Whether you’re leaving next week or next year, your kids will need passports – even for flying or cruising to Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada. And have you checked the expiration date on your passport lately? If not, now’s the time!
Did you know?
- All Americans need a passport book or card to travel outside the U.S. – even babies!
- Some airlines will not allow you to book international travel on a passport that will expire before you travel.
- Most countries want your passport to be valid for six months after you arrive.
- At age 16, your child will need to transition from a child passport to an adult passport. This is considered a new passport application – not an extension.
- The U.S. State Department’s Parent’s Corner provides direct links to all the documents you’ll need to apply for passports.
- The passport experts answer the phone! Call the National Passport Information Network with any questions 1-877-487-2778
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The passport process takes time and is fraught with pitfalls so consider these tips from three families who just survived the experience: The First-Timer, The Renewer and The Emergency.
1. The First-Timer: How to Get Your Child’s First Passport
- Ensure you have an official copy of the birth certificate for each child. (The birth certificates will be returned to you).
- Three or four months in advance, schedule an at a passport office in hopes of getting one at least two months before departure.
- The kids and both parents must attend the appointment. Typically, all the passport appointments are available smack in the middle of the school/work day, which makes this quite difficult.
- If only one parent can attend, the other parent can sign a notarized consent form. If your child is 16 years of age or older, only one parent needs to attend.
- Download the application from the U.S. State Department and fill it out completely before going to the appointment. Visit the U.S. State Department’s Parent’s Corner for all current information.
- Head to a local drugstore and take your photos in advance. Even though the post office offers this service, it makes the already-never-ending appointment last even longer.
- Copies are needed of the front AND back of each parent’s driver’s license (we’ve heard of those who had to reschedule their appointments because of a missing driver’s license copy.)
- Each child’s application must stand alone so you need to have enough copies of whatever relevant parents’ forms to include with each child’s application.
- For adults and teens aged 16-17, a passport book currently costs $110; for children under 16, a passport costs $80. (Click here for current fees.) Additionally, a separate personal check is needed for each application, and another check is needed to pay the processing fee at the post office.
- Several post offices in each area offer walk-in service for passports. If you choose this route, plan to arrive very early and wait quite a while. We arrived 90 minutes ahead of the opening time and found two parties already ahead of us. Each appointment takes at least 20-30 minutes so we were there at least two hours.
- The Passport Agency currently promises processing within 6 weeks. For faster delivery, you can pay $60 and receive a passport within 3 weeks. Click here for current processing times.
- If you apply for standard processing and then panic and want your passport sooner, you can call the NationalPassport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778 or log in online at state.gov, pay the expediting fee and receive faster processing. You can also call the above phone number to check the status of your passport application.
- If you are getting passports for your kids for the first time, the airline may refuse to book the ticket without a passport number. If you can convince them to do it, be sure to put the same name (i.e. first, middle, last, suffix) on the ticket as will appear on the passport.
- If you are only traveling by car or boat to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or Caribbean nations, you can get a passport card for your child. A passport card is far cheaper ($15) than a passport book ($80) but the application process is the same.
2. The Renewer: How to Renew Your Child’s Passport
- Even if your child already has a passport, they cannot renew by mail like an adult. Minors must again appear in person to apply for their renewal.
- If your child is 16 or 17, they must apply for their first adult passport and must also appear in person.
- You’ll need to bring along the child’s original passport (but you can arrange to have it returned if desired)
- See tips for “First-Timers” above for how to make it happen.
3. The Emergency Case: How to Get a Passport at the Last Minute
One teen recently had a last-minute opportunity to join a school trip to South America and needed to renew her passport ASAP. The good news is that passports can be acquired in 24 hours through some local passport agency offices – but only if travel takes place in the next two weeks. Here’s how to navigate the expedited passport process:
- Contact the National Passport Center or visit the site online to get an appointment at the closest regional passport agency. The desk will connect you with an “appointment coordinator”. The appointment coordinator was able to schedule an appointment for us at 9:00am the following morning at the San Francisco office.
- You must be able to provide airline tickets or other proof of an airline departure within the next two weeks.
- The extra charge for an expedited passport is $60. Private companies offer this service for an additional $200 which may be an option for those not near a local passport agency office
- As stated above, the key is to bring all required documents, have the right forms completed and photos taken in advance.
- Don’t be late!
- Our experience with the San Francisco passport agency was surprisingly positive. We arrived for our 9:00am appointment and were “called” within 10 minutes. It took only 10 more minutes for our documentation to be reviewed, approved and submitted.
We were told to return at noon the next day to pick up the new passport. (I believe it is possible to have same-day pick-up service if urgently needed.) When I arrived at noon, I picked up the passport and left the office in less than five minutes. If only the DMV was so efficient!
by Bethany Phillips, Don Thompson and The Jenkins Family, February 2016
© ROAM Family Travel 2016 – All rights reserved
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