If you are a U.S. citizen and plan to travel outside the United States, you'll most likely need a passport. Recently I found this out the hard way. I arrived at Newark airport bound for Jamaica, and ended up in Phoenix Arizona the next day...
Getting a Passport
Last month I was supposed to attend a 5-day conference in Jamaica. My airline and hotel reservations were all in order, and I showed up at the airport early on a Sunday morning. I didn't have a passport, but I had been told by the travel agent that an original birth certificate was sufficient to enter Jamaica. So I brought my driver's license, social security card, and the only birth certificate I had, which was issued by the hospital where I was born. It was signed by the attending physician, embossed with an official seal, and even had my little baby footprints on the back.
Not good enough, said the surly ticket agent. In the absence of a passport, an "official, certified" birth certificate, issued by the county where I was born, was the only acceptable form of identification. Thwarted from entering Jamaica, I went to Arizona, which has more porous borders.
After my return, I decided to get a passport, and found that the State Department also requires an "official, certified" birth certificate. My first thought was that I'd have to spend hours trying to find the right clerk, in the right office, in the right county, make a long distance phone call, jump through hoops, and then pay big bucks to get an official copy of my birth certificate.
Ordering Your Birth Certificate
Fortunately, that's not the case. In most cases, you can accomplish the entire process of ordering your birth certificate online, in just a few minutes. My research led me to VitalChek, which will link you with the state, county or city agency that houses your personal vital records; including birth, death, marriage and divorce certificates. After providing proof of your identity, you can order the document online, and pay the fee (usually between $10 and $20) with a credit card.
Online Passport Application
A passport is an internationally recognized travel document that verifies the identity and nationality of the bearer. A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave most foreign countries. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue or verify United States passports. So your next stop on the journey to getting a passport is the U.S. State Department Passport Services Office website.
If you've never gotten a passport before, or if your passport is more than 15 years old, you'll have to print and fill out the online passport application and then submit the form in person to a passport acceptance facility. You'll need the following items along with your passport application:
- two photographs of yourself
- proof of U.S. citizenship (your certified birth certificate)
- a valid form of photo identification (your driver's license)
Women who have changed their name due to marriage will also need their marriage certificate, since the married name will not match the name on the birth certificate. If you're divorced, it might be a good idea to bring the divorce certificate as well. There are special requirements for children under 14, see the State Department passport website for details.
Many post offices, court offices, public libraries and other government offices will accept passport applications. The Passport Acceptance Facility Search Page will help you find the nearest location to apply in person for your passport. You can search by zipcode, city/state and also look for locations with onsite photo capabilities.
After submitting the forms with proof of identity, you should receive your passport in about six weeks. If you are traveling within two weeks, and can provide proof of departure date, you can request expedited service.
Got comments about the passport process? Post them below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 2 May 2006
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Passports Online (Posted: 2 May 2006)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved