What You Need to Know About
Passports and Visas

Passports and visas are your window to the world. They’re your permission to travel and your way back home. 

Passports and visas allow you to wander the globe, visiting the people and places you’ve read about, learned about, and dreamed about. They allow you to travel - with permission - throughout the world, knowing that when you're done, you can return home to those you know and love.

With changes that became effective in June 2009, most citizens of the United States are now required to have some form of passport document in order to travel out of [and more importantly, back into] the United States.

This is either the familiar U.S. passport book when traveling by air, a U.S. passport card for traveling by land within the Western Hemisphere, or other specific travel document approved by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, known as WHTI.

These are frequently used for affinity youth groups [sports, church, etc.] and closed-loop cruises. 

The changes put in place by these new passport requirements resulted from years of updates and modifications for U.S. travel documents and now include all U.S. citizens of any age, including infants and small children.

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A U.S. passport is recognized around the globe. If you're an American, it's your proof of who you are and where you belong, whenever you travel outside the U.S.

It’s a legal document that verifies your identity, your nationality, and your country of permanent residence.

It's identifiers include your name, date of birth, place of birth, and gender. It’s your first and most important step in the documentation process for all inter-national travel.

Without it, you aren’t going anywhere.

An international travel visa, either tourist visa or business visa, may be required for you to travel to your destination country. If that country reauires a visa for entry, they issue the visa - not the U.S. government.

A travel visa is an endorsement by a foreign government, that gives you permission to visit that country for a specific amount of time and under specific circumstances.

When an international visa is granted, it's usually in the form of a descriptive stamp placed on one of the blank pages in your passport. It describes the type of visa issued, along with the length of time you can stay in-country.

All passports and visas are reviewed by immigration officials when you arrive at your overseas destination. 

Airline personnel are required to verify all passengers hold the proper passports and visas for the destinations they're flying to. They check your overseas travel documents either when you purchase your airline ticket, or before you board your flight. And usually both.

Airlines can [and do] sustain substantial fines and penalties for allowing passen-gers who don't hold the proper international travel documents to fly.

Who Needs Passports and Visas?

Although the number of U.S. passport holders grows each year, only a small percentage of Americans have valid passports.

As our society becomes more global, it's increasingly important to hold current international travel documents, both for travel opportunities and increasingly often, for necessity.

Imminent Travel: 

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Anyone who's considering traveling overseas should begin the process for obtaining their passports and visas early in the travel planning process.

If you're even thinking of traveling abroad, it’s not too early to begin gathering the documents you need for getting your passport, especially for children and minors.

Or if you have a special circum-stance of birth and need to obtain additional supporting documents to meet requirements. 

Depending on the time of year you plan to travel, sooner is always better [and usually cheaper] than waiting.

Especially if you plan to travel during holiday periods or peak travel season, when passport processing times increase signi-ficantly.

Friends or Family Abroad: 

If you have friends or family living or working abroad, you should absolutely have a current, valid U.S. passport. 

This is the perfect time for a overseas visit, or the opportunity to travel with someone who's already begun the learning process of an overseas destination. 

It often means having a place to stay for little or no money at an international destination, creating a much smaller dent in your travel budget.

It's logistically easier and considerably cheaper to visit areas from a home away from home - often with a built-in traveling companion.

Conversely, if a family member who's working or visiting overseas for an extended period becomes seriously ill or even deceased, it’s essential you hold a valid U.S. passport for immediate travel.

It's not only stressful, but extremely expensive to get a last minute, emergency U.S. passport. Often your only choice is to use a passport expediting service

While frequently able to secure a passport in as little as 24 hours, some passport expeditors charge as much as $700.00 for the process, especially if you also need supporting documents. 

Getting a rush passport even in two or three days can cost you hundreds of dollars per travel document. 

And if you don't have all of the required information to obtain your passport [Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Adoption papers, etc.], or if you also need an international travel visa, both the time it takes and the money it costs will be more.

Your Job: 

If the company where you're employed has international offices or production 

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facilities overseas, securing your passport should be a no-brainer. 

Having a current passport will give you a leg up when inter-national business opportunities arise. 

It can convey you're not naïve about international travel, and  even possibly, that you’re com-petent to conduct business on a global level. 

Since most business travel arrangements are made with a smaller advance time window, already having a valid U.S. passport will shorten the time needed for obtaining required work or business visas. 

This can save you or your company a considerable sum of money, especially if you need the services of a passport and visa service.

Simplifying the Process for Passports and Visas

The Department of State offers full resources and material to guide you through the process of obtaining passports and visas.

To make the process easier, we've streamlined that information here on our site by incorporating the newest rules and requirements.

We strongly suggest you review the information on the DOS website about how to obtain your U.S. passport. The Department of State is the final arbiter of when and how that will be accomplished and is - as they say - where the buck stops.

However, on the following pages we've tried to clarify the most general infor-mation you'll need when applying for a passport to make it easier to follow.

Getting passports and visas is not difficult. By doing it yourself, you'll save a substantial amount of money to use on your trip, whether traveling in Europe, or wherever your travels take you.

The following articles will help you through the U.S. passport application process:

Getting a passport is easier than you think. Learn when, where, and how to apply for a U.S. passport.

Applying For a Passport is a straightforward process. Follow these simple steps to get your most important travel document.

Renewing A Passport by mail saves you time and money. Use these guidelines, and you’ll soon have your new passport in your hands.

Passports For Children have slightly different requirements. Learn the extra steps that can increase your child's safety during overseas travel.

Completing A Child's Passport Application requires additional documen-tation. Learn what you need for your child’s passport, whether a young adult or under age 15.

Need A Rush Passport? Getting one is easier than you think. For a small fee you can overnight your application or go directly to a regional passport agency.

Using a Passport Expediting Service can speed the passport application process. But do you know which passport expeditor you can trust with your private information?

The Atlanta Passport Agency is open for travelers in the Southeastern U.S. You can expedite your passport without the expense of paying someone else to do it.

Travel Tip

Since the last decade, the U.S. has issued only electronic passports, better known as e-passports. There's little difference from previously issued pass-ports, except for a small computer chip embedded in the cover.

The chip securely stores data listed on the information page along with a digitalized copy of your photograph. The e-passport also includes additional security and fraud-fighting features. 

Passports issued before chips were added are good for their full validity.

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