Passports are often one of the last things on your mind when you’re planning that mid-winter trip to a destination with warm white sandy beaches and crystal clear water but it should be one of the first things you do.
You don’t need a passport to travel in the United States, but you do now need one to travel anywhere else except Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Getting your passport is not a difficult process but you need to give yourself enough time to get it processed before you travel.
Many people are told that when going on a cruise, if the cruise departs from a U.S. port and returns to a U.S. port, you don’t need your passport. Technically, you can use your birth certificate. Just make sure its the one with the raised seal or you won’t get on board. It’s still recommended to get your passport. If you cruise without a passport and get injured on an island where they don’t have the medical facilities to handle your injuries and have to be airlifted back to the states, you’ll never get back in the U.S. without a passport. And though many will say that would never happen to them, do you really want to take that risk? Vacations are supposed to be worry-free!
There’s been a lot of talk about getting the passport card instead of the traditional passport book, especially since it’s the cheaper option. The passport card is really only good if you’re driving from the U.S. and crossing a border such as Canada or Mexico. You cannot use the passport card to get on any international flight.
The easiest way to start the process of getting your passport is to go online to http://www.travel.state.gov and click on the link for passports. You can fill out the form online and print it out. There’s a link there that will show you where the closest passport center is based on your zip code. It will also tell you if the facility will take your photo or if you have to provide your own.
You will need your birth certificate to get your passport. If you don’t have or can’t find it, you can order a certified copy through the website http://www.vitalchek.com. That process can take up to 6 weeks but you have the option to pay an additional fee to expedite it.
Once you receive your passport, keep it in a safe place. If it appears damaged in any way you could have problems using it. I recently heard a story of someone whose passport had a coffee stain on the back cover and they were denied entry. Passport covers can be purchased to help protect it.
The cost to get your passport is $135 and that includes the processing fee. There is an additional fee if you get your photo taken at the passport processing center.
Give yourself plenty of time to get your passport before you travel unless you plan to pay the additional fee to expedite it.