Your How-to Guide to Passports

Updated May 28, 2020.

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

What to Include

When you get your passport, hold onto it like GOLD!

How Long to Wait

A passport can take you anywhere!

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

Never hand over your passport except to a confirmed government official!

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.

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Don’t forget your yellow card!

Your Documentation

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.

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Keep everything handy for when you need it!
More here: What to Do When You Lost Your Passport

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!

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Marriage Certificate–copy, not the real one!

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.

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All the numbers we might need to get us home!

Passport Covers

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. Here are a few options:

*Links above are Amazon affiliate links. That means when you click the links to shop with me, you’re supporting my small business at no additional cost to you!

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.

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The real thing is essential… but you might need to prove you are the real owner with a copy!

Visas

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. 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?
Get a visa when needed!
More here: How to Get a Tourist Visa
and How to Get an Impossible Visa

Stamps

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:

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Equator in Ecuador
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Easter Island
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The Galapagos Islands

Ready to get or renew your U.S. passport? I recommend it! Have questions or a helpful tip? Comment below!

Want more? Check out my Travel Tips Page for all your visa, passport, and Global Entry needs!

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Published by quickwhittravel

Hey there! I am an avid traveller and adventurer, and you're always welcome to join me! The things I love most are God, my husband Steve, and seeing new places! My favorite places include Sydney, Australia; Ise City, Japan; and Bergen, Norway--but there's always room for more favorite places!

5 thoughts on “Your How-to Guide to Passports

  1. Super important post, especially pointing out that the passport is good for 10 years except the last six months. Mi know someone who was denied boarding their plane because the passport was good for 5 months and the country she was going to required 6 months. She lost 3 days of her vacation (and a big chunk of money) expediting a renewed passport. She was lucky it wasn’t more.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, a lot of people don’t know that until it’s too late and they are already at the airport! That stinks about your friend. I can’t imagine how much rearranging everything and expediting must have cost!

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