US Passport Information

How To Obtain a US Passport

We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.

~ Hilaire Belloc

I’m often asked how to obtain a US Passport. I think it’s just something people assume lawyers know. 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.”

Image Credit: Africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sara

I Nearly Lost My Mind Renewing A Passport

US Passport Image by Damian613 on FlickrImage Credit Damian613

I’m a follow the rules kind of gal. You tell me to bring 2 copies, I bring 2 copies. Directions say to write in blue ink, I don’t ask about shade of blue because I know they’re talking about the standard b-l-u-e, blue kind of ink. And because of the internet, my ability to follow the rules and be prepared when it comes to dealing with federal agencies has been well-honed.

I’m thinking, this passport renewal will be a breeze! Since we’re going to Italy next spring I wanted to make sure BabyGirl’s passport would be valid at least 6-months after our departure. That’s what the rules say, so I’m just following them. I figured that since I got her passport I’d be fully prepared to do the renewal.

First, let’s clear this up. Renewal is a misnomer. For kids it’s actually more like getting a newly issued passport. Kid’s passports aren’t really renewed as much as they are issued. With a few clickity, click, click, clicks I’m at the US Department of State website downloading and filling in the application. Print! Now instructions. Need to make sure I have the right size photo and correct number. Do I bring the old passport or not? Birth certificate? Watercolor from kindergarten? Let’s just see.

I gather up the current, still valid, US Passport. Fill out the form which I downloaded from the official site. Download and fill out the extra form to provide CycleGuy’s consent since he won’t be there in person. Get that notarized. Have photo taken. Head to passport agency at the county courthouse with BabyGirl in tow.

First stop was at the metal detectors. It’s like TSA except with real police officers and real guns. No joking! I beep and merit being hand-wanded. Something in my chestal area (yes, my chestal area as stated by Officer Hand Wand). He just keeps waving said hand wand over my chestal area as it beeps and beeps and beeps. A few more waves and I could have busted out my own flash mob to Friday!

With chestal area secured, I’m able to proceed to pick up my belongings and go to the passport office with BabyGirl. This office also issues marriage licenses so there were quite a few young couples all giddy and filled with love. I sign in and wait my turn. OK, not really my turn because BabyGirl put her name down. It’s her passport, she said. Hard to argue with that.

We’re called and we hand over our documents only to be told ours are outdated. Evidently in the several weeks between when I printed out the documents and when I got my busy self there the US Government updated the forms. For an uber type-A this is not good. I’m a print out the form typewritten kinda gal. I’m not diggin’ the write-it-in-even-though-you-have-nice-handwriting-you-still-think-it-looks-sloppy process. But I do.

I turn in the new form, the notarized authorization from CycleGuy and the current passport. I hear noises. Thinking noises coming from the passport rep lady. I filled out the form correctly. Notarized form is in order. But then come the questions.

Do I have a birth certificate for BabyGirl? Uh, not on me. The instruction I had printed out didn’t say anything about bringing one. Besides, I have a valid US Passport for her right here. That should count for something since I provided an original birth certificate for that one. Out of courtesy she’ll submit the application without the birth certificate but it might be rejected or I’ll get a request for additional information. Sure, whatever. Let’s move this show along!

Next question was do I have a copy of CycleGuy’s driver’s license? Uh, no. It’s not in the instructions for the form. Oh, right, it’s good to have that because he’s not there in person. Right. Because if he was I wouldn’t need the darn form! I get that the US Government is trying to protect children from the crazy antics of a non-custodial parent but the rules didn’t say to bring it. So I didn’t!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never taken a mind reading class. Possibly I should consider that next time I find some free time! What do you think? And if I’d have taken a mind reading class I wouldn’t have had to ask you what you thought!

I’m feeling good that she’s going to take my paperwork and soon take my money and I’ll be on my way. Until she tells me they don’t take credit cards any more. But it’s on the website! Oh, right. I’m supposed to know the rule changed. (Note: find mind reading class ASAP!) And they don’t take cash, despite the fact that she sent me out to the ATM for which I paid $2.50 to withdraw funds to pay for this new passport. Checks only!

Ugh! Leave and return. And now I’m back with my check book. I write the check. It’s picture time. I hand over the photos. She eyes them a few minutes and hands one back to me. They only need one now. ONE? But, but, but, the website says 2!!!!

I pay, receipt in hand, empty pink leather passport cover held by BabyGirl. I leave the now submitted US Passport materials in the hands of the rep who will submit them despite my ‘potential lack of proper documentation’. Yah, sure, whatevs! I’m in no rush, so if they need this stuff I can get it to them.

But I’m still unsure why I’d need BabyGirl’s original birth certificate. She has a US Passport. I provided a birth certificate to get this official passport we now have. Oh, right, they need proof of US citizenship. Uh, that would be this here US Passport I’m offering. But I am polite and keep all sarcasm to myself.

I’ve checked the online status page and the passport is ‘currently in process’. Me, well, I think I need a few hours of therapy to sort out this experience. While the lady was really nice and very pleasant, I left the office shaking my head.

How can I have followed all the directions yet somehow missed that it’s all actually wrong?

UPDATE: Day after I wrote this, guess what showed up in the mail? Yes, you’re exactly right! BabyGirl’s passport arrived in record time. 12 business day including mailing time! Guess all my paperwork was done right. And I’m so happy I didn’t pay extra for expedited processing.

Sara