Have you ever given any thought to why you might need a passport? The answer to this question goes beyond planning to go to Asia or Europe. If you determine that you need one, the next question you might want to be answered is how to get a passport? Let’s take it one question at a time.
Why You Need a Passport
There are a number of reasons why you need a passport even if you think you’ll never travel outside the U.S.
Reason 1) REAL ID
The REAL ID Act administered by U.S. Homeland Security, establishes minimum standards for entering Federal facilities, entering a nuclear facility, and boarding a commercial aircraft.
Of the three listed above, entering Federal facilities and boarding a commercial aircraft are likely to happen for most of us. Some Federal facilities that require REAL ID compliance are Social Security, IRS, and military bases. For those folks who love attending air shows on military bases, this will apply to you. And if you ever plan to fly anywhere, including within the U.S., this will apply to you too.
So, how does one become compliant with these minimum standards? First of all, it depends on where you live and how your state issues driver’s licenses and other identification cards. As of October 2018, there were still thirteen states who had not fully complied with Homeland Security standards. They have been given extension dates in 2019 by which to comply. These states are Alaska, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Here is a link to the REAL ID page so you can keep up with when or if your state is in compliance.
If your state is not in compliance by the end of all extensions granted, YOU WILL NEED A PASSPORT to enter Federal facilities and fly domestically.
Reason 2) You’ve booked a cruise and planned some amazing side trips off of the ship
Unless you’ve booked a Hawaiian cruise, you’ll likely need a passport. That’s right! All of those wonderful side trips you’ve planned in Vancouver, Puerto Vallarta, Jamaica, and Cancun, require a passport (or passport card) because they are in foreign countries. Yes, I know that many of your friends have taken these cruises. But they have passports or passport cards allowing them to re-enter the United States.
If this is your first cruise, (and it’s not a cruise down the Mississippi River) you need to do a little research on where you can and cannot go without a passport/card. For instance, you can get off the ship in Puerto Rico without a passport (if your state is compliant with REAL ID requirements) but not in Jamaica. You can get off at Seward, Alaska but not in Vancouver. I think you probably get the idea now, right? If you want to take a cruise to ANYWHERE with ports outside of the U.S. states and territories, YOU WILL NEED A PASSPORT (or a passport card – more about that later).
Reason 3) Your adventure-loving single sister is in the hospital overseas
You get a call in the middle of the night and it’s a physician located in Torino, Italy. She informs you that your sister has taken a nasty fall while skiing in the mountains. Both of her legs are broken and she is asking for you. You have no idea where Torino, Italy is or how to get there. But you do know that of all your family members, you are the only one who can go to be with her. You can’t ask your elderly parents to go and your brother is working offshore for the next month. Guess what? In order, to get to your sister’s bedside, YOU WILL NEED A PASSPORT. And just in case you think this would never happen in your family, five years ago I never thought I would have a sister living in Spain and a niece living in Cambridge, England. So yes, it could happen!
Reason 4) Your bestie just won an all-expenses-paid Viking River cruise on the Danube River for four people and she has picked you as one of the three people to go with her.
That’s right, all expenses are paid and all you have to do is be ready to go in three months. It’s a dream trip of a lifetime! The only catch is you don’t have a passport and the trip begins in three months. In case you’re thinking that could never happen to you, read the last sentence under Reason 3. Yep! It could happen! And by the way, I could go on and on with scenarios detailing why you need a passport, but let’s go on to obtaining that needed passport.
How to Get a Passport
Even if you’ve never thought you might need a passport, I think I’ve made it clear that pretty much everyone may need a passport sometime in the future. So how in the world do you go about getting one?
Well, girlfriend, I won’t say getting a first-time passport is as easy as clicking together the heels of your ruby red slippers. But I will say that it is easy to obtain a passport if you know how to follow directions. You can find the directions right HERE.
If you’re applying to a passport for the first time, you will have to do so in person at a designated facility near you. However, before you go in person, you have to accomplish several tasks.
You must complete the form DS-11. You can complete it online starting HERE. Once you’ve entered all the necessary information, you can print it out to take with you when you apply in person.
Gather all of your supporting documents. These include the following:
- Photo I.D. such as a valid Driver’s license or other government-approved photo I.D. You can see the list of acceptable photo I.D.s HERE. You’ll also need to bring a photocopy of the I.D. on 8.5 X 11 white paper in black and white printed on one side only.
- Evidence of citizenship. Primary evidence is preferred but if you do not have this, other ways of providing evidence of citizenship are outlined along with types of primary evidence HERE.
Next, you’ll need a 2 x 2-inch photo of yourself. While you can get someone to take this photo for you and print it out, there are numerous directions to follow for taking an acceptable photo. (FYI, you can’t take a selfie.) You can find these directions for taking an acceptable photo HERE. Examples are included.
There are much easier ways to have a photo taken within the restrictions of the requirements. Almost all national pharmacies I know of, such as Walgreens, CVS, etc. have a photo department where they can take acceptable passport photos and print them out while you wait. They can do this at a reasonable price, usually under $10.
You also can have your photo taken at a local FedEx office, UPS office, some Target or Wal-Mart stores, and some post offices. You should call ahead to make sure the location close to you takes and prints these type photos. I recently had a passport sized photo a local FedEx office and was very pleased with the quality of the photo. These places are already set up to take the right size and quality photo and their staff members know the restrictions to abide by, such as you can’t wear glasses to take a passport photo, what type clothes can be worn, etc. Make it easy on yourself and let them do the work for you!
A passport costs money and it’s not exactly cheap either. But it is worth every penny you spend on it! Your U.S. passport is the GATEWAY to places all over the world. You know what places I’m talking about; places you’ve always dreamed of seeing but thought you never would.
The complete fee for a new adult passport is currently $145. You can see the breakdown HERE. While you’re looking at this page, be sure to note the ways your fees can be accepted. Sometimes you can write a check and others times a money order is necessary. Also, while you’re on that page, you may also see fees for a passport card. The current fee for a passport card is $65.
The difference between a passport card and a passport book (what is generally called a “passport”) is pretty simple. A passport card can be used for trips to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda by land or by seaports. For instance, if you live in Florida and want to take a cruise to an island in the Caribbean, you only need a passport card. However, if you want to fly directly to the island and stay in an Airbnb, you need a passport book because you cannot use a passport card for an international flight.
Another example would be if you live in upstate New York and want to fly to Quebec City, Canada for the holidays, you need a passport. If you live in Washington state and want to drive to Vancouver, Canada to see the beautiful gardens there, you can use a passport card.
Easy right? The bottom line is if you fly into or out of an international airport (even in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda) you will need a passport book. Since passport books are good for 10 years, and you never know where you’ll want to go once you get a taste of traveling to other countries, I would always recommend paying the extra bucks to obtain a passport book.
Final Step 5: Apply in Person
Now that you’ve taken care of all of the above steps, it’s time to apply for your passport in person. In my small city, there are three different places where I can bring all my documents and fees and apply in person. Some of these places require an appointment and some do not.
You can find out about where to present your documents and fees in a place close to you right HERE. Under number nine in the list, there is a link to a site where you can enter your zip code to find the acceptance facility nearest you. Be sure to call the facility you plan to use to find out if you need an appointment.
Now That I’ve Applied, what’s next?
Now that you’ve presented all of you forms, evidence, and fees in person to a passport acceptance facility, it will take approximately 4-6 weeks to receive your passport.
If you need your passport sooner than that, there are some ways to get it earlier. If there is an emergency requiring you to travel within 72 hours, you can find out what to do HERE.
If you plan to travel in approximately 3-4 weeks, you can have your passport expedited for an additional cost. Find out more about expedited passports HERE.
After you receive your passport, you’ll want to keep it safe. Click here to see and purchase this fabulous passport protector with RFID to protect your sensitive information from identity thieves!
So, you see, even if you’ve never thought you could or would travel internationally to see places you’ve always dreamed of seeing, YOU CAN DO IT NOW! As long as you can follow the directions I’ve given you here by linking to the State Department’s instructions and following them in order, you will be traveling before you know it.
Whether you need a passport to travel by air domestically or internationally, for an emergency or for pleasure, you can obtain your passport in no longer than 4-6 weeks and even faster if needed. Just take care of the five steps I’ve listed above, including applying in person at a passport acceptance facility, and you’ll have your passport before you know it. Then… bring on the wanderlust!
If you would like to read more about travel just click on the links below. Happy reading!
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