Since 2004, anyone traveling outside of the United States - even to Canada or Mexico - is required to carry a valid passport. For many travelers, applying for and holding a valid passport is a rather straightforward process: send in the application with the fees, and receive a passport in the mail between six and eight weeks later. What many travelers do not realize is that what they hold in their hand is so much more than a verification of identity and citizenship.
A passport book is more than a government-issued ID and a collection of stamps. Instead, it is a snapshot of a traveler's full identity and what cautions (if any) need to be taken with their handling. With the changing roles of passports, the rules surrounding them have adapted as well, meaning a passport is more than a travel document. Here are five facts you may not have known about your passport.
Passports Are Required for All International Travel (Sort Of)
With the adoption of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, passports became required for all forms of international travel: air, land, and sea. But what kind of passport is required can be based on what mode of transportation travelers are taking.
Travelers flying to a different country on an aircraft - either commercial or private - are required to hold a passport book for their travels with no exceptions. However, those traveling by land and sea can get away with carrying a government-issued passport card, costing less than a full passport book.
In addition, travelers who hold an Enhanced Drivers License from their state can enter the United States from a land or sea crossing without incident. Currently, only five states bordering Canada currently offer Enhanced Drivers Licenses to motorists. Until the EDL is a regular part of travel, plan on carrying a passport.
It Is Possible to Get a Passport Within the Same Day of Travel
Though it may sound improbable, travelers who qualify can apply for and receive a passport on the same day. The process only applies to a narrow number of travelers who can legitimately prove they need a passport for imminent travel.
Travelers who have immediate travel plans (within the next 48 hours) or are traveling on life-or-death emergencies can receive their passport by applying directly to certain State Department Passport Agency locations, such as the location in Washington, D.C. Travelers will need to prove their emergency before the Agency will accept their passport application. Emergency passports are subject to a $60 expediting fee, as well as any other fees required for will call service. However, it may be better to simply request a second passport, and cut down on the opportunities for an original passport to be lost in the first place!
It will soon no longer possible to order bonus pages for passports
When frequent international travelers run out of pages in their passport books, the easy fix is requesting additional passport pages. Travelers simply send their passport back to the State Department with their request, pay the required fees, and receive a passport with additional pages added. However, that program will come to an end in 2016.
At the conclusion of 2015, the State Department will no longer allow travelers to request additional pages. Those travelers who plan on extra international travel will have two options: apply for a second passport book, or request a bigger 52-page passport book at their next renewal.
Passports Connect Travelers to Their Confirmed Identities
While this may seem like an obvious point, modern passports have multiple layers of protection to tie a traveler to their identity. Today, biometric passports contain RFID chips that carry a number of identifying factors of the traveler, including (but not limited to) fingerprint information, data for face scanning cameras, and even data for iris-reading cameras.
While, in theory, a passport can plausibly be forged, identity thieves will have a hard time getting past biometric checks. Over forty nations issuing biometric passports (including the United States) participate in the international ICAO PKD program, cutting down on the possibility of fraud.
Embassies Can Issue Emergency Passports in the Worst Case Situation
Though the U.S. Embassy is limited in what they can do for travelers, those who have their passports lost or stolen can request an emergency passport for their travel home. Those travelers who have created an emergency kit that includes copies of their passport and relevant information can often find the process to be straightforward.
While many embassies prefer to issue replacement passports, travelers can receive emergency passports to return to imminent travel. Once back in their home country, many nations will allow those travelers to return their temporary passports for full replacements.