So, you’ve done it! You’ve thought and thought for years about it and now you’ve decided to take the plunge and make the commitment! Hooray for you! You are going to get your passport! It will open you up to a literal world of experiences and you won’t regret it. TGC is here to walk you through the whole process with a couple of facts, a couple tools, and, as always, a couple of stories. So, sit back with a glass of wine or a cup of tea, let’s get to traveling!
Did you know?
- Only 25% of Americans make the effort to apply for a passport so you are in quite an elite group of travelers now.
- Passports really expire 90 days before the date in the book. Be prepared to reapply early!
- Passports are held by the bursar on cruises. He or she has the responsibility of getting your passport stamped and legal in every port.
- The Real ID Act which looks to take hold in October 2021 requires you to have your personal documents updated and reviewed by your state. Once done, you get a star on your driver’s license. If you are looking to travel and haven’t done this yet, know that your brand new passport will work just as well (even when flying domestically).
Everybody who gets a passport has to start with that same first step: applying to The State Department! For most, applying is pretty straight forward. Simply use the online application, gather your documents, get photos taken, and make an appointment at your local post office. The cost is about $165.00 in a check made payable to The State Department. A few weeks later, you will have your fancy new passport in your hands.
There is one part of the application process that scares me. One of the things you have to send along with your application is your official first copy of your birth certificate. To set you at ease, be sure to look in on how the USPS has been faring and opt for an upgraded method of delivery if the post office machine seems to be lagging at all.
My best friend applied for an expedited passport in order to enjoy some time at Niagara Falls. She would up missing all of her Canadian time because her birth certificate was not accepted by the State Department! It turned out that the birth certificate she had been using for decades turned out to be an unofficial copy from an area notorious for giving the State Department fits. Finally, she got her passport 4 months after she had first applied.
Your Passport Choices
A standard passport has plenty of pages to gather stamps around the world is works perfectly fine. There are a few other options including a double thick book and a passport card. I’d leave those to the business travelers!
First, evaluate whether you need global entry or TSA precheck, keep a few things in mind. As technology develops, lines in smaller airports are usually less than 20 minutes. Use this app to check in on the airports you are going to use to see if TSA precheck is really needed. Global Entry includes the TSA pre-check service. Global Entry is basically the passport version of the Fastpass.
I once raced my mother through ATL customs. She was on Global Entry and I was using Mobile Passport (the link is below). We both emerged from the process at the same time. The only difference? My option was free. All in all, it could be money better spent in other areas of your trip.
One option to keep you connected is the STEP program. By registering with the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can keep up to date on any advisories related to your destination and have a direct connection to the government if you are in need of help. It can be handy especially in more “exotic” locations.
Don’t put your passport in the pocket of your airplane seat! In fact, I was once in Dubai connecting to a flight to Greece. Sure enough, just as I took my last step off the plane, I realized that my passport was back in the seat pocket of seat 34D! Unfortunately, it was too late to backtrack and I had to wait for everyone to disembark then hope that a nice flight attendant would be kind enough to go check. I almost missed my connection! Lesson learned! Never-ever put that passport down when you are gathering your things!
Never hand over your passport! I was crossing the border between Zambia and Botswana. So, our driver had gotten us right to the Zambezi River and then turned around and asked for our passports. A sticky situation! While not wanting to offend, I also didn’t want to hand over my official identification to a complete stranger. What to do? I politely asked what he wanted to do. It turned out that he simply wanted to cut the line by going to the back door of the passport office. I asked if I could walk with him. He was delighted! Issue avoided. Lesson learned! Look for the polite way out.