Passports, Visas and Traveling Abroad

Traveling abroad requires a bit more preparation than traveling within the United States.  One of the most important differences, is that you will need a passport or passport card and maybe a visa.  Different countries have different requirements.  The best place to get information is the United States Department of State.

If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, you may be able to get by with a passport card which is less expensive than a regular passport.  Presently, the cost is $30.  However, the card can only be used for land or water border crossings – not for flying.  Even though it costs considerably less, the restrictions make it a poor choice for many people.

A passport book is the most common piece of identification used for international travel.  At present, it costs $110 for a new or renewal, with an additional fee of $25 for processing a new passport.  When applying, you can request a passport card in addition to the book, but you will have to pay the fees for both.

Do I need a visa?  Most European countries do not require US citizens to obtain visas, but other countries do.  The US Department of State has a list of each country’s requirements.  Check the list for the most up-to-date information.  Adding a visa to your passport will also add to the cost, so remember to figure it into your budget.

Rules for children differ from those for adults.  Adult passports remain valid for ten years, while children under sixteen need to renew theirs every five years.

Applying for or renewing a passport is not difficult.  First, you need to fill out the passport form which is available on the State Department website.  You will need a 2″x2″ picture of yourself.  You can have it done by an agency or you can have a friend take your picture – just be sure it follows the requirements.  In addition, you will need to pay the fee.

If this is your first passport, you also need proof of citizenship and a photo ID.  First time applicants need to apply in person at a passport office (located in many post offices).  If you are renewing your passport, you can mail in the form, your old passport, the picture and the fee.

If you find yourself with an expired passport, the state department will expedite the renewal process for a fee.  There are also agencies that can help with application process for passports or visas.  They can help with paperwork and speed up the process – again, for a fee. Here are some other passport tips to remember:

  • Think ahead.  The state department suggests applying for your passport a minimum of six weeks before you need it.
  • Double-check the requirements.  If you do not have the required visa you will not be able to enter the country you intend to visit.
  • Pay attention to your passport’s expiration date.  Different countries have different requirements, but several will not allow you to enter unless your passport will not expire for at least six months – even if you only plan to stay for a couple days.  If you renew your passport early, the full ten years is added to the expiration date.
  • Keep your passport safe.  The best place to keep your passport while traveling is on your person.  There are several variations of money belts that can hold your passport and credit cards. Hotel safes are also an option.

With all the planning and preparation that goes into a trip, your passport is an easy item to take care of.  Being aware of the requirements will help your trip go smoothly.

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