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If traveling abroad is on the agenda in the near future, now is the time to start the process of applying for 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. Persons applying for a passport must provide proof of citizenship and residency at the time of the application, as well as a passport-specific photo. Acceptable proof of citizenship and residency includes an original birth certificate or notarized copy and a valid driver's license.
Passport-specific photos also are required at the time of application. Be sure to use a photographer who is qualified to take passport photos, as there are specific requirements for how a person must appear in them in order for them to be valid for usage.
If it is your first time obtaining a passport, there are a few things to know prior to applying. First and foremost, you must apply in person at a passport-issuing agency. A copy of your original birth certificate, or a notarized copy, must be presented at the time of application. You also will need proof of residency, such as a driver's license, a pay stub or utility bills. A passport-appropriate photo also must accompany your passport application. Applications can be received in person at a passport-issuing agency, or downloaded online from the U.S. Department of State website.
Others who must apply in person are those under the age of 16, or if your first passport was issued when you were under 16. If your original passport was lost or stolen, you also are required to appear in person to request a new one. Also, if you have married or recently changed your name, you must appear in person to request an updated passport.
Those who are simply replacing an expiring passport can complete the process entirely online. A passport renewal application (form DS-82) is available on the U.S. Department of State website. The old passport must be sent in with the renewal application in order for the renewal to be processed.
Processing times for passports vary depending on the season and the demand for new or replacement passports occurring at that time. In 2009, when the United States changed travel rules requiring passports to travel between the United States and Canada, there was an influx of new passport applications which bogged down the system. At that time, it was reported that passports were taking roughly four to five months to process.
Currently, routine passports are being processed in approximately four to six weeks, according to processing information provided by the U.S. Department of State. Passport expediting services, however, can shorten this time to as little as 24 hours. As processing times are subject to change, it is best to check the U.S. Department of State's website prior to applying for or renewing an existing passport. If you know travel which would require a passport is in the near future, do not wait to apply, or consider using a passport expediting service in order to get the passport sooner.
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.
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