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”