Aug 23, 2009

Everything You Wanted to Know About US Passports But Were Afraid to Ask

Owning a passport may be the last thing on your mind. I know, who needs a passport? Well, you just might if you ever get the travel bug and want to go somewhere beyond our national borders. You may not need it now, but since an adult passport lasts for 10 years, applying early may be the smartest thing you ever did.

A passport can open travel doors for you like magic. Next time you stand in the security line at the airport, watch which line goes faster? If you're paying attention you'll notice that the people flipping open their passport zip through in record time, while those fumbling with their driver's licenses seem to take forever. The security guard spends ages looking down at the card and squinting to read those tiny letters. Seconds tick on, but the passport folks are already putting their shoes back on!

Convinced? Okay, great. Here's what to do. First, start digging through those boxes labeled "important documents" and if you're lucky to find that musty but original birth certificate, the one with the raised embossed seal, you're ready to go. If not, or you only find a photocopy, get on the internet and pull up the web site for the Centers for Disease Control and click your way into the section National Center for Health Statistics. Here is everything you need to know about replacing your Birth Certificate. Naturalization certificates are handled by the U.S. Immigration department as are Citizenship certificates.

Once that's handled, browse your way over to the web site for the United States Department of State. Here's where you can download the application form DS11 - "Application for a U.S. Passport." If your printer is broken or you're out of ink, go visit the U.S. Post Office in your area for a hard copy or try the library or other government agencies in your city. Fill this form out carefully as white-out is a no-no and smudges aren't allowed. By all means, don't sign it before turning it in as your signature has to be witnessed.

The State Department web site is also the place to find out where to get a passport photo taken plus where to deliver your application, pay your fees and mail it the whole packet. My first choice is always the U.S. Post Office as you can take care of it all under one roof. You can even buy a good, strong mailing envelope and arrange to send it certified, so as to trace it in case the unthinkable happens.

Your pocketbook will take a bit of a hit, as passport fees run around $100.00 total give or take. There's just no getting around paying but you actually will save money if you're not in a hurry, as "expedited" service is even more. You may have to start a little "passport savings fund", but don't wait long as prices are always subject to change.

In 3 or 4 weeks after mailing, you should have your shiny new passport in your hand and soon you'll be the one zipping through those security lines. Be sure to wear clean socks!

C.L. Hendricks has been a Jill-of-all-trades and become an expert in some. She has also traveled extensively and now writes about travel destinations around the world for Family Vacation Spots and Best Vacation Getaways.

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