Passport Requirements & How to Apply for a Passport
A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. Only the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassies and Consulates have the authority to grant, issue or verify U.S. passports. For travel overseas and to facilitate reentry into the U.S., a valid U.S. passport is the best documentation available.
A valid passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries. Some countries may allow you to enter with only a birth certificate, or with a birth certificate and a driver’s license. Note, however, that rules established under the U.S. Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, require that all persons, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air, must present a valid passport to reenter the United States. (Until September 30, 2007, U.S. citizens who have applied for but not yet received passports can enter and depart the United States by air to Western Hemisphere countries with a government-issued photo identification and official proof of application for a passport. The proof may be obtained at http://travel.state.gov. This accommodation does not affect entry requirements of other countries, and U.S. citizens who are traveling to a country that requires a visitor to have a passport must still obtain one.)
If you are traveling by land or sea, make certain that you can return to the United States with the proof of citizenship that you take with you. U.S. regulations require that you document both your U.S. citizenship and your identity when you reenter the United States. For more information about U.S. passport requirements, see http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis_pa_tw_2223.html.
Some countries require that a traveler’s U.S. passport be valid at least six months or longer beyond the dates of the trip. In addition, with the number of international child custody cases on the rise, several countries have instituted passport requirements to help prevent child abductions. (Mexican law, for example, requires a child traveling alone, or with only one parent, or in someone else's custody, to carry written, notarized consent from the absent parent or parents if the child is not in possession of a U.S. passport.) Contact the embassy of the foreign destination for more information. A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
How to Apply for a U.S. Passport
Apply for your passport several months before your planned trip, and, if you will need visas from foreign embassies, allow even more time. Even if you don’t have specific travel plans, but have family living abroad or are waiting to find a bargain trip, it is a good idea to apply as early as possible. Information about applying for a U.S. passport may be found at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html. If You Need to Obtain a New Passport While Abroad
For information on obtaining a new passport if yours is lost or stolen abroad, see “How to Get Your Passport Replaced” below, under “Emergencies: Consular Assistance and Crises Abroad.” Also visit the Department of State website at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/lost/lost_848.html.
Entry Requirements of Foreign Countries
The following links lead to information about entry requirements of foreign countries:
- To view information about entry requirements maintained on the website of the country you plan to visit, go to its embassy’s or consulate’s website, which may be found at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm.
- To view the “Entry/Exit Requirements” section of the State Department’s Country Specific Information for the country you plan to visit, go to http://www.travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html.
If a visa is required by the country you will visit, obtain it from the appropriate foreign consular representative before proceeding abroad. Allow sufficient time for processing your visa application, especially if you are applying by mail. Most foreign consular representatives in the U.S. are located in principal cities, and, in many instances, a traveler may be required to obtain the visa from the consular office in the area of his/her residence. As soon as you receive your visa, check it to make sure no mistakes were made. Processing and visa fees vary, and fees may not be refundable.
Work Authorization, Residence Permits
If you plan to work or reside at your destination, check with that country’s Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. to learn about any special documentation requirements (such as work authorization or a residence visa). A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State’s website at http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/dpl/32122.htm. Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.
All international flights are subject to U.S. immigration and customs fees, paid in advance when the ticket is purchased. In addition, many countries have departure fees that are collected at the time of ticket purchase or upon exiting the foreign country. Expenses usually are greater than expected, and travelers should plan to have at least enough cash handy at the end of the trip to pay any unexpected departure fee. Credit cards may be difficult to use in the country you are visiting, or at the airport at which you need to pay a fee.