When do I need to carry a passport?

Basically for all foreign travel, with a few caveats. Since 2009, the United States has required Americans to carry a passport or an accepted alternative when traveling 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 cruises that begin and end in U.S. ports.

Children younger than 16 traveling to the above destinations by land or sea can still use their U.S. birth certificate (original or copy) or another proof of citizenship to reenter the States. Also, U.S. passport cards valid for sea and land crossings (note: not air) are acceptable for travelers of all ages. Cost is $55 for first-time adult passport applicants, $40 for those younger than 16 and $30 for valid passport holders. For application info, go to travel.state.gov/passport.

Acceptable alternative documents include Trusted Traveler Cards (i.e., Fast 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. 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. Passports issued to travelers 15 and younger are valid for five years; for those 16 and older, 10 years.

Processing time in mid-May was four to six weeks for regular service and two to three weeks for expedited.

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 haven’t been damaged or stolen. The passport also must have been issued after your 16th birthday.

To renew a passport, place a DS-82 application form (available on the State Department Web site, at post offices and at travel agencies), your most recent passport, one 2-by-2-inch photo and a check for $110 made out to the U.S. Department of State in an 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 Center, P.O. Box 90155, Philadelphia, Pa., 19190-0155.

Who must apply in person, and what is the process?

You must apply in person if:

●You’re a first-time applicant.

●Your passport was lost, stolen or damaged. (If lost or stolen, you must also complete form DS-64.)

●Your old passport expired and was issued more than 15 years ago or before you turned 16.

●Your name has changed since your last passport was issued and you have no documentation reflecting the change.

●You’re 14 to 17 years old. A parent or legal guardian (with his or her own ID) must be present if you do not have acceptable identification. Parental consent is required for children 16 or younger. Both parents must appear and present acceptable identification and proof of relationship (e.g., their names on the child’s certified birth certificate).

And yes, even newborns and toddlers need a passport and must be present when their parents apply on their behalf.

Application materials include form DS-11 (but don’t sign it until the passport official gives the word); proof of U.S. citizenship, such as an original or certified birth certificate; personal ID, such as a valid driver’s license or military ID; one 2-by-2-inch passport photo taken in the past six months; and $135 (16 and older) or $105 (younger than 16). Note: The full names of the applicants’ parents must be listed on the certified birth certificate.

Where do I apply in person?

There are more than 8,700 passport acceptance facilities nationwide, including many federal and state courts, post offices, public libraries and county and city offices. See the State Department Web site (iafdb.travel.state.gov) for local outposts.

What if my passport is running out of pages?

If you’re down to two to four visa pages, you need to fatten up your book. Send your passport, DS-4085 form and $82 to: National Passport Processing Center, P.O. Box 90106, Philadelphia, Pa., 19190-0106.

I’m in a hurry my trip is in a few weeks!

For expedited renewal service by mail, send in the required materials plus an additional $60 and overnight delivery costs. Write “Expedite” on the envelope and put the departure date on your application. To ensure timely delivery, splurge on two-way overnight delivery.

If you’re leaving in two weeks or sooner, make an appointment with a Regional Passport Agency. In Washington, the center, at 1111 19th St. NW, is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Schedule an appointment at 877-487-2778.

For even faster — but costlier — service, use a private company. You’ll pay a flat rate based on the speed of service, plus government fees. Search online for firms and prices.

Where can I find official passport information?

On the State Department Web site, travel.state.gov/passport.

For a status report on your application, contact the National Passport Information Center at 877-487-2778 or check online at travel.state.gov/passport/status/status_2567.html within five to seven days of your application.