We are just starting the seven month countdown until our multi-generation trip to Europe in September. I am starting to gather together all the important documents that one needs for this type of overseas trip and I have just spent a week searching everywhere in my house for my passport. It appears it is no where to be seen.
I last used it in December of 2012 when David and I went to Puerto Rico (even though it’s considered US soil and not necessary). So after tearing apart drawers, emptying cupboards and digging through old purses and backpacks, I’ve decided to just apply for a new one. If you have an international trip on your horizon and don’t have a passport already, here are a few tips to help make it a smooth and quick process.
1. First, recognize that you are dealing with Federal government regulations. It’s an exercise in paperwork and waiting. While there are some alternative locations and websites to apply for your U. S. Passport, I strongly recommend you stick with the official site for your information and processing. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/apply.html
2. Regardless if this is your first passport or your fifth, it all starts with a trip to your local passport photographer. Again, I prefer to go to someone that specifically advertises they shoot passport photos. The government is now letting you take your own photo if you want, but with the very strict size and posing requirements, it’s just better to have someone do it that knows what they are doing rather than waiting until you send in your application and then have it come back with a rejected photograph. I always order a few extra photos to have on hand for other international applications as needed.
3. Now that you have your photographs in your hand, it’s time to work on the application itself. The Federal Government is now allowing you to complete your application on-line, but you still have to print it out and take it (along with your supportive documents) to an application processing center. In addition to your own personal information you will need to dig up information related to your parents as well, such as their birth place and date. To find the application processing office closest to you here is a link to a location search tool. http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/. Just put in your zip code and select the best option.
4. Make sure before you go that you have gathered all the necessary supportive materials. This includes:
- evidence of your U. S. Citizenship
- personal photo identification as well as a copy of the front and back of your identification
- your completed application (form DS-11)
- your passport photograph
- checkbook, bank check or cash (many sites do not accept credit cards, etc)
- Note: Do not pre-sign anything! All signatures must be done in the presence of the application agent.
5. You can expect that your application will take 4 – 6 weeks until your passport arrives in your mail. If you are traveling sooner than that, you can request an expedited process, but be prepared to pay more for this service.
6. If you had a passport previously (like me), you will also need a form DS-64 explaining what happened to your old passport. Was it stolen or lost?
7. They are also now offering a package that includes your passport booklet and a passport card (a mini ID version of your passport). I think it is definitely worth the extra $30 to get the card version added to your application. It is easier to find in your wallet and may help eliminate lost passports in the future.
There, it’s all done now and you can sit back and wait. When your passport finally arrives in the mail, I suggest making a copy of the front section that shows your photo and the passport number. Keep this locked away in your fire safe document box. That way if you lose your passport in the future you will have the details and passport number available for re-processing.
Also, before you leave on your trip, you will want to leave a photo Xerox copy of your passport and other vital documents as well as bank card #’s with someone you trust back home in case of emergency, theft or a medical issue. A quick phone call to your support person and they can have copies sent immediately to the consulate, bank or emergency services organization.
The new passports also have a built in scanning code in them to make it easier and faster to pass through checking stations in the United States and overseas. For a nifty little travel checklist and up-to-date travel warnings and details, go to http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/go.html. Check back often as travel alerts change daily around the world.
This passport will be the fourth one I’ve had. In the “old” days, I loved that when you traveled in an out of a foreign country they reviewed your passport in detail (making you quite nervous) and then stamped it with a big “country” stamp. It’s fun for me to look back at the old passports and remember the places I have been lucky enough to travel to. The Philippines, Japan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Mexico, Canada, Germany (East and West in pre-wall removal years), Austria, Luxembourg….Each stamp representing a place and a memory.
Best of luck to you in your world travel adventures…and for me, I’m thinking of getting a really cool passport cover in bright fuchsia so I don’t lose my passport again.