Monday, March 12, 2012

5 Things I Learned on Passport Day 2012

I should have mentioned late last week that this past Saturday was Passport Day in the U.S. My bad. What is Passport Day?

Well, the U.S. State Department's Passport Services division opens up passport agency centers all over the country for an extra day that so U.S. citizens can have some extra time to acquire and renew passports without an appointment. I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the U.S. Passport Services Agency puts everything together to make sure that U.S. citizens can have the proper travel documents they need.

This particular passport agency in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood has a special place in heart because it's where I got my first U.S. Passport! It was the year 2000, the year after I became a U.S. citizen. I knew that I could get my passport at the last minute in person (I was worried about sending my very new citizenship documents via the mail. Just being honest.). While the process ate up most of my day, I came in at 9am and had a passport by 5pm.

Don't be like me when I got my first passport. Plan ahead, and get your passport BEFORE you need it. Passport agencies like this one are scattered throughout the U.S., but these centers should really be your last resort. They are only for people who are traveling within 14 days of the date of their appointment at the center. You can't show up there expecting to get a passport that you don't need immediately.

It's much better to handle your passport issues via the mail (I had a great renewal experience via mail that only took three weeks back in 2010) or at an authorized passport acceptance facility as a first timer. Here's a link with info on the process.

Behind the closed doors. Woo hoo!

Here are the 5 NEW things about passports that I learned on Passport Day:

1. All those annoying documents they ask for are for a reason. In order to issue a passport, Passport Services needs proof that you are a U.S. citizen as well as whether you are who you say you are. An interesting NYC point: Since many folks here don't drive, many people don't have basic ID such as a State ID (what I have) or the more common (everywhere else) drivers' license. Having even the most basic form of ID can help make obtaining a passport easier.

Production room where last minute passports issued by the passport agency are actually made

2. The Smart Travel App is like having the State Department website on your phone!

I always make sure to take a look at the U.S. State Department's dedicated travel website Trave.State.Gov. It's a treasure trove of information. Well, now I can have this all on my smart phone!

Download it like I did (I did it while I was at the Passport Agency!). It will give you country specific travel information regarding things like visa requirements, basic country information as well as the most recent travel warnings issued by the State Department.

It's on my phone now! I used it yesterday to settle a debate with Husband J. He won. :(

3. Passports for minors (persons under 16) are only valid for 5 years, whereas passports for adults are valid for 10 years. Parents, take note!

4. When is the best time to obtain or renew a passport? Avoid the times when families are most likely to travel such as right before summer vacations in June, winter breaks in February or around Christmas time. There's usually a bump in applications for passports and renewals during those times. Think ahead, and don't wait until the last minute to get yours, or it might take longer than expected!

A blank passport book. When I got my renewed passport in 2010, I was surprised by all of the pretty artwork. It really is nice.

5. Passport Cards vs. Passport Books - Since they started issuing them back in July 2008, 4.5 million passports cards have been issued. Should you get a card or a passport book, i.e., a traditional passport? I say get the book, BUT passport cards are great if you are a frequent traveler between the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (including Bermuda) by land or sea, e.g., driving across the border or going on a cruise. If you are traveling BY PLANE to ANY destination, you need a traditional passport book. Passports books are accepted more commonly, which is why I'd suggest it overall, but it all depends on your circumstances. The passport card is a handy additional form of ID should anything ever happen to your State ID or drivers' license. There's also nothing stopping you from getting both!

A blank passport card

Interesting stuff, right?

I want to thank the friendly and helpful staff at the Passport Agency in NYC for taking the time to speak with me and the other bloggers who toured their offices for Passport Day.

Okay, everyone. Regardless of what country you live in, get your passport!! :)


Daphne said...

Got my first passport in 1999 (for my first plane trip ever, to South Korea!!), and renewed in 2009. I really liked the renewal process. 2009 was reportedly the year of significant delays (i.e. months), but I think I received mine within a few weeks. Oddly enough, the agency also returned my original '99 passport.

People like to laugh at me when I say this, but I usually keep my current password with me at all times. Hey, never know when I may be whisked away for a weekend trip to Paris or London! On a practical note, it's a handy document to have to verify identity AND citizenship, which a driver's license or state ID doesn't necessarily do.

Re: driver's license. Over the years, I've worked with people originally from the Northeast, NY in particular, and I never ceased to be amazed at stories of getting their first driver's license in their 20s and 30s. Down here, everything is so spread out, so unless you live AND work in the city (it happens, but depends on the city), you NEED a license because you have to drive everywhere.

My friends and I were hopping to get ours at 15-16 years old! Made us feel like bonafide adults. :)

Brandi said...

I feel so lame- I've never even heard of a passport card. But you did just remind me that I need to get my passport renewed- because if I went there and they asked me which one I wanted- card or book- I may have been confused :)

Try Anything Once Terri said...

@ Daphne - Yeah, I used to have a drivers' license and then I let it lapse. I've lived places were there is really developed public transportation, so I've never had to own a car ever. I actually have a fear of driving.

@Brandi - Go get that renewal done! :)

TheThreeLLLs said...

This is very good information. I got my first passport in 2003 when I was going to Europe, so my renewal is coming up next year. I definitely will renew it before it gets close to expiring. Thanks for the advice for the SmartTravel app. I will be downloading that tonight!

Anonymous said...

i want to be usa citizn how will i go about it

Promal Vacations said...

I disagree with your comment on getting a passport card for cruising. If anything happens on your cruise requiring you to fly home before the cruise is over, you can't fly home without a passport book. Anyone cruising on a closed loop tour out of the U.S. should get a full passport book.

Try Anything Once Terri said...

@Promal Vacations - Fair enough. Thank you for your comment.


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