U.S. Passport Rules Are Changing

What You Need to Know Before Traveling with Your Passport

Traveler with suitcase holding U.S. passport
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In 2018, new requirements were put into place for the type of ID you need when traveling by air, both domestically and outside the U.S. This is due to the REAL ID Act, implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the changes you can expect is that residents of some states will need a passport when flying domestically.

Domestic Travel

In general, it is good practice to bring your passport to every foreign country you visit, including Canada and Mexico. U.S. territories are not foreign countries, therefore you would not always need to have your passport to enter Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, or the North Mariana Islands. However, new ID regulations mean that, depending on which state issued your driver's license or state ID, you may be required to show a passport to fly domestically. This is due to the REAL ID Act, which instituted requirements for the information displayed on IDs used for air travel. Some state-issued IDs do not comply with these regulations, so travelers from these states would be required to present a U.S. passport at airport security.

Passport Photos

Since November 2016, you are no longer allowed to wear eyeglasses in your passport photo, unless it's for medical reasons. If that's the case, you'll need to get a note from your doctor and submit that with your passport application. More recently, the State Department has begun refusing thousands of passport applications due to the poor quality of passport photos, so do make sure that yours abide by all of the rules in order to be approved on the first try. 

Security Issues

In July 2016, passports received a makeover, including the installation of a computer-readable chip that contains the traveler's biometric data. This new technology helps to increase security and lower the risk of fraud. Additionally, more advanced technology is due to arrive in the coming years, according to the State Department. 

Passport Design and Pages

The newly designed passport has a protective coating on the outer blue cover, which acts to protect it against water damage and more. The book is then less likely to warp or bend. It also contains fewer pages than previous U.S. passports, which is disappointing for the frequent travelers among us. 

The lower page count is particularly problematic because, since January 1, 2016, Americans can no longer add extra pages to their passport. Instead, you will have to apply for a new passport whenever your current one is full. Unfortunately, new passports are more expensive than adding extra pages, so this works out to be more expensive for those who travel frequently. 

Passport Application and Renewals

To apply for a passport, you will need to have certain forms of ID, a regulation-compliant passport photo, and the application forms filled out and printed (which you can do online or by hand). You must apply in person at a U.S. passport office or U.S. post office if this is your first passport or you are under the age of 16. You can also renew your passport by mail unless it was issued before you were 16 years old; issued more than 15 years ago; damaged, lost, or stolen; or if you changed your name since and don't have a legal document proving the legal name change. Whether you are applying in person or by mail, make sure you have all of the forms filled out, the proper ID, and a passport photo. 

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