What is a Passport?

What is a passport? This probably isn’t a question that you often ask yourself. If you have never traveled outside of the United States and have no plans to do so, you’ve probably never wondered what a passport is. At the same time, if you’re a frequent traveler, the answer may seem like a no brainer. If you haven’t thought much about it, a passport is a very powerful document and the key to international travel. A passport allows U.S. citizens to travel abroad, and re-enter the United States when it’s time to return home. If you do not have a valid U.S. passport, you will not be permitted to enter the country at the conclusion of your trip abroad. It also gives U.S. citizens traveling abroad access to U.S. Consular services outside of the United States. In the United States, a passport comes in two forms—a book and a card.

What is a Passport Book?

The traditional United States passport book is 5 inches x 3 ½ inches, and it is valid for all international travel by land, sea or air. The inside cover contains your photo, name, date of birth, place of birth, issue date, expiration date and passport number. The next few pages contain general passport, travel and safety information. The remaining pages are used for entry and exit stamps when visiting foreign countries. You can apply for a passport book at a passport acceptance facility, a passport agency or by mail (if eligible). The cost of an adult passport book ranges from $110-$135 (the cost varies based on whether you are a first time applicant or applying for a renewal), and it is valid for 10 years. A minor passport book costs $105, and it is valid for five years.

What is a Passport Card?

The passport card was introduced by the U.S. government in 2008. It is less expensive and more convenient than the passport book, but it is valid only for travel by land or sea between the United States and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda. If you are traveling by air to and from any of these locations, you must have a passport book. You must also have a passport book if you’re traveling to any other destination in the world, regardless of how you are getting there. The U.S. government began issuing passport cards to facilitate travel by U.S. citizens who live in border communities back and forth across the Mexican and Canadian borders. The cost of an adult passport card ranges from $30-$55, and it is valid for 10 years. The cost of a minor passport card is $40, and it is valid for five years.

What is a Passport Turnaround Time?

In general, it takes four to six weeks to have a passport application processed. For a $60 fee, the U.S. government will expedite your application, cutting the processing time in half. When you choose to have your application expedited through the U.S. government, you can get your passport in two to three weeks. However, these times are estimates. It can take much longer to receive your passport when application volume is high. It’s always a good idea to apply for your passport as far in advance of your trip as you can. When that’s not possible, you can apply for your passport at a U.S. passport agency where your passport will usually be issued the same day you apply. If you can’t get to a passport agency (there are only 24/25 in the country) there is another way to have your passport expedited.

What is a Passport Expediter?

When you need your passport quickly, but can’t get to a passport agency or you don’t want to spend the day standing in line, you can have your application expedited by a professional passport expediting service. Professional expediters are licensed by the U.S. Department of State to hand carry passport applications to the U.S. passport agency for processing. When you authorize an expediting service to apply on your behalf, simply mail them your application and supporting passport information and they will take care of the rest. When your passport has been issued, a representative from the expediting company will pick it up from the U.S. passport agency and overnight it directly to you. The process is simple, and when you work with a professional expediter you can get your passport in as little as 24 hours if you have urgent travel plans.

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