Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting A Passport

Before you can travel internationally, you need to have a valid passport. There is no minimum age for getting a passport in the U.S., but everyone who travels internationally is required to have one.

Getting a passport in the U.S. is a little complicated and can be time consuming, but there are ways to expedite the process. As one of our Costa Rica Outward Bound staff recently found out, it is actually possible to get a passport same day. Here's How:

1. Make an appointment at a regional passport agency by calling 1-877-487-2778. Regional Passport agencies are present in most major cities across the country, however you will have to be able to physically appear at one if you wish to get your passport completed the same day. You must be have scheduled international travel within two weeks of the appointment, or you must need a visa within 4 weeks to be able to get an appointment at a regional agency (See Proof of Travel below for more information on this). New or replacement passport applications are only accepted in the morning, so try to get an appointment before 10am or you will not be able to get your passport the same day. If there is no appointment available through the automated system, it is worth asking to be transferred to the specific regional office which you wish to visit, as they may be able to squeeze you in even if the automated system says there are no appointments. 
2. Get together your Documents. You have to have everything ready before you get to the passport office. This will not only facilitate the process once you get there, but it will also ensure that you will not have to come back another day. Here are the things you will need:

  • A completed DS-11 form from the State Department website. This form is only for new or replacement passports, if you are renewing your passport you do not need this form.
  •  If you are replacing a lost or stolen passport, you will also need a DS-64 form, reporting your lost or stolen passport
  • Two passport photos - you can get these done at any drug store for about $10
  • Proof of citizenship. Most commonly, this is a birth certificate. You can also submit a previously issued, undamaged passport, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth (for citizens born abroad), a Naturalization Certificate or a Certificate of Citizenship. If you cannot get any of those documents, you can try to get a Secondary Proof of Citizenship, or you can do a File Search (not recommended as it costs an extra $150).
  • Identification Card. A valid Driver's License, Military or Government ID or a previously issued, undamaged passport will be fine for this portion.
  • Proof of Travel. This is the most important part for getting your passport expedited, for two reasons. (A) You cannot make an appointment at a regional passport agency unless you have scheduled travel within two weeks. (B) The passport agencies try to work around your travel schedule, which means the only way to get a passport the same day is if you have to travel the following day. This is risky, since getting your passport the same day is never a guarantee, so if something ends up not working out you might miss your travel. What many passport-expediting companies do is print out a fake travel itinerary for the clients stating that they must travel the day following their appointment. This carries moral dilemmas for some, so it is up to each individual what they chose to do. However, if you are traveling for business, it is also acceptable to submit an official letter from your employer (on letterhead, with contact information) stating your name, title, date of and reason for business travel. Such letters will be accepted in lieu of a confirmed itinerary at the passport agent's discretion. 
  • Payment. Getting an expedited passport costs an extra $60 on top of the normal passport fees. These fees are payable by major credit card, debit/check card, personal or certified check payable to the "Department of State," money order or bank draft, also payable to the "Department of State."

3. Be on time! In fact, being early is better, as they will often start letting people in up to a half an hour before their appointment, however they do not have to let you in if you are more than a half an hour late. If you are approved for a same-day passport, your passport will typically be ready between 1pm and 3pm that day, so if all goes well you could even begin traveling that night!

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