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”

Traveling Abroad -What Information to Leave Behind

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” is a mantra to live by when traveling. Natural disasters and civil unrest derail the best of plans, but more often it’s the mundane things that disrupt our travel – a lost wallet, a bottle of prescription medicine left on the bathroom counter, a hotel reservation that can’t be found. Err on the side of caution by leaving vital information with a trustworthy friend, coworker or family member. More than likely you’ll never need it, but if the unexpected should arise, you’ll be thankful you planned ahead.

What information should you leave behind?

  • A copy of your passport and visas: If your passport is lost or stolen, a copy can help the local embassy replace your documents faster, saving you time and money.
  • Credit card information: Having someone at home who knows how to quickly cancel or replace your credit cards can be invaluable if your wallet should go missing.
  • Copies of hotel and car rental reservations, train and plane tickets: Help those who might need to help you, give them the information they need to find you as quickly as possible.
  • Copy of prescriptions and contact information for your doctor: Having a prescription filled abroad is not always easy. Should you need an emergency refill, access to this information can save time and confusion.
  • Consider registering with the U.S. Department of State so they know where you are in case of an emergency. Local embassies can’t help ensure your safety if they don’t know you’re in the country.

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.