The key to traveling outside of the country is to secure a passport. Passports can take a month or two to receive once you have submitted your application, so if you think you might want to go out of the country, I would advise that you go ahead and apply for your passport. A passport is good for 10 years (unless it is for a child under the age of 16), so applying early is always the best plan. It is also important to know your passport expiration date before you travel, many countries will require your passport to be valid for 3 months or more after your anticipated return.
Types of passports:
There are two options when getting a passport. The passport card and the passport book. The passport card is less expensive than a passport book, but it is only valid for land and sea travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. This will work fine for trips where you are driving across the boarder or taking a cruise. However, if you are on a cruise and something happens to where you need to fly home, you are out of luck. The passport book is going to give you more travel freedom all around. Personally, I have both because the passport card is a great extra form of identification. Check out the fee schedule on the US. State Department.
How to apply:
Applying for a passport can be quite simple. You will just need a passport photo and complete the application. You can apply in several different ways:
- In Person at a Passport Acceptance Facility : If you are applying for the first time or are under 16 you MUST apply in person. There are many places in every state where you can apply for your first passport. Many post offices, municipal buildings and libraries offer these services.
- Online : This is my favorite way to renew a passport is online. You can get your passport photo taken at your local CVS or Walgreens. You will then fill out the application and mail it in.
- In Person at a Passport agency : If you do not have much time before your trip, you can apply at a Regional Passport Office. There are about 25 location in the country where you can receive in person expedited service. In order to use this method, you must have proof of imminent travel, your expedited passport fee and an appointment.
Lost passports :
While you hope it never happens, your passport could get lost or stolen. If you are traveling and have purchased a travel protection plan, call the insurance company immediately and they will help you to remedy the situation and assure you can make it back home. If you have not purchased travel protection, you will need to contact the nearest US Embassy for assistance. If you are not traveling when your passport is lost, contact the passport office for a replacement.
When you need a tourist visa:
The best way to know whether you need a visa is to check out the US State Department site. In general, a US passport is good without a visa to most European and North American countries. Even where you need a visa there are many countries that allow you to get a visa at the airport when you land. However, it is always good to check ahead of time, because if you need to apply ahead of time it could take over a month. Note that even if a country does not require a tourist visa, you might need a visa if you plan on staying for any extended amount of time.
For more information, check out the State Department website. There is information about passports, travel restrictions and vaccinations requirements and the link to register for the State Departments Smart Traveler program prior to your trip.