As a travel professional, I've been asked lots of questions about passports. Personally, I think that every US Citizen should be required to have a passport. It just makes sense to me, and I have seen too many people have to miss out on an amazing last-minute travel opportunity because they aren't prepared. If you are over 16, the passport books are good for 10 years, so the pro-rated cost is about $15 per year. Certainly a great value! Yes, it can be a little bit of a pain applying for your first passport, but after that, you can renew by mail.
What is a passport? How does it differ from a passport card? A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies your identity and your citizenship. Only the US Department of State and US Embassies and Consulates have the authority to issue or verify US passports. Most foreign countries require a valid passport to enter and leave. All US citizens traveling internationally by air must present a valid passport to reenter the US. To cross by land only into Canada or Mexico, you may use a less- expensive passport card, but if you are going to go to the trouble to get a passport card, why not go ahead and get the real thing? For more information on how to apply, read http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/apply.html
Do I need a passport if I'm just taking a Caribbean cruise from a US port? It's a really, really good idea, but not a requirement in most situations, although many feel that it should be. When you depart and return to the same US port you must have proof of citizenship, (a passport or your official birth certificate), government-issued ID (driver's license), plus a copy of your marriage license for women whose last name has changed since birth. A passport is a good idea, however, because if an issue should arise while you are abroad without a passport and you need to fly home, you're in trouble! Remember the Carnival Triumph fiasco? One of the reasons the ship had to be towed all the way to Mobile, extending the misery by an extra day or two, was that the majority of the passengers didn't have the necessary documentation to be flown home fromMexico...bet you didn't know that! Also, if you become injured or ill and need to fly home, having a passport will greatly minimize the hassle...and you don't need hassle when you are sick or hurt!
Do my children need passports? Yes! Every person, even an infant, must have his/her own passport to fly to a foreign destination. Make sure you check the expiration date on your children's passports because they expire in five years if the child was 15 or under when his passport was issued. Some countries have instituted requirements to help prevent child abductions and may require travelers to present proof of relationship to the children and evidence of consent from any non-accompanying parent(s).
This trip is our honeymoon. Can we travel as Mr. and Mrs. "Newlywed"? We can understand how romantic it sounds to use your brand new last name on your honeymoon. However, your experience at airport check-in will not be romantic, I can assure you. You must travel under the name on your passport. Usually that is your maiden name, so use that for your airline ticket. Your name on your airline ticket must match the name on your passport exactly. Once you arrive at your honeymoon destination, people will be happy to address you both as Mr. and Mrs. "Newlywed". When you return and have the time, you can apply to have your name changed on your passport.
Can you help me, my passport was stolen? This is a call no travel consultant likes to get. Ever! But it does happen, rarely. Make three photocopies of your passport before leaving home. Give one to a friend or relative to keep handy, give one to your trusted travel professional to keep in your file and carry the other copy with you, stored separately from the original. This makes it much easier to have a replacement issued, if necessary. If your passport is stolen, contact the local US Embassy or Consulate for assistance. Let them know when you are scheduled to travel home, and they will do their best to help you. It is also a good idea to take an extra set of passport photos with you to simplify the transaction. Keep your original passport in a safe place (like a room safe) when possible, to minimize the risk of theft. You don't need to carry it around with you at all times while overseas.
I hope you have gotten the point that it is worth the time, energy and financial investment to be a US Passport holder. Don't miss out on a great travel opportunity because you aren't prepared! If you need any assistance with the application process, or have any questions...please feel free to contact me. Happy (and safe) Travels!