The Skinny on US Passports

U.S. Passports: Who, What, When, Why and How

The U.S. Department of State is expecting an increase in passport applications through 2018. This comes as a result of the 2007 Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) that mandated that U.S. citizens entering the U.S. by air or land from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico must have a valid passport in order to gain entry. Because of the timing of WHTI, those new passports issued in 2007 (over 18 million!) are expiring, causing an influx in renewal applications and a slowdown in processing times.

Mexico and the Caribbean are very popular vacation destinations for U.S. citizens, who need valid passports to gain entry to those destinations AND to the U.S. when returning home. So what can you do to make sure your passport is ready for travel this year?

Do you currently have a passport?

First, check the expiration date! Based on when you got it and the timing of WHTI, it could be expiring this year. It’s important to know the expiration date because many countries require travelers to have at least 6 months of remaining validity on their passport in order to gain entry.

So if you’re going to St. Lucia in September and your passport expires in July, that you would not be allowed to enter the country. You should renew your passport as soon as possible and, based on processing times, even push back the travel dates to be sure you will have your renewed passport when you depart.

Passport renewals can be done by mail if you meet the criteria, which is clearly outlined by the U.S. Department of State. Renewals can also be done in person if you don’t meet the criteria to renew by mail. And if you departure date is sooner than you thought, renewals can be expedited for an additional cost.

Are you applying for a passport for the first time?

First, make sure your application is complete, correct and submitted on time!
Next, the photo. According to the State Department, bad photos are the #1 reason the passport application process is delayed. A photo that is too bright, too dark, not recent, too small, too big or of low image quality may not be accepted. And, as of November 1, 2016, photos with eye glasses are not accepted. Your best bet is to have your photo taken somewhere that offers passport photo services, like Walgreens or CVS.

Another common issue when applying for a new passport is submitting improper proof of citizenship. There are a few options to choose from, but the most important thing to remember is that the original document must be presented, no photocopies! Options include:

  • Certified U.S. Birth Certificate (must meet all of the following requirements):
    • Issued by city, county or state of birth
    • Lists bearer’s full name, date of birth and place of birth
    • Lists parent(s)’ full names
  • Has date filed with registrar’s office (must be within one year of birth)
  • Has registrar’s signature
  • Has embossed, impressed or multi-colored seal of registrar
    • Previous U.S. passport (may be expired, but must be undamaged)
    • Consular Report of Birth Abroad
    • Certificate of Naturalization/Citizenship

You must also present proper photo identification and, this sometimes causes confusion, a photocopy of that identification is needed. Proper photo identification can be:

  • Valid driver’s license (if it’s issued in a different state than where you apply, you must present a second ID)
  • Undamaged U.S. passport (if issued less than 15 years ago)
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • Valid government ID (city, state or federal)
  • Valid military ID

Originally published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess “U.S. Passports: Who, What, When, Why and How”

Passport & Visa Information

Knowing which documents you need when traveling internationally is essential to having a stress-free vacation. Prepare yourself by learning about the latest travel requirements and important information you need to know before traveling.

What documents are required when traveling internationally?

You are required to have a U.S. Passport Book when traveling by air to any international location.

If you are traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean Region (Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos), you are required to have a U.S. Passport Book or Card.

Please note: U.S. citizens who board a cruise ship at a port within the United States, travel only within the Western Hemisphere, and return to the same U.S. port on the same ship may present a government issued photo identification, along with proof of citizenship (an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Naturalization). Please be aware that you may still be required to present a passport to enter the foreign countries your cruise ship is visiting. Contact us before your cruise to ensure you have the appropriate documents.

What is a U.S. Passport Card?

The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.

How long does it take to get a passport?

Processing times can vary depending on workload and occasional unforeseen circumstances. During busier times, such as the summer travel season, customers are encouraged to expedite their applications if traveling in less than 10 weeks.

How long is a passport valid and when should I renew my passport?

  • If you were over age 16 when your passport was issued, your passport is valid for 10 years.
  • If you were age 15 or younger when your passport was issued, your passport is valid for 5 years.
The Issue Date of your passport can be found on the data page of your Passport Book or on the front of your Passport Card. If possible, you should renew your passport approximately nine (9) months before it expires. Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six (6) months beyond the dates of your trip. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met. If you passport has already expired, you may still be able to renew your passport by mail.

How do I purchase or renew my passport?

Detailed information about passports and international travel requirements, along with instructions for applying for a passport can be found at travel.state.gov.

*For more information about passport requirements, please contact the U.S. Department of State.

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Visas

Do I need a visa if I am a U.S. citizen?

U.S. citizens don’t need a U.S. visa for travel, but when planning travel abroad they may need a visa issued by the embassy of the country they wish to visit. When planning travel abroad, learn about visa requirements by country by visiting the U.S. Department of State’s Country Specific Travel Information.

*Find out more about both the immigrant and non-immigrant visa process at the State Department’s visa main page. U.S. Passports and International Travel.

The Significance of a Passport in the U.S. in 2017

The Significance of a Passport in the U.S. in 2017

As a result of the 9/11 attacks, a piece of travel legislation was enacted that made American Passports a necessity when traveling to and from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean in 2007.  As a result, millions of U.S. travelers obtained their 10-year passport credentials. And as of this year, all those passports are about to expire, which may result in a log-jam of passport renewals in 2017.  Here are some tidbits you should keep in mind regarding passports, especially if you have to renew your passport like I do.  In addition, additional legislation is being launched that may require needing a passport even for domestic travel too.

Passport Book vs. Passport Card

You may be wondering about your passport expiration date right now.  If you are thinking about taking a vacation outside of the United States, keep in mind that it can take up to 6-weeks, not county any unforeseen delays,  to get your passport renewed.  You may also wonder, if you can save a few pennies and just get that passport card instead.  It’s smaller and will fit into your purse or carry-on bag better.  Let’s compare the two, because it all depends on HOW you will travel that will determine whether you need one, the other or maybe even both.

Both the passport book and the passport card expire after 10 years for those 16 years of age or older.  However, you must pay close attention to your kids passports as they expire after 5 years (more about this later.)  The passport card is small like a credit card but looks more like a driver’s license. The initial cost to purchase one is $55 and the cost to renew is $30.  However, it will only allow you to cross by land in Mexico or Canada or into a seaport in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Bermuda. You will not be able to use a passport card for air travel outside of the United States.

A passport book has a lot of pages for visas, and arrival/departure stamps.  This is the passport credential that covers all bases.  The initial cost of a passport book is $135 and is $110 to renew.  It is what the U.S. government requires that allows you to travel to a foreign country and return to the United States.  Keep in mind there are some countries that require a visa in addition to a passport book.  Your travel professional can assist you with identifying the countries that require visas.

As you can see a passport book is advantageous if you are flying to countries outside of the United States.  However, if you are booking a lot of Cruises or traveling by land into Canada or Mexico, then perhaps a passport card is all you need. Meanwhile, you can save money if you prefer to have a passport book and card.  You can purchase them together for $165 with a renewal fee of $140.

New Security Features

Believe it or not, passports now include technology to assist with security and reduce fraud.  This means that new passports will include a chip that provides all your personal information to a computer. As a result, your former 52-page passport book will be lighter and is reduced to 28 pages, unless you opt for more.

Children’s Passports – Better Double Check

As we mentioned earlier, passport books and cards for children under the age of 16 expire after 5 years.  Keep in mind that some countries expect your passport to not expire for at least 6 months after your return date back to the United States.  Mexico is definitely one of those countries that has this requirement. One last tidbit, and this is a pain, is that there is more paperwork associated with your children’s passport credentials, like consent forms and parent-child relationships, than those for adults.  So check your children’s passport information often and early.  So, when you are thinking of booking a trip outside of the United States and bringing your children with you, remember to double check your children’s passport book and card expiration dates.

How to Renew Your Passport

For those ages 16 and older a passport can be  renewed online through the State Department.  Or it can be renewed in person at a local agency like your local post office or Department of Motor Vehicles.  However, make sure you follow instructions carefully. For example, as of November 1, 2016 you can no longer wear glasses in your passport photo.  If you do, it could delay the process.  If you do have a photo with your glasses on, simply obtain another photo and resubmit to the Department of State.

Using the photo requirements will keep your passport from being rejected or delayed. More than 200,000 passport applications in 2015 were rejected because of bad photos. Here are some passport photo tips:

  • Photos should be against a neutral backdrop
  • Over or underexposed photos are rejected
  • Photos should have been taken within the past six months
  • The image MUST BE the right size, neither too large or too small
  • Photos must be of high resolution

For more specific passport and photo information visit the Department of State by clicking here.

New Federal ID Travel Law – READ ID

One of the newest federal laws is the READ ID Act that will soon be enforced throughout the United Sates. This could mean that your driver’s license may not be valid form of ID, even for domestic travel, if your state’s technology is lagging behind.  This is where your passport book or card will definitely come in handy.

If your State is lagging behind and has not upgraded its technology you could be turned away at the gate starting in 2018. As of December 2016, the states that may not be in compliant with this new Federal Law, are:  Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Minnesota, Missouri, and Washington. Some states have had their deadline extended but everyone must be in compliance by 2020. Frequent travelers worried that their state won’t comply in time may go ahead and renew or acquire a passport instead.  For a current list of compliance, visit the Homeland Security website by clicking here.

The REAL ID, is a federal security standard for state driver’s licenses that was passed in 2005.  It allows machine-readable technology to read a chip on your state driver’s license.  Some states are having trouble with compliance because of not having money in the budget to switch to the new technology. And other states are out right refusing to upgrade to the new technology.

So you are aware, here are some important dates to consider regarding this new federal law for travel:

  • January 22, 2018: The official date the READ ID Act will be enforced.
  • October 1, 2020: This is the date by when “every air traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, or another acceptable form of identification, for domestic air travel.”

So as you can see, the events of 9/11 has changed the way we travel.  To keep America safe, new rules for travel have been enacted for our own protection from terrorists or unsavory characters.  So, whether you plan to travel outside of the United States or not, it may be a good time to consider either a passport book, passport card or both.  If you have any further questions about passports books, passport cards, visas, or READ ID, please contact me! At Violet Clover Travel Group at 1-216-236-8450.

Group Travel – The More, The Merrier

group trips

How would you like to multiply the fun of your next vacation?  Group travel can do that, plus so much more!

Whether you are exploring a new destination or just relaxing around the pool, being with friends adds to the conversations, the laughs, and makes the experience more memorable for everyone.  Traveling together can also increase the value of your trip, since groups may qualify for special rates or extra amenities.

While I always love working with destination wedding couples and their guests, I also enjoy planning other group trips.  There are lots of other fun reasons to travel together, such as…

Celebrations – So many of life’s milestones are splurge-worthy:  Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, retirements, class reunions, and more.  Anyone can throw a party, but imagine how much better it would be if the fun lasted for days.  (Even better, no post-party cleanup!)

Common Interests – Lots of hobbies lend themselves to specialized travel experiences.  How about a culinary tour of Italy, or a beer tasting in Munich?  European itineraries featuring museums and landmarks can be tailored to appeal to lovers of art, music, or history.  Many resorts offer options that would appeal to health and fitness enthusiasts, including spa treatments and group exercise classes.

Education – There is no better way for students to learn about another culture than through firsthand experience.  Travel brings to life the people and places they’ve studied, and can even include a chance to practice speaking a new language.  Or imagine how much fun an alumni or fraternity/sorority reunion could be on a cruise ship or at a tropical resort!

Corporate Travel – Who says you can’t mix business with pleasure?  Holding a conference or meeting in an exciting destination can make your event more appealing to potential attendees.  A getaway can be a great incentive to reward hardworking employees, or plan a trip together as a team-building retreat.

Just Because – You don’t need a special reason to plan a group trip!  Simply spending time with family and friends, sharing experiences, and making memories is the only motivation you need to start planning your next adventure together.

If you have an idea for a group getaway, I’d be happy to help compare options and show how my services make planning travel much easier.  Some travel suppliers even offer free or reduced rate travel for group leaders.  Give me a call or drop me line to discuss the details.  I always love to talk travel!

Contact me at 1-216-236-8450 or by email at info@violetclovertravelgroup.com.

Do you know someone planning a destination wedding or group trip? 

I would appreciate the honor of a referral.

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What the US State Department can do for travelers

Karen Christensen is a fierce advocate for safe and secure travel. As the deputy assistant secretary of overseas citizens services for the U.S. government’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, she recently attended ASTA’s global convention, which took place Sept. 25-28 in Reno-Tahoe, Nev., to spread the word about what the government can and cannot  do for clients heading abroad.

What type of information does the Bureau of Consular Affairs provide to travelers?
Our motto is, “an informed traveler is a safe traveler.” So, what we’re looking to do is to get information to travelers that will help them make an informed decision as they make their travel plans. We ask that travelers go to Travel.State.Gov., where we have country-specific information for every country in the world, a landing page with basic information about safety and security, information about getting into the country, the entry requirements, vaccinations that are required, etc.

There can sometimes be confusion about travel “alerts” and travel “warnings.” What are the key differences between the two?
A travel alert is something that is temporary. We anticipate that, within 90 days, the situation will change. Maybe it’s a security threat that we think is going to be very short-term, and we’re going to look at it again and ask if we need to extend it or put out a travel warning. Or, it might be an infrastructure issue, such as in the case of the Nepal earthquake, where we were saying that it’s probably not a good time to travel there.

A travel warning will also address some of the same issues of safety and security. It might be referring to high levels of crime or high levels of terrorist threats, but a travel warning might also include advice to reconsider travel or advice to not travel to that country at all, or to not travel to particular areas in that country. We review the warnings at least every six months. We’re always reviewing our information and trying to make it as up to date as possible.

What is the process behind creating an alert or warning from a governmental perspective? What factors are considered?
We’re looking at a variety of information. We’re looking at what’s happening in a country. We work very closely with our colleagues in other parts of the State Department who are experts on terrorism, threats and security, and we’re all working to evaluate the situation and determine whether an alert or warning would be appropriate.

How has the bureau altered its communication efforts so that travelers do not become unnecessarily worried?
We’re trying to make our information shorter, more direct, clearer and easier for people to understand. Our travel warning for Mexico used to be 46 pages long. We’ve shortened that, and we’re really trying to shorten our products so that people will read them and pay attention to them.

For Mexico, for example, now we have an interactive map. If you hover over the map, state by state, information will pop up about travel restrictions and travel advice.

On some of our country-specific information, we’ve shortened them by 30 percent and have found that when we do that, people stay on the page for 50 percent longer.

How have world events in the past year influenced how the bureau conducts its business?
Certainly we see what goes on in current events, and we’re involved any time there is one of those crises by communicating with the public in real time. We work with people who are looking for family members or who have family members who have been affected by the crisis. We continue to focus on how we are giving people information that they can use in assessing their travel plans. We want people to be aware of the risks so that they can make their individual decisions on which types of risks they’re willing to take. Every traveler is different, and the nature of the trip is different, and we just want them to have the most accurate information so they can be prepared.

How can travel agents best use the services from the Bureau of Consular Affairs?
We put out individual security and emergency messages [in individual posts]. Those are much more in real time, a warning that this is happening now — such as a demonstration planned in a particular city. We also post [these] on Twitter and Facebook.

A travel agent should register for our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to get this information pushed out to them. If you’re enrolled in STEP, you can say, “I’m going to this place during this time frame,” and then any time that place sends a message, it will go to you. They should also share that information with clients as clients are making travel plans. Talk them through some of the risk factors and get an idea of where the clients stand on this information.

In which situations is the government unable to help?
There are things we can do to help you help yourself. If you get arrested, for example, we will come and visit you and help you contact your family members, but we can’t get you out of jail.

Likewise, if you’re hospitalized, we can come and help you contact your family, but we can’t pay your hospital bill. We encourage travelers to get travel insurance that will cover medical emergencies, medical evacuations and that sort of thing. Most people don’t have enough to pay it upfront, and when you’re in the midst of a medical emergency, you don’t want to be trying to figure it out.

originally published 27-OCT206-1

How to be a better traveler

9 Ways to Travel Better

The words "tourist" and "traveler" are often used interchangeably, but for seasoned globetrotters, they carry distinctive meanings. While a traveler seeks out the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable, a tourist stays in his comfort zone, sticks to major cities and enjoys staying at hotels with amenities that rival those at home. And unlike tourists, travelers seek culturally immersive experiences and venture off the beaten path and, in turn, are rewarded with meaningful and enriching experiences. So, if you want to venture into the unknown with the mentality of a traveler – not a tourist – toss out that guidebook and follow these expert-approved tips.

  1. Learn the Language - Even if you can't master a new language before you go, it's a smart idea to learn a few key phrases in the country's native tongue. While you may not be able to hold a conversation, knowing a few words can go a long way, and help you haggle for the best prices, communicate with locals and get the most out of your trip.
  2. Carry Local Currency - Many travelers assume that foreign countries will accept major credit cards, but that's not always the case. And keep in mind many credit cards charge foreign conversion fees, so it's important to make sure you know what fees to expect before you use your card overseas. Plan ahead and carry at least $100 of the local currency in your pocket to cover necessities, such as meals and transportation.
  3. Stay Social - Sharing your memorable travel experiences with a hotel, tour group or airline on Twitter and Facebook provides more than just updates to friends and followers on social media. Many hotels engage with guests on these platforms, and sometimes reward social media users with room upgrades, loyalty points and free amenities.
  4. Pack Smarter - Even if you're planning to stay in one hotel room or on one cruise ship cabin, leave enough room in your carry-on to bring home keepsakes from your trip. The last thing you want to worry about is how you're going to transport those irreplaceable souvenirs you picked up without paying exorbitant fees.
  5. Go on an Expert-Led Tour - There's no better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a destination than with a local tour guide. Choose excursions led by resourceful guides, which will afford you with greater insight and access to lesser-visited places. Plus, knowledgeable guides can help break down language barriers, making it much easier to communicate with locals.
  6. Rent a Camera Lens - Even if you're not a skilled photographer, a high-tech camera can help you capture incredible vacation photos. Before you rent a camera, make sure you read online reviews and practice taking photos before your trip. The last thing you want is a camera you don't know how to use on an epic African safari or a once-in-a-lifetime European getaway.
  7. Eat Like a Local -The best part about traveling is the chance to sample the local cuisine, so skip major chains in favor of regional specialties. For example, dig into a plate of Rocky Mountain oysters in Montana, a deep-fried tarantula in Cambodia or a plate of tart ceviche in Mexico. Apart from savoring boundary-pushing plates, you'll have the added benefit of learning more about the local culture and creating long-lasting memories over an unforgettable meal.
  8. Stay Connected for Less - Want to know how intrepid travelers save hundreds of dollars on the road? To start, they're never paying high Wi-Fi fees or data roaming charges. Skip hefty Internet fees and download Boingo, which can keep you connected for less than $5 a month.
  9. Connect With Locals - Embrace the different customs and cultures you encounter in the places you visit. Make a point to ask locals questions and learn about the destinations on your itinerary. And spend as much time meeting locals and broadening your understanding of different cultures and perspectives as you do exploring major landmarks and neighborhoods.

Author: Claire Volkman

For more travel tips and inspiration download "Inspired".

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