One of the most confusing parts of traveling is often sorting our what documents are necessary for a trip to take place. Making sure your passport, necessary visas, and required vaccinations are up to par is essential for entering your destination (and avoiding the loss of hundreds to thousands of dollars and your dignity). To help, we’ve put together a guide including everything you need to know about applying for a travel document.
How to apply if it’s your first passport
If it is your first time applying for a passport, you’re under 16 (or your last passport was issued when you were under 16 or 15+ years ago), you’ve had a legal name change since your last passport, or your last passport was lost, stolen or damaged, you’ll need to make an appointment and apply in person at a passport agency. Some common places include the post office or your local public library. Along with the filled out but unsigned DS-11 application form, proof of US citizenship (such as your official birth certificate), photo ID (like a Driver’s License), front and back copies of all forms of ID, a passport photo (you can do this at your local photo center like Walgreens or Duane Reade), and your application fee of $110 + a $25 Execution Fee is needed. Credit cards, cash, money orders, and checks are accepted.
Making an appointment with a passport agency. Call 1-877-487-2778 or TDD/TTY 1-888-874-7793
How to apply if you’re renewing your passport
If you’re renewing your passport, you can mail in your old passport, completed DS-82 application, a passport sized photo to affix to the application, and a check or money order with the necessary amount ($110) made out to the "US Department of State." No self-addressed return envelope is needed, though if you’ve had a name charge you’ll need a copy of proof. Applications should be mailed to "National Passport Processing Center, Post Office Box 90155, Philadelphia, PA 19190-0155."
If you need your new passport right away, you can pay extra for expedited service — $60 plus $14.85 if you need overnight delivery.
Lost Or Stolen Passports
Sadly, identity theft is a huge issue around the world, so make sure to report any lost or stolen passports immediately by submitting a DS-64 form. From there, if you’re in the US you’ll need to apply in person for a new one. If you’re abroad you should head to the nearest US embassy or consulate for assistance in replacing your passport. To be prepared and expedite the process, it’s always good to travel with a passport-sized photo, photo ID, and proof of US citizenship.
While travelers used to be able to pay for new passport pages, that is now a thing of the past as of January 1, 2016. That being said, when you apply for a new passport you have the option to get a 28-page (standard) or 52-page booklet (for frequent travelers), with both costing the same.
The 6-Month Rule
It's not a requirement of every destination, but many want at least six months validity left in your passport. Even if you see your destination doesn’t require this, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It's not recommended to travel internationally without at least six months left on your passport validity.
The Hole-Punch Rule
When you apply for a new passport your old one becomes immediately invalid upon receiving the new one, and you'll often see hole punches on the picture page to note this.
Don't Trust The Airport/Airline To Notice Mistakes
There are tons of stories of airport staff and airlines not noticing invalid and expired passports (trust me, I've experienced it first-hand). Because of this, it’s up to you to make sure all your documents are up to par with what your destination's customs officials will be expecting. Getting sent right back home on the plane you arrived on is costly and disappointing.
Where to check
While a number of websites assist in letting you know if a visa is needed for your trip, it’s recommended to use travel.state.gov and visit the sub-page for your destination. For example, if you’re traveling to Brazil you would visit this page for full information on what documents are needed before your departure, how to obtain a visa, and destination safety information.
While it’s typically pretty straightforward, there are times when assistance may be necessary (for instance, if you need to apply for multiple visas in a short amount of time or if the instructions are obscure). During these times, companies like VisaHQ and Travisa can help — albeit for a fee of often $75+.
Certain countries require a specific amount of blank visa pages in your passport, typically two-to-four. Make sure to research this before departure.
Along with passports and visas, many countries have medical requirements. For example, when I went to Ghana, I had to get a Yellow Fever vaccination before traveling, and my doctor gave me a yellow signed paper to keep in my passport as proof I received the necessary shot. Without this, I would have likely been sent back to the US at the Ghanaian border.
Certain nationalities also have stricter medical requirements than others. I traveled through Central America (I'm an American) with a Kenyan man, and while I was able to breeze through the borders without anything more than a passport, he had to have proof of special medical examinations and visas. Make sure to double-check your destination's medical requirements before jetting off.
It’s also a good idea to sign up for the complimentary Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so the trip is officially enrolled with the government. You’ll receive safety warnings and it makes it easier for the US Embassy to contact you in an emergency.
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