On Jan. 1, the price of obtaining a passport takes a big jump. For first-time applicants, the issuance and execution fees go from $15 to $42. For renewals, the issuance fee (no execution fee) is increased from $10 to $35. But with their increase in cost, the documents are also going to remain valid longer -- 10 rather than five years.

However, applicants under 18 will only be able to obtain passports valid for five years. For them, the issuance and executive fees will total $27. The five-year limitation was imposed, says the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, because the physical appearance of the young travelers "changes much more quickly."

Meanwhile, the State Department is proceeding with its program to make U.S. passports computer-readable to ease the delays of re-entering this country. At the moment, new passports issued in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago carry the computerized codings, and other passport offices will begin issuing them in months to come.

However, the computer program -- dubbed the Travel Document Issuance System -- will not go into operation, says the State Department, until more travelers possess the new documents. Only about 1 million of 15 million passports in circulation is computer-readable.