March 22, 2012

US Passport Information

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Image Credit: Africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.  ~Hilaire Belloc

As I made final preparations for my trip to Italy with BabyGirl, I received an invitation to be a special guest at the Western Passport Agency in Tucson, AZ as part of the Passport Day 2012 experience. I was thrilled, said yes, and spent my Saturday learning how the Bureau of Consular Affairs helps millions of US Citizens each year who travel beyond our country’s borders. Whether to Canada, Mexico, or far off lands, every US Citizen leaving the country must have either a US Passport Book or, if only traveling to Mexico or Canada by land, a US Passport Card.

At the Western Passport Center, I was met by Carole, who’s responsible for PR and media relations. A veteran of the Foreign Service, her experience in working overseas with US Citizens is quite broad. Her goal today, though, was help me better understand the passport process.

How Long Does It Take To Get a US Passport?

The goal for standard US Passport processing from application to you receiving your book is 4-6 weeks from receiving your paperwork. If you start the process at a US Post Office, Court Clerk or one of the thousands of office across the country that take US Passport applications plan on about 6 weeks, to account for the time it will take to get the document to one of the offices that begins the process of evaluating your application. The men and women who look over your application are making sure that everyone meets the criteria for a US Passport. This one office processes over 24,000 US Passport applications per month! Obtaining a US Passport has never been easier!

Can I Get My Passport The Same Day?

This is a bit trickier, but in many cases you can get your passport in a hurry. Of course there must be some type of exigent circumstance, however, Carole did mention that 25 US Passport Agency offices do take customers who are traveling on such short notice. With an emphasis on customer service, they do understand there are circumstances that come up requiring travel within days. There have even been instances where people have gotten to an airport only to realize they never renewed their passport. So if you or someone you know needs to get a passport with less than 14-days notice, it may require they travel to obtain their passport but they’ll get their passport (if all the paperwork is in order) so they can depart on time. Keep in mind that there are additional fees to expedite this request. I had to do this years ago when I had let my passport lapse but needed to make a trip to France for work. At the time I was in Ohio and it required me to fly to Chicago for the day. Overall it was easy, but there were definitely extra expenses and a lot of waiting.

Do Children Need A Separate Passport?

Yes, all minors who fly internationally, regardless of age, need their own US Passport. Passports for US Citizens under the age of 16 are valid for 5 years. When obtaining a passport for a child under 16, both parents must be present or an affidavit is required from the non-attending parent. This is to ensure there is consent for the child to obtain a passport since it would then permit the child to travel out of the country with one parent. BabyGirl is on her second passport. While there was some drama in the application process, receiving the passport in less than 2 weeks was a nice surprise.

The Smart Traveler App

Smart Traveler App

Traveling abroad means staying up to date with what’s going on overseas. This official US State Departement app  for US travelers provides access to frequently updated official country information, travel alerts, travel warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more. In addition, you get access to the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Free STEP enrollment enables the State Department to better assist you in emergencies such as natural disasters, unrest in foreign countries, or lost/stolen passports overseas. During your travels, STEP can help your family and friends reach you in an emergency. It is easy to use and the STEP enrollment can be done on the app or online. Download the Smart Traveler App before you leave the country. I think this is a very cool app. It was easy to use and the STEP enrollment was quick. I did need to do some of the STEP enrollment on my computer due to some iOS glitches with the app. Knowing that my information is already on file should there be an emergency has put me at ease.

Fun Facts!

Over 30% of US Citizens have a US Passport

Children born to US Citizen parents overseas must obtain special birth certificates for proof of citizenship

Since opening in 2008, the Tucson Processing Center has printed more than 10 million US Passport Books

Traveling brings the world closer. It opens our minds, and our hearts. The Department of State and the US Passport Agencies and processing centers work diligently to help us when travel abroad hearkens. As I explore Italy with BabyGirl, I encourage you to stop wishing and start doing!

Disclosure: My travel to the Western Passport Agency was at my own expense. Other than press materials and a pen, I received nothing of value in exchange for my time or this post. This post has been reviewed by a representative of the US government to ensure accuracy, but all opinions are my own. The opinions expressed by me do not necessarily reflect the view of the US Government. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sara

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