How to get a passport

Maybe your best friend is living abroad or you want to travel to Mexico or Canada, in order to travel you will need a passport book or passport card. Whether you do a lot of international travel for work or have a case of wanderlust, a passport, which is an easily recognized travel document, will identify you and authorize your travel from as you travel the globe by land, air, and sea. For many individuals, a passport seconds as a valid form of identification, as it’s an official government document, when applying for jobs or even grabbing a drink at the bar.

Passports and Visas

Often times, passports and visas are viewed as interchangeable, but they are different. A passport is an official U.S. government document that identifies and allows U.S. citizens to travel to and from countries. Without a passport book or card, an individual has no legal authorization to travel to countries outside of the United States.

A visa, much like a passport, allows citizens of a foreign country to legally enter the United States (and vice versa for Americans in some foreign countries). Visas differ from passports as there’s Immigrant Visas and Non-Immigrant Visas. Immigrant visas are given to individuals who plan on living in the U.S. permanently, while non-immigrant visas are given to individuals who have permanent residence in a different country, but plan on being in the U.S. temporarily. Similarly, Worker Visas allow non-immigrants to work legally in the United States for a limited amount of time.

What’s the Difference Between a Passport Book and Card?

Most travelers are familiar with the passport book. The navy blue, 5 inch by 3 1/2 inch, book is somewhat of a badge of honor for globetrotters. The passport book holds a picture of you with identifying information and blank pages for country stamps, which indicate you have legally entered and exited a country. The passport book is valid for international air, sea, or land travel and is valid 10 years if you are an adult. Travelers under the age of 16, must renew their passport book after 5 years.

The passport card looks very similar to a driver’s license and although valid for the same amount of time (for adults and minors), the passport card only allows land or sea travel to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, and Bermuda. The passport card, which costs about $100 less than the passport book, is not valid for international air travel.

When Should I Apply and What Do I Need?

As soon as you think you may be traveling abroad, you should apply for your passport. The process takes about 3 weeks, but it can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. Standard processing with no additional fees takes about 6 weeks and Expedited processing, an additional $60, takes about 3 weeks. The best time to apply is in the fall after the summer travel rush is over. When applying, you will need a verified evidence of U.S. citizenship (such as birth certificate) and photo identification.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State: U.S. Passports & International Travel or call the 24/7 National Passport Information Line: 877-487-2778

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