Any trip overseas or over the U.S. border is going to need the appropriate identification and documentation to prove just what country you belong to and that you have the authority to leave and re-enter the United States and countries that you may be visiting.
Today, travelers abroad are offered two passport options:
- Passport Card
- Passport Book
Both are not provided for travel, with each offering different foreign travel privileges, but which is appropriate for you? The passport card doesn’t offer the travel that the book will, with restrictions on the border crossing and re-entry to the U.S. with the card making it more appropriate for those traveling to Canada, Mexico, or even Bermuda by land or by sea transport.
The passport book, however, still offers the privileges it always has, and is often requested for most travel abroad, offering plane, boat, and road travel to foreign countries.
Who Must Hold a Passport?
You may not be aware of the rules and regulations of border crossing in the country or countries that you plan to visit, so you may want to carry along your passport just in case. However, you can check with the embassies of the countries you visit to see whether such is required, or you could contact the U.S. Department of State who will inform you of the requirements for such documentation in the destination you choose as well.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you are not required to hold a passport to travel to any of the U.S. states or territories, such as:
- Virgin Islands
- Swains Island
- Puerto Rico
- Northern Mariana Islands
If you are traveling elsewhere outside of the U.S., you must bring your U.S. passport along.
How you are traveling will also dictate the appropriate documentation for your travels, with land and sea travel to either Mexico or Canada not requiring a passport, with one of the following required however:
- Trusted Traveler Program Card
- Enhanced Driver’s License
- Passport Card
If you travel to one of these countries by air, however, you must carry your passport to access border crossing privileges.
The U.S. Department of State provides a great guide for passports right online at Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative Passport Requirements
There is an online tool provided where you can choose the destination of travel and your passport requirements are listed.
Getting an Expedited Passport
Need your passport quick? Traveling within the next 14 to 30 days and need to make sure you have the documentation that you need? Well, you can receive expedited passports through the U.S. Department of State to ensure that your travel plans are not interrupted. In order to obtain these services, whether replacing, renewing, or getting your initial issue, you can contact the U.S. Department of State and request their courier service.
Rule Changes for Travel by Land or Sea
If you are seeking entry to the U.S. by land or sea, the rules have changed quite a bit from the past. For a return from Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands, Canada, or Mexico, only one document is accepted:
- Passport Card
- Passport Book
- Trusted Traveler’s Program Card
You will not be able to prove citizenship with a bunch of documents, as border patrol only accepts one appropriate document. Make sure that you carry one of the 4 listed above based on the requirements of the country you have traveled to.
- If you are under 16 or have a child under the age of 16, only a birth certificate or other form of proof of U.S. citizenship can be accepted.
- If you are between the ages of 16 and 18 and are currently traveling with a social, religious, or educational or sports group, you can provide the same as long as a supervising adult is accompanying you during travel.
- For a complete list of any documents accepted through various travel methods, visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
- If you are traveling on a cruise that departs and docks at the same U.S. port, you can follow the same old rules to U.S. land or se re-entry.
- If you are on a small boat traveling back to the U.S., the new rules apply to you.
Applying for Your Passport
If this is the first time you are getting your passport, you will be required to visit an approved location in person, with a list of locations found online at one of the following sites:
You can only use a regional passport agency if you are in need of an expedited passport, which can be for those with travel within the next 14 business days or if you are in need of a Visa within 4 weeks. If these cases pertain to you, set your appointment by calling the regional agency in your area at 1-877-487-2778.
You will be required to visit the passport issuing agency in person if any of the following situations apply to you:
- You are currently 16 or younger
- Your first passport was issued before you reached the age of 16
- Your last passport has been lost, damaged, or even stolen
- Your last passport was issued over 15 years before
- The name on your last passport issued has changed and you cannot prove the change
You will need the following items before you can apply for your passport:
- Application for Passport – Form DS-11. This form is available online. You must list your Social Security number, and wait until you are in front of a representative before signing the form.
- Proper proof of U.S. citizenship. This can be done with your birth certificate, an undamaged passport, Naturalization Certificate, Certificate of Citizenship, or another form of accepted proof of citizenship.
- Proper proof of identification.
- Two small photos that were taken no more than 6 months before, with all requirements for these photos online at Photo Requirements.
Your passport costs depend on age and the issue of a card or book:
- Adult Passport Book Only: $135
- Under 16 Passport Book Only: $105
- Adult Passport Book and Card: $165
- Under 16 Passport Book and Card: $120
Passport Processing and Expedited Schedules
There are different time lengths on processing, mostly determined by the time of the year when your application is submitted. To determine what times you are looking at for processing, visit the Processing Times.
If you would like to check the status of your application online, you can visit the U.S.Passport Application Status.
For expedited passports, you must pay an extra $60 per application submitted, with shipping costs added as well. For a life or death situation that requires an expedited passport – which would be if you are stranded, must visit an ailing relative, or other similar circumstances – you can call the U.S. Department of State at 1-877-487-2778.
No matter how old you are or those traveling with you are, even if an infant or toddler, a passport is required:
- Full information about requirements for the passport based on age: Minor Under Age 16
To make changes on the passport, visit Change or Correct Passport. You may be required to pay an additional fee for the services.