Correction to This Article
A previous version of this article omitted the name and contact information for American Passport and Visa International. This version has been corrected.

Passport questions and answers

(Hugh D'Andrade for The Washington Post)
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Q When do I need to carry a passport?

A Basically for all foreign travel, with a few caveats.

Last year, the U.S. State Department implemented the final phase of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, requiring Americans to carry a passport or an accepted alternative when traveling by air, sea or land to Bermuda, Mexico, Canada and 17 Caribbean nations. U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are exempt, as are closed-loop cruises that begin and end in U.S. ports.

Under the WHTI, children younger than 16 traveling to the above destinations by land or sea can continue to use their U.S. birth certificate (original or copy) or another form of citizenship to reenter the States. Additionally, U.S. passport cards valid for sea and land crossings (note: not air) are available to travelers of all ages. Cost is $45 for first-time adult applicants, $35 for first-timers younger than 16 and $20 for travelers who already carry a valid passport. For application info, see

Other WHTI-compliant documents include Trusted Traveler Cards, U.S. Military ID with travel orders, and Native American photo ID cards.

How much advance time do I need to apply for a passport?

It can never be too soon, whether or not you have a foreign trip planned. Obviously, with a passport in hand, you can leave on short notice. However, if your passport is nearing its expiration date, renew as soon as possible, because some countries require passports to be valid for six months after a traveler's entry or return date. Another issue to consider: Some nations require passports to have two to four blank pages for visas and stamps.

Can I apply by mail?

Not if you're a first-timer. Mail-ins are for renewers whose old passports were issued within the past 15 years and have not been damaged or stolen or haven't expired. The passport also must have been issued after your 16th birthday, and there must be no name change for which you do not have legal proof.

To renew a passport, place a DS-82 application form (available on the State Department's Web site, at post offices and at travel agencies; see below), your most recent passport, two identical 2-by-2-inch passport photos and a check for $75 (see below for upcoming price hikes) made out to the U.S. Department of State in a padded envelope. If your name has changed, also include a certified copy of the legal document specifying the change (e.g., marriage license, court decree, etc.).

Mail to National Passport Processing, P.O. Box 13408, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101-3408. If you use a mail service that does not deliver to post office boxes, send to National Passport Processing, Attn: Department 13349, 1617 Brett Rd., New Castle, Del. 19720.

You can also receive extra visa pages in your passport at no additional cost; attach a signed request for additional pages with your application. Your new passport should arrive within four to six weeks. And fret not: Your dog-eared, stamp-plastered passport will be returned for future gloating purposes.

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