Happy Passport Day… Tomorrow!

Passports & Visas — By on March 9, 2012 at 8:35 am

Words and Photos by Alexandra Baackes

It’s a cliché because it’s true- a passport is a key to a whole new world. Unfortunately many Americans are still missing that key. Since the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passed in 2007, the oft-quoted statistic that only 20% of Americans have passports has been raised to 30%. Yet there is still much room for improvement. The US Department of State is the agency dedicated to raising that number and providing a US Passport to any citizen that desires one. Thus, the birth of Passport Day on Saturday, March 10th!

Passport DayWhat is Passport Day?

The purpose of Passport Day is to advance awareness of the US Passport. The Passport Agency hopes that this day will rally even those without impending international travel plans to consider applying, and to encourage current Passport Holders to look at their books and make sure everything is in order.

How can I celebrate?

Those without a passport can take advantage of Regional Passport Agencies around the country being open on a Saturday and requiring no appointment. And while passport offices are usually reserved for those with travel plans within 14 days (those with non-urgent applications usually apply via Passport Acceptance Facilities) no proof of travel plans are required.

Those with passports should treat passport day as a yearly passport check-up. First, go to the secure place where you keep your passport and check that it’s there. Next, check the expiration date. Is your passport still good? Adult passports expire every 10 years, but it’s only 5 years for children’s passports, so be sure to check in on the little ones’ books as well. Also keep in mind that many countries require at least six months of validity on your passport in order to be admitted. Too many people plan international travel and it isn’t until they start to pack the day before departure that they realize their passport is not where they thought it was, is expired, or has less than six months of validity. Don’t be one of the two to three people per day found in tears at the New York Passport Agency, weeping over an expired/lost passport and a missed flight!

Your passport should be your number one priority when it comes to international travel. Put it at the top of your travel to-do list.

Passport DayWhat do I need to know about applying for a passport?

Outside of the special circumstances of Passport Day, applicants NOT traveling within 14 days should apply for a passport via mail or via a Passport Acceptance Facility, such as a US Post Office. Those that ARE traveling within 14 days should make an appointment here with a Regional Passport Agency.

A passport application is made up of 50% citizenship and 50% identification. The number one thing that stops a passport application process is missing or incomplete documentation. Be sure to have all your documents in order before applying.

And when I’m ready to use that passport?

When you are ready to travel, make two photocopies of your passport. Leave one at home with a trusted friend or family member and carry one with you, separate from the passport itself. Also leave behind a detailed itinerary, and let someone know if your plans change! Lastly, register your trip at the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that the government is aware of your location in case of an emergency.

Visit Travel.State.Gov for more info, and have a Happy Passport Day!

Learn about author Alexandra Baackes’s visit to the Passport Services New York office by clicking here . Alexandra lives in Thailand working as a freelance designer and underwater videographer and blogs at Alex in Wanderland about travel, diving, and fast food cravings.

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