Passports are rare and generally difficult to obtain, but they have the ability to offer you so much more than you could imagine. This little booklet is effectively your key to seeing the rest of the world and because of that, it is an immense privilege to be able to have one.
Throughout this list, I will go over everything you need to know about obtaining and having a passport in 20 points. Not everyone in the world has one and the more globalized the world is becoming, the more valuable a passport becomes. This means that the more you know about it, the better.
Many of these tips are regarding the safekeeping of a passport. Theft is a major issue across most of the world and passports are one of the biggest targets. Besides that, there are several things to know about a passport that aren’t exactly self-explanatory and that can become awfully complicated—something you don’t want if you’re 10,000 miles away from home trying to get back. Things can get very complicated when it comes to traveling with a passport and this quick guide will be able to clear up a lot of the confusion surrounding it.
If you respect and care for your passport and everything it can give you, then you shouldn’t have any issues with using one. This list will help you through the do’s and don’ts of traveling with a passport. We’ll take you through the whole process, from applying for your first passport to traveling the world with it.
20 Getting A Passport
If you’re heading out for a trip in the near future and need a new passport then there’s a lot that you need to know. First thing’s first though—give yourself plenty of time. Applications and fees go through a lot of hands in several different departments so there is always a chance that something gets lost or needs to be done again. There are quite a lot of components that you need for a passport application including (at least in the U.S.) a DS-11 Application along with passport photos (which you can get at CVS or Walgreens for $15-25 usually or sometimes at a Post Office) and a variety of proof of citizenship forms.
There are a variety of fees associated with getting a passport that definitely build up and can make this an expensive process. While the fees can vary depending on a variety of factors, in general you will need to pay for your passport photos (mentioned above), a post office acceptance fee ($35), along with a State Department fee (up to $60 depending on how fast you want it processed). These numbers can vary depending on what kind of passport you get, whether you want a passport card with it, and if it’s your first one. In short, obtaining a passport is likely to cost somewhere in the range of $100—not bad for what it gets you, but definitely be prepared.
18 How Long It Takes
Like I said earlier, this process is largely handled by several humans in multiple departments, so the time this process can take will vary. After you have your appointment for a first-time application, processing will take somewhere between four to six weeks before it’s sent to you. It’s also recommended that you allow two or three weeks to get everything that you need to apply in the first places. The whole process of deciding you should probably get a new passport to actually having it in your hands can take upwards of three months but will most likely be closer to two.
17 "Six Month Rule"
Many countries have visa time limits that require your U.S. passport to be valid beyond your departure date—usually six months’ past. For many countries, your passport needs to be valid for at least half a year past the date you plan on returning home. While there are around 50 countries that have this requirement, it’s a good idea to give yourself that extra space regardless of where you are headed. Keeping this as a rule of thumb is only going to make your trip safer and more comfortable.
Being kept off of a flight because you don’t have enough time left on your passport is sure to put a damper on your trip so keep an eye on that expiration date.
16 Keeping It Safe
Regardless of where you go, theft is a major issue when it comes to traveling. The stereotypical person from the States walking around Europe with a sun hat and a fanny pack is really the perfect target for pickpockets. So maybe drop the fanny pack and find something more secure for your passport. Leave it in a hotel safe if you don’t need it with you. Avoid having it out in public as much as possible and don’t let someone carry it out of your sight. Passports are difficult to replace and theft is the biggest cause of passport emergencies all over the world.
15 Carry It With You
If you don’t have a safe then it’s best to keep your passport on your person at all times. Never leave it somewhere where you can’t immediately reach for it. There are some money belts specifically designed to be difficult to steal from and, if you don’t want to keep your passport in your front pocket, that might be a worthwhile investment. Otherwise just be aware of where it is at all times and treat it as something as valuable as your phone, wallet, keys, etc. Losing your passport is going to suck so do whatever you can to avoid it.
14 Make Copies
The easiest and most important security measure you can take is to make copies of your passport. Make sure other people have copies as well such as friends or family that are back home. Usually all you need is the ID page with your photo, passport number, and other information. Sometimes it’s a good idea to also print the page with the stamp of the country you’re currently in, but that’s really not as big a deal. Always have paper copies with you when you travel, just in case. You never know what can happen but you can always take steps to be prepared.
13 Look Up Your Coverage
Travel insurance plans almost always include coverage for a lost or stolen passport, so if you invest in it, make sure you know what your coverage includes. It’s a good idea to know what kind of help you’re going to have before you end up in a situation in a foreign country without a passport. Often, insurance will also help pay for emergency passport replacement costs. You’re usually going to have to stop by an embassy or consulate depending on where you are.
Travel insurance is almost always a good idea, especially if you’re going somewhere new or for a long period of time.
12 Don't Hand It To Just Anyone
Never let your passport out of your sight. Never, ever let your passport out of your sight. Never, ever, ever. If you need to give it over to someone, keep your eye on it at all times. You shouldn’t have much issue with this at airports or hotels where you’ll need to show your passport, but when you’re crossing land borders, you’ll need to exercise more caution since you’ll have to show your passport far more.
If it’s not a police or immigration officer, then don’t just show it to anyone and always use your license as an ID rather than your passport if you can.
11 Lock It Away
Whenever you don’t need your passport, it’s a good idea to keep it locked up. Most hotels will have a safe in your room or will at least have an option for getting a safe. More and more hostels offer lockers of some sort (you’ll probably need to bring your own lock, however). Passport theft is a major problem in a lot of the world and there’s nothing worse than having a passport stolen when you could have just bought a lock for $5 and put it away for the night.
If you’re leaving for a long period of time, you might want to invest in a small lock box for your valuables.
10 Don't Have One Person Carry All Of The Passports
There are a lot of benefits to traveling in a group. Generally, safety is one of those benefits, but it can also make you seem like an easier target for theft. If you are traveling in a group and not with a small child, then you shouldn’t have one person carrying all of the passports. Losing one passport is exponentially easier to remedy than losing ten.
School groups often have this policy when traveling abroad but it is not a good idea. Unless you’re with kids who are horribly irresponsible, carry your own passport around and no one else’s. Nothing can derail a trip more than losing everyone else’s passports.
9 Why Do People Want To Steal Your Passport?
Millions of passports are lost or stolen every year. There are a variety of reasons behind why people would want to steal your passport, ranging from getting a couple bucks to committing serious crimes. Stolen passports can commonly be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market and can also be used to access the original owners’ information. Because of how valuable and expensive passports are on the black market, they are one of the most highly targeted items across the world for theft.
Do yourself a favor and don’t give anyone an opportunity to steal your passport in the first place so you don’t have to worry about any of this.
8 What To Do If It's Stolen
If you end up having your passport stolen, the most important thing to know is that there are systems in place to help you. Stuff happens and there is no reason to panic. The first thing to do is report your passport to your government so your passport will be disabled for international travel. The next step is to contact your local embassy or consulate. They will likely be able to issue you a temporary substitute passport that will only allow you to return to your home country. Then apply for a new passport as soon as your back home.
7 Do You Need A Visa?
One of the most common questions regarding international travel is whether or not you need a visa. For the most part, if you’re just a tourist, the answer is no. Visas are largely required for extended stays or if you plan on working in the country you are visiting. Some countries do require special visits just to enter, however. This is largely based on the socio-political environment at the moment. For example, you need to apply for an entry visa to go to Russia as a US citizen at the moment.
Make sure you spend a minute and look up whether or not you need a visa to travel to the country you have in mind.
6 Where You Can Go With A U.S. Passport?
U.S. citizens can currently go anywhere in the world with a passport and without special exception except for North Korea. You can also travel to 177 countries and territories around the globe without even applying for a pre-departure visa—this number has been increasing almost every year as well. Again, make sure you look up the country/countries you plan on going to beforehand to find out what all you need.
All of North and Central America along with Europe don’t require anything except for a U.S. passport and most other Western Countries or East and Southeast Asian countries can be accessed with just a passport or a passport and an entry visa, generally issued on your flight.
5 Too Many Stamps?
If you’re running out of space in your passport then there are a variety of options for you. You used to be able to simply request a packet of new pages to add to your passport, but now you will have to order a new passport. However, you will have the option of requesting a standard 28-page book or a larger 52-page book.
You’ll need to fill out another DS-82 form and pay the fees to replace the passport. This is also the policy if your passport has sustained too much damage and can no longer be used for travel.
4 Children's Passports
Anyone under the age of 16 has to apply in person, regardless if they have already had a passport. You’ll need your birth certificate along with your parents’ IDs. Generally, both parents need to be with you during your appointment. This is likely to add a decent amount of time to the whole process to give yourself even longer to prepare if you or someone you’re travelling with is under 16. You will also definitely need to carve out a few hours for the actual appointment as well—something you won’t necessarily need to do if you’re an adult applying for a passport.
3 Crossing Borders By Land
Crossing land borders can range from extremely simple (i.e. traveling around Europe—thank you EU) to devastatingly complicated. I have spent upwards of ten hours trying to cross land borders in Central America and Southeast Asia, waiting in A/C-less buildings in 100+ degree weather with no access to food or water. Do your research, especially if you’re traveling around poorer regions.
There are few places in the world that are more depressing than land border crossings, especially if your passport isn’t in for that part of the world or if you’re taking a car across borders. Be patient and do your research.
2 Crossing Borders By Air
Generally, traveling by plane is far easier and less complicated than by car or foot. Most countries that require some form of visa will provide the proper forms on the plane. You are also likely to be questioned crossing through immigration so there are certain pieces of information you should know off the top of your head such as length of stay and your address in the country that you’re staying in. Depending on the country, you’ll have to do finger scans and get your passport stamped, but in my experience, this process is usually a fairly easy and painless one.
1 Having A Passport Is A Privilege
Despite all of the confusion and frustrations that can come with this aspect of travel, it is important to keep in mind that having a passport is a huge privilege that, unfortunately, is not shared by very many people across the world. They can cost serious money and the country you’re from can greatly affect where you can and cannot go. Having a passport grants you the privilege of seeing the other 99% of the world that you would never be able to go to if it weren’t for your passport. Take care of it and enjoy everything it gives you. There is nothing more important to travel than this little book.