on both phone lines.
Additionally, the NPIC claims they will answer email inquiries addressed to email@example.com within two normal business days.