Passport Primer: All You Need to Know
GoNOMAD's Step-By-Step Passport Primer
Changes in passport requirements for travel to and from the US have changed a lot in recent years, largely due to new regulations promulgated by the Department of Homeland Security.
So travelers need passports to go to a lot of places -- notably Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean -- that they used to be able to visit without them, or rather, they need passports to return from those places. It's all rather confusing. And there are still more changes to come in the near future.
To make sense of the whole situation, especially for the first-time traveler, GoNOMAD turned to an expert, Robert Lee of Swift Passport Services, to explain when you need a passport and how to go about getting one.
Getting a New Passport
GoNOMAD: What is the first step in applying for a passport? What should I bring with me?
Robert Lee: You first need to determine which type of passport you need to apply for. If it is any type of new passport, you will need to go to either a local post office or a county/city/town clerk. There you will have an agent (of the government) authorize your application.
The reason you have to go to an authorized acceptance agent is that you have to swear or aver that you are who you say you are or that your child is who you say he or she is.
Different post offices have different hours of passport acceptance, and some require appointments.
They will require proof of citizenship (birth certificate, old passport, Certificate of Naturalization), parental consent for children, government application, and any other form required for your type of application.
You will need two photos that are no more than six months old and represent your current appearance. They must be two inches by two inches and show your whole face (no profiles) without smiling. Homemade digital photos are not accepted.
The agent will take your application and your photos and your documentation, usually a birth certificate, and put it in a sealed envelope.
If you are using an expediting service like Swift Passport Services, you tell the acceptance agent, usually a postal worker, that you are using a private service to hand carry your application to the Office of Passport Services.
Then you take the sealed envelope (taking care not to tamper with it) and send it to Swift Passport Services.
Obtaining Passport Photos
GN: Can the post office take pictures for me?
RL: It’s hard to tell which post offices take passport photos. Some do and some don't. The best places to go for photos are CVS, Walgreens, FedEx Kinko’s, etc…
Obtaining a Birth Certificate
GN: Where do I go to get a copy of my birth certificate? Is it the state, the county, the city or town, or the hospital? Does it have to have a raised seal?
RL: The best place to obtain a certified copy of your birth certificate is from the county offices from the county in which you were born. The department is usually called 'Vital Statistics.' It does not have to have a raised seal, but it does have to be the original or a certified copy.
There are new requirements for U.S Birth Certificates. As of April 2011, both parents’ full names must appear on all birth certificates to constitute it as proof of U.S citizenship. Birth certificates without both full names listed are no longer valid. This will not affect current passport holders.
In most cases, you need a certified copy of your birth certificate.
In my experience, most county offices can expedite birth certificates in an emergency situation. Even a phone call from across the country will get you one in as little as 24 hours. There are also different websites that offer services to obtain your birth certificate for you but at a cost. One is USBirthCertificate.com.
[Editor's note: In New England, birth records are kept by the city or town in which a person is born or in the city or town where the parents reside, so you should apply to the city or town clerk.
You can apply in person or send a self-addressed envelope, but be sure to find out about the fee. Here in GoNOMAD's hometown of Deerfield, Massachusetts, the fee is $10.]
GN: In recent years the requirements have changed in regard to the destinations that you need a passport for. Could you explain the changes?
RL: You are now REQUIRED to have a passport book if you are flying anywhere outside the US, including Canada the Caribbean and Bermuda.
The U.S. Passport Card is a cheaper option if you plan on traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.A passport book remains valid for all travel including land and sea travel. A government issued ID is no longer valid for any international travel.
You will still need a passport book to travel by air. This is all due to stern new Homeland Security laws regarding entry into this country, and tighter restrictions on what a legitimate ID is.
Getting a Passport for a Child
GN: Are there any special requirements for obtaining a passport for a child?
There are many potential requirements for obtaining a Child Passport. These requirements stem from the delicate issue of child custody. Here are the major requirements:
Both parents must appear at the Passport Acceptance Facility to sign the application for the minor; OR
*one parent appears, signs, and submits second parent's notarized Form DS-3053 Statement of Consent: Issuance of a Passport to a Minor Under Age 14, authorizing passport issuance for the child or submits a notarized, written statement of consent from the non-appearing parent (including the child's name and date of birth, as well as parent's identification information or a copy of his/her ID) authorizing passport issuance for the child.
*one parent appears, signs, and submits primary evidence of sole authority to apply (one of the following):
-- child's certified US or foreign birth certificate (with translation, if necessary) listing only applying parent; OR
-- Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form FS-240); OR
-- Certification of Birth Abroad (If After 1/3/2011 FS-240 if before 1/3/2011 DS-1350) listing only applying parent; OR
In some cases, you can speed up the process by downloading forms from the State Department's website.
-- Court order granting sole custody to the applying parent (unless child's travel is restricted by that order); OR
-- Adoption decree (if applying parents is sole adopting parent); OR
-- Court order specifically permitting applying parent's; OR
-- judicial declaration of incompetence of non-applying parent; OR
-- Death certificate of non-applying parent.
Getting a Passport Quickly
GN: Where does Swift Passport Services come in? What services do you offer to the traveler, and how do you do it?
RL: Swift Passport Services offers personalized attention to every customer. We take the hassle and stress out of this sometimes intimidating process.
As the Government can take up to three and a half months to complete a passport, we can guarantee passports in as little as 12 hours. We have varying service times and prices to suit all of our clients’ needs when time is critical.
We will walk you through every step of the way if need be. Our instructions are very detailed, and we are available 24/7 to answer any questions.
We are able to do this because the U.S. Passport Agencies allow a certain number of companies to 'hand carry' applications into the actual Passport Offices.
If you're in a hurry, Swift Passport Services can get a passport for you in less than 24 hours.
We accept orders online, people send us all the required documents, and we then hand deliver them to the Passport Office.
We will next-day air, or hand deliver the passport back to the client as soon as we receive it.
We also offer Visa services to obtain the foreign travel visa for travelers. Whether it is for business travel, or tourism, we can get visas for most countries that require them… such as China, India, Brazil, and South Korea. This is a great service for people who do not have the time to obtain one themselves.
GN: Should I also pay the State Department expedited service fee?
RL: Yes you should include a check to the State Department for the fee. $135 for adults and $120 children. $60 for additional pages and Name Change.
GN: What if I just need to renew my passport?
RL: If you meet the requirements below, you can renew your passport by mail by either picking up the passport renewal form at your local agency or by downloading it from the State Department website.
You must have a passport that is not damaged, and you must have received it within the past 15 years; and you must have been at least age 16 when it was issued; and you must still have the same name as in passport (or be able to legally document your name change).
If you are traveling or submitting your passport for foreign visas within two weeks, and you want to renew your passport without mailing it in, you can do your own expediting by going directly to one of these regional passport agencies, but you have to make an appointment:
What to do if you lose your passport while overseas
In the case of life-and-death emergencies call:
For further information on obtaining passports and visas, visit the State Department's website.
For information on lost or stolen passports, name changes, or additional visa pages, visit SwiftPassportServices.com.