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When Do You Need A Passport?

Tuesday, August 16th

When Do You Need a Passport?

A passport is a document which is issued by a national government as a means of identification for the person who holds it. It certifies the identity and nationality of the person listed on the document, which is important when traveling internationally.

In the United States, passports are issued through one of the State Department's 14 passport issuing centers. They also can be issued through clerks at federal and state courts, designated post offices and U.S. consular authorities in foreign countries for citizens who are living abroad.

Passports expire every 10 years for citizens over the age of 18 and every five years for those under 18. Upon expiration, passports must be replaced if the holder wishes to continue having one. Because people change in appearance with age, passports cannot simply be renewed, but must be completely replaced, including with an updated photo of the passport holder.

There was a time when the only people who needed a passport were those who traveled internationally on a frequent basis, or those who worked as foreign diplomats. However, passports are becoming more widely used for more reasons than just travel. Since 2009, Americans have been required to possess a passport to cross the border into Canada when traveling by airplane, whereas before they only were required to have valid photo identification and a birth certificate to prove citizenship.

So with all of these changes afoot, when do you need a passport?

The primary reason to own one is for foreign travel purposes. Passports have been required for entry into foreign countries, as well as re-entry into the United States from foreign countries, since Dec. 15, 1915, when an executive order was issued requiring all who traveled abroad to possess one. Prior to that, passports rarely were used for foreign travel or re-entry into the United States from a foreign country. There are only a few exceptions to this rule:

  • Closed Loop Cruises. Cruises that begin and end at the same United States port, known as closed-loop cruises, do not require a passport. A certified birth certificate and valid photo identification, such as a driver's license, are all that is necessary.
  • Nexus Cardholders. A Nexus Card is issued jointly between the United States and Canadian governments and is designed for those travelers who frequently commute between the two countries. It is awarded to low-risk travelers following a rigorous application process and can be used in place of a passport to travel between the two companies.
  • Land or Sea Travel. Traveling by land or sea to Canada or Mexico does not require a passport. However, you still will need more than a traditional driver's license or birth certificate to enter these countries and then re-enter the United States. A Nexus Card, which we previously discussed, can be used for this kind of travel. Land or sea travelers to these countries also can use an enhanced driver's license if they are available through their states. Currently, only the states of New York, Michigan, Vermont and Washington offer enhanced driver's licenses.

Even if yours is a situation which does not require a passport for travel, it is highly recommended that all travelers possess one. During emergency situations, air travel which was not previously planned may become necessary, which would require a passport. For that reason, travelers should weigh the benefits and risks of not having a passport before they leave the country.

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Passport Service FAQ

If you are a US citizen traveling outside of the country, you will need a passport. The only exceptions are US territories like Puerto Rico, the USVI, American Samoa and Guam. Gone are the days of traveling to Canada or Mexico with just a birth certificate in hand!
That depends on your destination. There are over 170 countries that do not require a visa for US citizens to enter, but nations such as China, Brazil and Chile have visa requirements.
If you were at least 16 years old when you got your passport, it will be valid for 10 years from the date of issue. On the other hand, if you were under 16, it will only be valid for 5 years.
Fees for a passport can change at any time, but historically they've been set at $110 for an adult and $80 for a minor (under the age of 16). You may also have service fees charged by the location where you submit your application (e.g. the Post Office or local governmental facility), and you'll need to submit regulation passport photos.
First, report a lost or stolen passport to the US State Department (which can be done online or via phone at 877-487-2778). Next, if you are still in the US, you can apply for a replacement following the same procedures as a regular application. Or, if you are outside of the US, you should contact the nearest US embassy or consulate to get a replacement.
You can pay a $60 expedite fee and an extra $17.56 for 1-2 day delivery, but even then the State Department says your passport can take up to 6 weeks! If you have international travel scheduled within 72 hours, you may be able to get an in-person appointment - but in that case, as well as in the event of having a trip coming within that 6-week wait time, your best bet is probably to use a passport service.
A passport service handles all of the paperwork and appointments to get your passport in hand. Believe it or not, it's possible to get your passport in hand within 24 hours!
They're more affordable than you might think, especially if you've got a trip that would be cancelled (with no refund!) without a passport in hand. You can get a one-business-day turnaround for under $300, and some passport services even offer emergency (same business day) options for that amount too. Keep in mind that those fees don't always include what the State Department charges for passport processing, or the expedited shipping to get your passport to you that quickly.

Compare Passport Services

Select any 2 Passport Services to compare them head to head

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  • Passport Visas Express
  • Fastport Passport
  • Travel Visa Pro
  • TDS
  • Fast Passport Center
  • Fast Passports and Visas
  • Expedited Passports and Visas
  • Passports and Visas
  • Visa HQ
  • Travisa
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