Getting a passport?

8:53 p.m. on December 6, 2009 (EST)
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How hard or easy is it to get a passport? How much does it cost and where do I go to get one? Once I have one can I go just about anywhere in the world?

I have spent my entire adult life since 1977 traveling the USA. I have been to about 43 states, through Canada (back in the late 70s, when passports were'nt needed). I did see Spain, France, Turkey, Greece and Italy in the Navy in 1975-76, but have not been outside the American mainland since.

Now that I have been around awhile I have thought about going to someplace else. Not exactly sure where yet, tho England, New Zealand and Austrailia have been the three I have always want to go to.

Is there anything I should know about use of a passport, restrictions and laws?

9:18 p.m. on December 6, 2009 (EST)
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Getting a passport is easy. First, get some passport pictures taken. I don't know where you are, but many chain drug stores with in-house film developing will do that for you for around $15. I went to the Walgreens in Visalia.

Next, go to the Post Office and get the application forms. Fill them out, attach the pictures, and take the application with the required documentation (birth certificate, etc) back to the Post Office. You may need an appointment, depending on the Post Office. Pay the fee (standard passport is $100 unless you want to pay extra to have it rushed). Here is the information that you need:

http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

Specific rules for use will depend on the country you are visiting, and some countries require a visa in addition to a passport. Check with a travel agent or the consulate of the country you wish to visit for more details.

2:07 p.m. on December 7, 2009 (EST)
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Easiest way to get a passport is to go to the post office. The larger post offices (the main one for each zip code) have certain hours that you can go to, fill out the forms, show your birth certificate and identification with your address, get the photos taken, and pay the fee. In a few weeks (can be 6-8 weeks in the seasons where "everyone" is trying to get their passports at the last minute), you will get the passport in the mail.

There are actually two different passports for the ordinary citizen - the traditional passport book and the passport card. The card is for people who are only going to Mexico, Canada, and a few other places. For England, Australia, and New Zealand, and most of the rest of the world, you want the traditional book. Well, actually, the "traditional" book does not exist anymore - the current book is an electronic device with an embedded memory chip, but it looks almost the same.

As lambertiana said, there are very specific rules for most countries. Once you are within the EU, you can pretty much cross borders without showing your passport. Going into and out of the EU requires showing your passport and not much else. Some countries require visas. Some countries charge entry and/or exit fees. For example, when I went to Chile a couple years ago, I had to pay a special $100 "reciprocity" fee (call it what it really is, a "retribution tax" aimed at the US, but explaining that would get into international politics). Some countries grant visas for free, but most charge a fee.

Be sure to check the State Department website for alerts and warnings. Some of these are related to diseases, others to high rates of crime, others to rebel and/or terrorist activities. There are a small number of countries on a "no go" list (notably Cuba). You can go to these places, but you run a risk of contracting some nasty diseases, getting taken hostage for huge ransom (all Americans are super-rich, aren't they?), getting caught in the cross-fire between factions, or (for the "no go" countries) having your passport confiscated on your return.

On the other hand, virtually all 195 countries (State recognizes 194, with Taiwan considered part of China) can be visited in some way or another, even where the US and that country do not have diplomatic relations.

2:08 p.m. on December 8, 2009 (EST)
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I'm a US citizen living in Mexico and am well versed in crossing the border. One thing you might want to consider is to also get an "enhanced" driver's license and/or a border crossing card. They are not valid for air or ship travel, but are accepted if you drive in/out of Mexico or Canada. You can then leave your real passport at home where it's safe.

2:37 p.m. on December 8, 2009 (EST)
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Living in Maine, I really wanted to get an enhanced driver's license for crossing into Canada and back. Unfortunately, Maine doesn't offer them, at least not yet. Only a few states do, like Vermont.

It's a pain to have to use a passport, since you have to plan ahead to have it on you, whereas with the enhanced driver's license you can cross the border as long as you have your wallet on you. If you live in a border state that offers them, I'd get one.

5:08 p.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
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I am not nor have ever been a vehicle driver, so I dont have a D.L. I have bicycle toured and backpack across the country but have never owned or driven a car, truck or motorcycle.

7:43 p.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
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Alicia and Jim Doss,

I am not sure the enhanced driver's licenses are accepted under the new rules for return to the US from Canada or Mexico. The passport card is intended to supersede those. I do know that eventually either a passport book or card with the embedded microchip will be required. Both have the usual passport photo on them.

Gary,

You will need some sort of government-issued ID in addition to your birth certificate to get the passport. Arizona does issue such ID cards, as do almost all (if not all) states in the US. Basically, all you need to do for the ID is present yourself and birth certificate at your local DMV office, fill out the application for the ID card, and pay a "small" fee.

8:12 p.m. on December 9, 2009 (EST)
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That would be interesting, Bill, especially since they don't mention it on the Department of Homeland Security's page about enhanced drivers licenses:
http://www.dhs.gov/files/crossingborders/gc_1197575704846.shtm

Only four states have them: Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington and they're supposed to let you enter the United States from Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean through a land or sea port of entry:

It's a moot point for Gary anyway, but living in a border state with a very long Canadian border, I'd get the enhanced version for a couple extra bucks, as long as it was an option for the foreseeable future. But, it would be annoying to get one and have it become obsolete.

12:23 a.m. on December 10, 2009 (EST)
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From the description on the DHS site, the enhanced drivers license is essentially the same as the passport card - embedded microchip that is linked by the embedded code to the DHS website, barcode that provides the same link, protective sleeve, etc. I was going by the description on the passport renewal form and the online passport renewal (Barb just renewed her passport, so I saw the cover materials which only mention the passport card for the Western Hemisphere).

I now recall something about the discussion of the passport card vs state IDs. I suspect that the DHS prescribes the format of the card - size of photo, where it is on the card, type font, etc - in the interests of machine readability in addition to the link to the DHS secure website. Eventually, there is supposed to be biometric data in or linked to the passports - retinal scans, fingerprints, and such (Big Brother is tracking you!)

5:23 p.m. on December 11, 2009 (EST)
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I crossed the border this morning and asked the US customs guys. Enhanced driver's license and border crossing cards are accepted at all ports into the USA by car or foot.

10:43 p.m. on January 4, 2010 (EST)
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Alicia, check that link enhanced licenses. I get am Error Message.
whoops, maybe this is it?
http://www.dhs.gov/files/crossingborders/gc_1197575704846.shtm

7:26 a.m. on January 5, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks, Rambler. They must have changed it.

(I'll edit my post above.)

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