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U.S. Passport Primer: A Guide to the New Passport Regulations

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Thanks to new federal passport proposals, the cost of a Caribbean cruise, a Cancun honeymoon, or a Vancouver theater weekend could be going up. The security-related changes, scheduled to take effect over the next 2 1/2 years, will affect Americans who travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Panama and Caribbean. Previously, American travelers simply flashed a driver's license or birth certificate when returning from those destinations.

Beginning December 31, 2005, re-entry to the U.S. from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Central and South America will require a passport--$97 for adults, $82 for children under 16. On December 31, 2006 passport requirements will go into effect for all air and sea travel to or from Mexico and Canada. And on December 31, 2007, passports will be required for ALL air, sea, and land border crossings to or from the United States.

A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue or verify United States passports, and the process can be arduous and time consuming.

Frequently asked questions about passports such as: "When should I apply?", "Do I have to apply in person?", "What should I do if my passport is lost or stolen?", "Does my baby need a passport?" Answers to these questions and hundreds of others can be found by searching the Internet. Interesting tip--even your pet will need a passport to enter the European Union.

To obtain a U.S. passport for the first time, you need to go in person to one of the 6,0000 designated passport application acceptance facilities nationwide, including many post offices, Federal and state courts, clerks of court, and a growing number of public libraries and public colleges and universities. For a list of the offices closest to you, search by ZIP code on the State Department website at http://www.iafdb.travel.state.gov.

You need to bring two identical 2-by-2 inch, full-face, front-view photographs, and a completed DS-11 application form (available from one of the 6,000 facilities or at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html)

In addition, you will need a driver's license or government-issued ID card and proof of citizenship, which in most cases, is an original or certified birth certificate.

All children under age 14 must also apply for a passport in person, and both parents or legal guardians must appear together and sign the child's form (if the second parent submits a notarized letter of intent, one parent signature is adequate). Minors age 14 to 17 must also appear in person and for security reasons, parental consent may be required. And, unlike adults, children under 14 must apply for renewals in person.

For Americans 16 and older, a first passport costs $97 and is good for 10 years. Children under the age of 16 require their own passport which cost $82 and are valid for five years. Renewals, which can be done by mail, are $67 for both adults and children.

One of the most often asked questions, "When should I apply for a passport?" has a simple answer--several months before your planned trip. If you will need visas from foreign embassies to enter those countries, allow even more time. Don't wait to get a passport! Get it now, so you will be ready in case you may need or want to travel on short notice. The average time from application to passport arrival is six to eight weeks, and passport demand goes up during the summer months, so plan accordingly.

When you receive your passport, remember to sign it in ink and print your name and address so it may be returned to you if it is ever lost.

About the Author

Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For an embassy full of advice, resources and suggestions about passports, visit http://www.PassportPlace.com


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