It’s Travel Tip Tuesday! You know I’m a light packer, but truthfully, there is only one thing you truly cannot travel without: your passport. But do you know all the rules and regulations? Here is some important information and some pro tips so you can make the most of your passport–and never find yourself without one!
How to Get Your Passport
For the latest information and requirements, check the State Department’s website: Passport Requirements.
Here is a quick overview according to the latest information at the time of this writing:
Where to Get A Passport Application
- At the post office
What to Include
- Your Passport Application
- Proof of Citizenship (birth certificate, naturalization papers, or find out more here)
- Copy of Identification (copy of your driver’s license, or find out more here)
- 2″x2″ color passport photo (can be taken at many chain pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens, and you will have to pay for it–around $10-$15, but cost can vary) Here are the State Department’s Photo Requirements
- Payment for $135 (subject to change) for adults over 16 years old applying for the first time; see the full chart on the State Department’s Travel Page
- Mail all materials to the appropriate office
How Long to Wait
- 4-6 weeks if all goes according to plan
- 2-3 weeks if expedited (at an additional $60 cost)
- Faster? Make an appointment with a passport agency or center
When to Renew Your Passport
Passports are good for 10 years… except for the last 6 months. You may not be allowed to leave your home country if your passport expires within 6 months. You will have to renew it, which can take several weeks.
How to Renew Your Passport
You will need to submit your passport for renewal before it expires, or if you are changing your name (like I did when my sweet husband and I got married two years before my passport would have expired). Check the State Department’s Website for the latest information and requirements, but here are some details as of this writing:
You Must Apply by Mail
- You cannot renew online or in person, as of this writing
What to Include by Mail
- The completed renewal form
- Your current passport (which will be voided and returned to you separately from your new passport)
- Copy of name change documents (if applicable, such as a marriage certificate, divorce certificate, or court-ordered name change documentation)
- New passport photo. Please staple it correctly and check the passport photo requirements
- A check with the appropriate fee (typically $110)
- Mail all materials to the appropriate office
What to Keep with Your Passport
You are usually fine with just your passport, but sometimes a few more things can come in handy. Here are a few:
Your Yellow Vaccination Card
You yellow card is a record of all your relevant vaccinations and immunizations. Some countries will not let you in without one, and some countries will force a vaccination on you if you don’t have proof of your immunity to things like yellow fever and others. A travel vaccination nurse told me that, I did not make it up. Please keep your yellow card with your passport! For more on travel immunizations, check out this post: Travel Immunizations
Some visas (see below for details) are glued onto or stamped into your passport, but sometimes you will receive something that looks like a receipt at customs, or you will have to hang onto a portion of your customs form upon entering the country. You’ll have to keep that with your passport so you can give it back for the country’s records when you leave.
Copy of Your Marriage Certificate
When my husband and I got our marriage certificate, we mentioned that we like to travel. The man taking care of it for us said that he knew of a couple’s situation where the husband got hurt, but the wife was not allowed into the hospital room because she had no proof that they were married. I don’t know how true that was, but it costs nothing to keep a copy of it with my passport, so I do!
Airline Phone Numbers
This has come in handy more than once! We have a copy of all United’s toll-free numbers for the countries to which they fly. We had to use this when our flights home got cancelled in Ecuador in 2015, and most recently in Chile in 2017. You can make toll-free calls on Skype, and you can make toll-free calls on a pay phone or any other phone for the country you’re visiting.
These are lots of options for passport covers, and though they are not necessary, having one can help you stay organized. Mine has pockets on either side, and that’s sufficient for me. You will have to take your passport out of its cover when you hand it to a security officer or border patrol agent, so be sure to do that while you’re in line.
Copies of Your Passport
It doesn’t hurt to have a hardcopy of your passport’s picture page to keep somewhere other than with your passport, like in a pocket of your carry-on. I don’t recommend keeping a photo on your phone because that can be hacked or stolen. A hardcopy is best because it can only be in one place at a time, and a piece of paper is not a target for a typical thief.
A visa is your travel documentation that shows you have permission to get into a country, and it will be glued, stamped, or kept loose with your passport. Do a quick Internet search for “do Americans need a visa to visit [insert country]?” before you do anything else–including before you buy your plane ticket! Every country is a little different in their requirements and timing, so do your research. Some countries allow you to obtain a “Visa on Arrival” (VOA), which means you can apply and pay for your visa when you land in the country, before going through customs. I did that in Turkey, and could have done that in Cambodia as well, but I usually prefer to get my visa in advance. You can find more information about How to Get a Tourist Visa on the blog, but here is a quick list of what to look for:
- How long does it take to apply for your visa?
- How much does it cost?
- Will it require a full page of my passport? Half page?
- Do I have a full or half page available for such a visa?
- Can I get a loose leaf visa if it requires a full page? (We did that for Vietnam.)
- Do I have enough time left before my passport expires (at least 6 months from your travel date)?
- Can I apply for my visa online, by mail, in person, or another way?
Most of your passport pages will be devoted to ink stamps from the countries you visit. Or in the case of the EU, entering one EU country allows you to enter any other EU country without going through customs or passport control again. At some world sites, however, you can get a special stamp, like these:
Ready to get or renew your U.S. passport? I recommend it! Have questions or a helpful tip? Comment below!