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Papers, Please: Getting Your United States Passport
by: Michael Kabel
 
            Despite the international turmoil of recent years, thousands of married couples continue to honeymoon abroad. Seeking the romance of Europe or the adventure of South America, American couples have become inspired by popular celebrity weddings to take long trips to foreign locales.

            Practically all foreign nations require passports to enter their borders. A traveler's passport  - just like in the movies - is usually checked either at guardhouses along the border or in a specially-designated area of the airport. And yes, many nations still stamp the passport, making the document itself a charming commemorative souvenir.

            Passports are granted by the U.S. State Department following a very specific set of regulations. While not overly tricky to obtain, it's best to have the right documentation and payment methods ready when you apply.

 
Where to Apply
            Depending on where you live, passports are available through your local Post Office or possibly another government building such as a clerk of court, main library, or city hall. The State Department furnishes a location search tool on its website: http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/.

            There are also thirteen Regional Passport Offices that provide expedited passport processing for an additional fee. These offices are located in major cities throughout the country and receive applications via appointment only. There is no additional charge for the appointment.

            Passports normally take ten to twelve weeks to process and arrive; expedited processing typically takes two to three weeks, not including overnight delivery.

 
What to Bring With You
            United States passports are granted to American citizens in all but the most unusual circumstances. U.S. residents applying for the first time should bring a copy of their certified birth certificate, a picture ID, and two passport-scale (2" by 2") photographs in addition to their passport application form. Certified birth certificates contain the raised seal of their issuing city, state, or local government and must have been filed within one year of your birth date. Picture ID's must be either a driver's license or state-issued ID card, a government identification card, or a military ID.

Social Security cards, because they do not include a photograph, are not considered valid identification. Passport photos are routinely available from copying and office supply stores, and even some drugstores.

Passport application forms can be downloaded from the State Department's travel website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/forms_847.html.

            Going in person to the application office is also necessary to replace a stolen or lost passport; to replace a passport issued more than 15 years ago; if the previous passport was issued before the age of sixteen; or if an expired passport is no longer in your possession. Minors under the age of fourteen should also apply in person.

 
Passport Renewal
            Renewing a valid U.S. passport can be handled through the mail if the passport is in good condition and is less than 15 years old; was issued when you were 16 years old or older; and your name has not changed or you can legally verify the name change (so brides may wish to apply with their maiden names to avoid confusion.) The State Department’s renewal procedure and application form can be found at http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/renew/renew_833.html.

            Renewal fees are typically $67 plus any expedited processing charges applicants might request.


Getting Help

            The National Passport Information Center was established to handle passport questions and concerns. Their phone number is1-877-487-2778; the website is http://travel.state.gov/passport/about/npic/npic_898.html.