People who want to travel internationally and who are citizens of the USA will need to get a passport before they can take their trip. Here’s what they need to know to get the document and understand it once they have it.
A US passport is a document that proves a traveler’s US citizenship. It is issued by the US Department of State and proves that a traveler is who they say they are.
A US passport provides the holder with certain rights. They can enter some countries without a visa or with only an eVisa, and they can ask the US embassy for help wherever they are. Currently, Mexico allows Americans to enter the country with only the Mexico Tourist Card as long as the visit is short-term.
Most United States passports are small blue booklets. However, different types of passports will be different colors. Currently, US officials will have reddish passports, contracted government workers will have gray passports, and diplomats will have black passports. Inside, the passport will contain a page with personal details and 17 pages that can be stamped when the traveler enters or leaves a country.
There will be other pages with legal information about how, when, and where the passport can and cannot be used, and a page where the owner can enter contact information. Note that the cover of the passport includes a sensitive electronic chip that has all of the bearer’s information. Travelers need to take care that this chip is not damaged.
The data page contains the traveler’s photograph, name, nationality, date of birth, place of birth, date of passport issue, the date the passport expires, gender, and passport number. As of 2021, these pages will look different in new passports. The same data will be there, but security has been enhanced to make it even harder to forge these passports.
Passports are most commonly shown when entering and leaving countries other than one’s own. They provide proof of identity and allow the other country to verify this data. Passports are also often used to obtain visas to visit other countries. This is done before travel and allows the other country to verify a person’s identity before giving them permission to visit.
Passports can also be used as forms of identity wherever they are required. People use them when getting a driver’s license, registering for school, completing employment forms, etc. Finally, they can be used anytime the bearer needs to prove their citizenship. Many times, people can show a passport in any situation requiring a birth certificate.
Note that it is not generally a good idea to carry a passport around all the time. It is a valuable document and not worth losing or running the risk of having someone steal it. However, if a passport bearer needs an extra form of ID, having their passport can be extremely useful.
Knowing someone else’s passport number may help you trace them when they are overseas. This is useful if someone goes missing while visiting abroad. Finally, having a passport can help travelers open bank accounts and get SIM cards for their phones while overseas. Many places require an address to do this, but sometimes having a passport will help the process along.
While the exact rank of the US passport is debated, it is one of the most powerful passports in the world. In fact, one organization says that it is the most powerful passport that a traveler can have. Another ranks it at number 6 in the world.
The United States passport currently permits bearers to enter 186 other countries without a visa. For many of the other countries that travelers like to visit, it is easy to get an eVisa, an Electronic Travel Authorization, or a visa-on-arrival with a US passport.
There are four types of passports that can be issued in the United States. The first one, and the one that the vast majority of people get, is the regular passport. This is for normal citizens who are traveling for their own purposes. The second one is the diplomatic passport. These are reserved for people traveling on behalf of the United States for diplomatic reasons.
An official passport will be given to any employee of the government who is traveling on official duty. Their family members may also qualify for official passports. Travelers cannot use their diplomatic or official passports if they are traveling for other business or pleasure. Most of these passport holders also have regular passports for these trips.
The passport card is similar to the regular passport, with more restrictions. It can only be used for sea and land travel to Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and Mexico.
All passports issued by the United States now are biometrically enabled. This means there is a chip in the passport that can be scanned. This chip contains all of the traveler’s information. It is protected and certain procedures must be followed in order to read it.
It helps reduce passport fraud and can reveal identity theft at the border. It may also make border crossings more efficient and require less contact between travelers and immigration staff.
Travelers who do not already have a United States passport will need to apply for that document in person. So will those with passports issued more than 15 years ago. In addition, all travelers under age 16 or who had their previous passports issued when they were under 16 will need to apply in person, as will those whose passports were lost or stolen.
There are a number of locations where travelers can apply for passports. Many US post offices and other government buildings offer this service. City and county offices and courts may process passport applications. The State Department has a website where travelers can search for locations near them.
Travelers will need to make an appointment before they can get their passports processed. They should do this well in advance of their trip as getting a passport often takes weeks or months. When travelers go to their meeting, they will need to bring a completed version of form DS-11 and payment for their passport.
If they aren’t sure of the cost, they can bring a check and fill it out once they are certain of the correct amount. Applicants will also need proof that they are US citizens. They will need to show an original or certified copy of this document, as well as present a clear photocopy they can hand over. This can be a current or expired passport, birth certificate, proof of naturalization or citizenship, or proof they were born overseas.
All passports must be submitted with proper photos of the applicant. Some processing centers will take these for an additional fee. Travelers will also need to present proof of their identification and a copy of that proof that they can send with the application. There are a number of types of ID that work, though a current or expired US passport or driver’s license is the most commonly used option.
Travelers who are under 17 will have more requirements for their application. They may need to bring both parents to the appointment and/or prove that their parents know they are applying. Travelers who have had their passports lost or stolen will also have additional requirements. These are outlined in a special section below.
At the appointment, travelers may be asked to fill out and sign more paperwork. Their documents will be processed and sent away. The final passport will be sent to their home address. The time frame for getting a passport can vary, and the process may take weeks or months.
Note that people who owe more than $2500 in child support or those who have been convicted of serious crimes may not be eligible for a passport.
Travelers who currently have a US passport can renew it by mail if they meet certain criteria. They must have their current or expired passport. It must be undamaged - normal wear and tear are acceptable, but nothing beyond this. The current passport needs to have been issued when the traveler was 16 or older and the issue date must be within the last 15 years.
Finally, the current passport must be in the traveler’s current name, or they must have official documentation that they changed their name, and they need to submit this for renewal. To renew the passport, the traveler should begin by filling out form DS-82. They will need to send this, along with their current/old passport, any necessary proof of a name change, passport photos, and the relevant fees to the State Department mailing address.
After that, they can check their renewal status online. It can take up to 2 weeks for a renewal application to show up in the electronic system.
Most regular US passports are valid for 10 years from the date the passport was issued. If the traveler is under 16 when the passport is issued, it will be valid for 5 years. Passports that have expired must be renewed before they will be valid. In addition, most countries require that a passport have at least 6 months of validity left on it when a traveler enters their country. If it does not, that passport will be considered invalid.
All passports must also be signed. There is a line near the data page and even children must have a signature there in order to validate the passport. Damage beyond normal wear and tear invalidates a US passport. This includes anything that harms the integrity of the passport. The State Department lists water damage, marks on the data page, tears, rips, torn or torn-out pages, hole punches, and more as invalidating damage.
Damage to the biometric chip (embedded in the front cover) also invalidates a passport.
As soon as travelers realize their passport has been lost or stolen, they should report it to the State Department as such. The easiest way for many people to do this is to use an online form. If a person chooses to do this through the online tool, they can note that they want to replace the passport. This will generate both a lost passport form (DS-64) and the form travelers need in order to get a new passport.
However, travelers will still have to apply for a new passport in person, as mentioned above. Travelers can also download this form, fill it out by hand, and submit it by mail, or call the State Department to report their form is lost. No matter how the report is made, travelers will need to submit form DS-64 when they go to apply for their new passports.
Travelers who lose their passports or have them stolen while outside of the USA need to go to the nearest embassy or consulate to get documentation so they can return home.
People who have been convinced of felonies for international drug crimes will not be able to get a US passport. As mentioned above, people owing more than $2500 in back child support will also not be able to get this document. Similarly, those who owe large debts to the IRS may not be eligible for a passport, and people who have had their passports revoked will not be able to get a new one.
Travelers who have been stranded overseas without the funds to get home and who owe the federal government for their repatriation are also ineligible for a passport until they repay. The Department of State can refuse a passport to people who have been convicted of any felonies or to those who are judged mentally incompetent.
People who are under extradition orders to other countries or those with certain types of court orders will be ineligible for a passport, too. Minors who do not have both parents present at their passport interview and who do not have notarized consent from the absent parent may not be able to get passports.
Similarly, minors currently involved in custody disputes will not be able to get a passport until the dispute is resolved.
Having dual citizenship means having citizenship from two different countries at the same time. People with dual citizenship can hold two passports at once. The United States allows dual citizenship for naturalized citizens. People who become citizens will not have to give up their other citizenship in order to do so.
This may also pertain to some children born in other countries to parents who are US citizens. Under some circumstances, they will hold passports for both countries. People with dual citizenship can choose which passport they want to travel under at any given time. However, they will need to enter and leave a country under the same passport.
Some passports may give easy passage whereas others will not. Travelers should determine which passport is best for them at any given point.
Having a US passport means that the bearer can travel around the world as a citizen of the USA. When people follow proper procedures, these documents are easy to get and use.