The Pass and the Curious

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Or maybe you land some plush job or college program that will have you in Europe eating food most of us can’t pronounce without hurting our tongues, or traveling to Amsterdam to try “stuff” that may have you trying to eat your tongue, we’re just saying. Whatever the case may be, you never know when you might have the chance to leave the country so it’s time to consider getting prepared by getting a passport. Especially since, you now need a valid passport to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.

There are over 7,000 acceptance facilities across the country. These include post offices, federal, state, and probate courts, some public libraries along with select county and municipal offices. To get your passport you will have to download and fill out an application from the State Department Web site. The site will also help you locate the closest processing location nearest you. You must print the application on 8 inch by 11 inch white paper and fill it out in black ink. Don’t show up at the processing location with an application printed on college rule notebook paper, the government workers there will play you, and you know they have nothing but time to kill.

In addition to submitting the required form, you’ll have to show proof of citizenship via a certified copy of your birth certificate, records of birth abroad, an expired passport, or naturalization certificate. The State Department has a list of acceptable proofs of citizenship. You’ll also need two passport photos taken. Now, when you pause for that Kodak, be sure you wear your normal clothes (no pics of you holding a glass of the “liquid courage” and posing in the infamous ass shot with a spray painted white cloth backdrop). Also, if there’s anything that alters your appearances – say, glasses – wear them. You can have your pictures taken at most Post Offices, if you go elsewhere, read the photo requirements.

For first time passport applicants, the cost (as of 3/2010) is $95 for the application fee and $25 execution fee. Minors pay $75 and $25, respectively. As of now it usually takes approximately 4-6 weeks to process an application if you use the Post Office. For expedited service, you will be charged an additional $60. There are also 13 regional passport agencies that can help those traveling within two weeks; those types of services will require an appointment and additional costs.

An adult’s passport is good for 10 years, but you will need to renew 8-9 months before it expires since many countries require at least 6 months validity for entry. Even if you’re not even traveling far you’re going to need that little blue book to travel in and out of the country freely. Plus that “little blue book” can only make that “little black book” so much more powerful.

As of January 2007 – everyone, yes even American citizens – who travel by air between the US to Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, must have a valid passport. And even if you’re not sure when you’ll leave the country, in case you lose your driver’s license, you can use your passport as your primary photo ID.

Once you get your passport, you’ll have 10 years of freedom to travel anywhere you want. Well, not Cuba, but they’re working on that. In the meantime, get to applying!