Essential Knowledge: Passports and REAL ID

Essential Knowledge: Passports and REAL ID

Posted November 29, 2017

  1. Passport and REAL ID basics
    1. When do I need to use my passport?
    2. What is REAL ID, and how does it affect me?
    3. Where and how do I get a passport?
    4. How long does it take to obtain a passport?
    5. What is a passport card, and is it right for me?
  2. Passport validity and renewal
    1. How long is my passport valid?
    2. When should I renew my passport?
    3. How do I renew my passport?
    4. How long does it take to renew my passport?
  3. Passport security
    1. How do I keep my passport safe?
    2. What do I do if I lose my passport?

 

Passport and REAL ID basics

Below are the answers to some basic questions about passports, government-issued IDs, and the REAL ID security program.

When do I need to use my passport?

Whenever you enter or exit the United States, you need to show a valid passport.  Additionally, because of the new REAL ID compliance measures, residents of several states may need to show passports instead of driver’s licenses to travel domestically by air in the near future.  See the next section for more.

What is REAL ID, and how does it affect me?

REAL ID (formally The Real ID Act of 2005) is an Act of Congress aimed at making driver’s licenses and other forms of government-issued ID more secure. States are now working to produce IDs that comply with this Act.

The key takeaway for travelers is, starting in 2018, driver’s licenses or ID cards from several states will no longer be accepted as valid identification for domestic flights. The Department of Homeland Security is currently reviewing many states' applications for compliance with REAL ID, and the best way to check the status of your state’s ID compliance is to visit the DHS REAL ID page. 

Travelers planning to fly domestically who hold licenses or IDs from Alaska, California, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington will need to show a REAL-ID compliant form of identification for domestic flights starting October 10, 2018. For a list of REAL-ID compliant forms of identification, visit the TSA website.

The DHS is currently reviewing REAL ID applications from Louisiana, Michigan, New York, and Rhode Island. All other states are compliant with REAL ID. Please note:  Even if your state is compliant with REAL ID, you must show the updated license or ID card in order to pass through security to board a domestic flight.  

Where and how do I get a passport?

The U.S. State Department is in charge of issuing passports (sometimes called passport books, to distinguish them from passport cards). The State Department’s website has an easy-to-use, interactive guide that helps you apply for a passport, whether or not you’ve had one in the past. This guide will take you through every step of the process, from entering your date of birth to taking a passport photo to printing the application.  An important note: you are not allowed to wear glasses in your passport photo.

Once you follow this guide and print your passport application, you will need to bring it to a physical location that accepts passport applications, as the State Department does not accept them online. The United States Postal Service has a website where you can find the nearest passport acceptance location. Then, simply bring your application to the location and submit it, along with your payment. A standard United States passport costs $110, plus a $25 fee due at the processing facility and any expedited processing or shipping charges incurred.

How long does it take to obtain a passport?

Standard processing of a U.S. passport takes 4-6 weeks, but it’s wise to allow more time than that, as backups in passport applications can result in longer wait times. For an additional $60, you can purchase expedited processing, which takes 2-3 weeks door to door. You will receive your passport via a free USPS shipment, but you can also elect to pay $20 for overnight shipping.

What is a passport card, and is it right for me?

A passport card is a wallet-sized, REAL ID-compliant identification card. This card can be used as identification for any domestic flight, but cannot be used for international air travel. If you're worried that your current license or ID is not REAL ID-compliant, and you do not plan on traveling out of the country, you may consider applying for a passport card (the card costs $55, and you can apply for just a passport card without applying for a full U.S. passport book). You can find more information on passport cards at the State Department website

Passport validity and renewal

Whether you’ve just obtained a passport or have had one for years, it’s important to know when your passport expires and how to renew it.

How long is my passport valid?

United States passports are valid for 10 years from the date of issue. Many foreign countries have different rules on passport validity and restricting travel access, but as a general rule, your passport should be valid up to six months after your return date from an international trip.

When should I renew my passport?

It’s a good idea to renew your passport significantly ahead of its expiration date, to ensure that you will receive the new passport with time to spare. If your passport has expired, you can still renew it up to five years after the expiration date, otherwise you will need to apply for a new passport. Please note: The State Department expects a large uptick in passport and renewal applications in 2017, so the earlier you renew or apply, the better.

How do I renew my passport?

There are two ways to renew a passport—either by mail or in person—and each has its own eligibility requirements. The State Department website explains how to renew a passport by mail, and also has a page dedicated to explaining how to renew a passport in person. If your passport was issued in the last 15 years, is undamaged, and was issued in your current name (or you can produce verified documents validating your name change), you may be eligible to renew by mail. Otherwise, you will need to visit an in-person passport renewal location.

How long does it take to renew a passport?

Renewing a passport takes about as long as applying for a new one: roughly 4-6 weeks, depending on wait times. Expedited service can take 2-3 weeks, and if you need your passport renewed in a hurry, you can make an appointment at a passport agency or center.

Passport security

Your passport is the most important travel document you own. Here’s how to keep it safe, and what to do if you lose it.

How do I keep my passport safe?

It’s essential to keep your passport safe in all phases of travel, from the airport to ground travel to sightseeing.

Before you travel, make several photocopies of the photo page your passport.  Leave one with a friend or relative, and keep one in a secure compartment of your suitcase and possibly another in your carry-on. In the event your passport is lost or stolen, these copies will prove useful for receiving a new passport.

While at the airport, consider keeping your passport in a zippered, easy-to-reach pocket in your handbag or daypack. That way, you can stow this bag below the seat in front of you on the plane and have it easily accessible once you land. You also may wish to store it in a money belt which can be worn around your waist and concealed under your clothing. Regardless, do not pack it in your checked luggage.

While traveling on ground transportation (for example, on motorcoaches between tour stops), keep your passport in your day pack, rather than stowing it with your luggage underneath the coach.

During sightseeing excursions and day trips during touring days, protect your passport by leaving it locked in the safe in your hotel room. If your room doesn’t have a safe, ask the front desk of your hotel about safe deposit boxes.

What should I do if I lose my passport?

The first thing to do if you find that your passport has been lost or stolen is to contact the State Department. There are three different ways to do this, all available on the State Department website. If you haven’t left the U.S. yet, you can apply for a replacement passport the same way you would apply for a new one.

If your passport is lost or stolen in a foreign country, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and declare the passport missing or stolen. The embassy will be able to assist you in obtaining a replacement passport. The State Department website has a list of the documents you need to bring with you to the Embassy in order to obtain a replacement passport.  And, it can be a good idea to travel with two extra passport photos in the event that you will need to get a replacement.

We hope this has been helpful in giving you some insight into the world of passports. If you have any questions, or want more information on a specific passport-related issue, feel free to get in touch via our Message Board

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