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International Travel: The Documents You'll Need

Leave plenty of time to get the necessary travel documents before you travel.

By GreatSchools Staff

Planning on traveling outside the U.S. with your family? Be sure to leave plenty of time to get passports and any visas required by other countries.

Getting a Passport for the First Time

In addition to needing a passport for travel to foreign countries outside the Western Hemisphere, as of January 2007, you need a passport for air travel between the U.S, and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region. The U.S. Passport Office estimates that it takes four to six weeks to receive your passport, or three weeks if you apply for "expedited service." If you have an emergency and need to travel sooner, you may be able to get a passport sooner by contacting the National Passport Information Center at 1-877-487-2778.

To apply for a passport for the first time, you'll need to go in person to one of 9,000 passport acceptance facilities. You need to bring two photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver's license. Be sure to read the rules about the type of photos you can use so you bring the correct size.

If you are applying for a passport for a child under 14 years old, your child must also appear in person with both parents or legal guardians and documentation. Both parents must show current, valid ID, and both parents' consent is required. If a child is too young to sign his own passport, then a parent can sign for him. However, there are certain exceptions to these rules: If one of the parents is not able to go with the child to obtain a passport, he or she may fill out a special form and have it notarized. If one of the parents is unavailable to offer his or her written consent, the parent applying for the passport can note that on this special form as well. You can find the form on the U.S. Department of State Passport Web site.

Passports are valid for 10 years for adults and youth 16 or older, and five years for those 15 or younger.

To see further regulations and information about passports check the U.S. Department of State Passport Web site.

You can find simplified instructions and a step-by step check list at It's Easy: Vital Documents to Go.

If you happen to have a problem with your passport, and you are passing through Kennedy International Airport in New York, you're in luck. An emergency passport help service, an annex of www.ItsEasy.com, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The company provides same-day service for morning customers and next-day service for afternoon customers. The service comes at a cost, however. If you need a last-minute passport, it will cost $457 or $427 for a renewal.

When Do You Need a Visa?

Check with your travel agent or the embassy of the country you plan to visit to find out if a visa will be necessary. Some countries require a visa only if you plan to stay for an extended period while other countries require a visa for any type of travel. For example, for any travel to Australia, you will need a visa, but for tourist travel for less than three months, you can apply and receive the visa online.

Some countries require your passport have two to four blank visa/stamp pages. Some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met. You can find out how to add extra pages on the U.S. Department of State Passport Web site.


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