The Friendly Planet Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Passport’

This Saturday is Passport Day in the USA: Apply for a US passport, it’s never been easier

The U.S. Department of State’s Passport Day in the USA is this Saturday, April 9. This is the one day of the year that regional passport agencies and acceptance facilities across the country are open for extended Saturday hours, and no appointment is necessary to apply for a U.S. passport.

If you don’t have a passport, this Saturday is the perfect day to get one. Even if you don’t plan to leave the country, having a passport is an excellent form of identification. In fact, you never know when it will come in handy. You can look up the nearest location to apply for a passport on the State Department’s website. But before you head there, you do need to be prepared with some documentation.

Swing over to our passport tab to find out how and what you need to apply for a passport. Or you can watch the video the State Department put together about Passport Day in the USA. And if you have any questions, leave them in a comment on this post and I’d be happy to answer them!

10 things to know before you book a cruise

Cruises have been in the news lately for power failures and enduring rough seas. Unfortunately, negative stories like these can perpetuate the misconception that they’re commonplace.

But these situations aren’t the norm for cruises. The odds of a power failure or a rogue wave are very small.

Approximately 10 million passengers board a cruise ship in the U.S. every year. They’re one of the safest ways to enjoy a trip.

However, if you want to make sure your ship is up to tip-top standards, know what to do in an emergency, or how to make your trip more enjoyable, here are 10 things to know before you book a cruise.

Check your cruise ship’s inspection results. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) assists the cruise ship industry to prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships. Every report they produce is documented. Look up your cruise ship to see how it fared on its most recent inspection.

Wash your hands frequently. This is one of the first lessons we learn when we’re younger and it still rings true today. Washing your hands throughly is the easiest way to avoid exposing yourself to germs and illnesses. Wash them often, but especially before you eat and after you use the restroom.

Seek medical attention if you’re sick. Even if you have the sniffles, go to the ship’s medical facility and follow their instructions. In any case, you don’t want to risk spreading your illness around to other passengers. So play it safe and seek medical attention as soon as you start to feel ill.

Check for cleanliness. Whether you’re on the ship or at port, look for inspection stickers where you’re eating. Or take a look around and just see if the place looks clean. Your impression will be a good indication whether or not the food you’re about to eat was prepared in a sanitary setting. Think of it this way. If they’re allowing the public parts of the restaurant to look messy or dirty, just imagine what the parts you can’t see (like the kitchen) look like.

Make copies of your important travel documents. You should bring copies of your driver’s license, passport, credit card, debit card, and any other travel document necessary and keep them in your cabin’s safe. If anything happens on the trip or to your original documents, you will have all the information you need safely tucked away. Having copies of your original documents will also speed up the process of getting you new documents.

Carry a flashlight. Always bring a small flashlight with a replacement bulb and battery. You never know when the power is going to go out (no matter the reason). Having the flashlight can be a lifesaver. For all sorts of security and safety issues, this is a piece of equipment worth buying and keeping with you.

Know your exits. Every cabin has emergency exit information published in each room. No one ever reads it, but every traveler should! In addition to reading it, travelers should actually go to the exit, open the door, and see where it leads. By taking a practice run, you’ll gain an important piece of information in case of a fire or other emergency. And when your captain calls for a lifeboat drill, be sure to participate. Don’t stay in your cabin and think that you’ll figure it out when the time comes. Knowing how to exit your cabin in the event you need to is an invaluable piece of information for every traveler. It can mean the difference between a good and a bad outcome in an emergency.

Pack a power strip or surge protector. Each cabin has only one electrical outlet, which is located right next to the desk or vanity. And it has only two plugs. If you want to use your computer, charge your camera, listen to music, and use a hair dryer while someone is taking a shower, you’ll need more outlets. A power strip or a surge protector will give you the extra electricity you need.

Put fabric softener sheets between your garments in your suitcase. If your travel time to the ship is more than 24 hours, this will help keep everything in your suit case smelling fresh. This is particularly nice with garments or accessories that are not regularly laundered, such as sweaters or jackets. You can cut a sheet in half and place each half in your shoes.

Bring bungee cords. They are easy to pack, take up virtually no room at all, and can even be useful in keeping your bags lashed together as you maneuver onto the ship. Just hang the bungee cord from any suitable place and you have a sturdy hook. They also make a great clothesline when you string it across the opening of your shower, or between a couple of towel bars. Lastly, use one to strap down your towel if you’re up on the deck when the ship is underway.

Is there any thing I missed that you think could make a cruise more enjoyable? Let me know in a comment on this post. Happy cruising!

Passport and visa pages fees to increase: What you should know

The U.S. Department of State is raising passport fees on July 13. Here’s a breakdown of the increases.

  • Adult: $100 to $135
  • Adult renewal: $75 to $110
  • Minor: $85 to $105
  • Additional visa pages: $0 to $82 

We covered how the Department of State was contemplating these increases back in March. The public was given a period of time to submit comments, during which the American Society of Travel Agents and other organizations expressed concerns over the proposed increases.

As you can see above, the biggest jump comes in the additional visa pages category. Visa pages are the pages in your passport that are stamped every time you enter and exit a country.

In some cases, you need to get a visa prior to visiting a country, and this is where it is pasted. Other times, the visa is stamped into your passport upon arrival at your destination. In any case, you need blank visa pages in order to enter another country.

If you don’t travel that often, you’ll probably never have to order more. But if you travel out of the U.S. once a year or more, you might need more blank visa pages before your passport expires.

If you have fewer than four pages left in your passport, make sure you order more before July 13 to avoid having to pay the new fee, otherwise you’ll soon have to pay $82 for the pages that cost nothing today. Until July 13, you’ll only have to pay for shipping, unless you want your visa page additions expedited.

It’s very simple to request extra pages. Just fill out Form DS-4085 and mail your passport along with the form to the address listed on it. When you package your personal documents, use a Tyvek envelope or a plastic bag to make sure they stay dry. You’ll want to use a traceable delivery method such as FedEx. You don’t want to risk losing your passport in the mail!

Once it’s sent, your passport will be returned with more visa pages in four to six weeks. If you don’t have a passport as of yet, flip back to a previous post where I show you how to apply for a U.S. passport. You only have one week left before fees go up, so get moving!

What to do if your US passport is lost or stolen

I love getting packages in the mail. Who doesn’t? And when the only thing separating you from an international voyage is your passport, it’s pretty exciting when that package arrives.

I told you how to apply for a U.S. passport, which is your ticket to travel the world. But there might come a day when that ticket is lost or stolen. Here’s what you should do if you’re ever faced with that unfortunate circumstance.

The first step to recovering a lost or stolen passport should be taken as soon as your passport arrives in the mail. And that is to sign it.

Next make photocopies of the signature and photo pages. File away one copy, and put the other one in your wallet. You’ll also want to do the same for the extra passport photos I suggested purchasing in my previous post.

If your passport is lost or stolen, don’t panic. It’s very easy to replace a passport. And if you make photocopies, you’re already one step ahead.

As soon as you realize it’s gone, you need to report it to the U.S. Department of State. You do this by calling them toll free at 1-877-487-2778. Then you have to fill out Form DS-64, which can be obtained online or from any Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency. This form will be placed in the Consular Lost or Stolen Passport System to prevent the misuse of your missing passport. Once you complete it, mail it to:

U.S. Department of State
Passport Services
Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

If you want to replace your U.S. passport right away, you’ll also have to fill out Form DS-11. But you can’t mail it in. You have to go to an Acceptance Facility or Passport Agency and submit both forms in person. From this point on, you follow the same steps as if you were applying for a U.S. passport. If you need to refresh your memory on how to do that, flip back to my previous post.

If you’re outside of the U.S. and your passport disappears, the same steps apply, except you’ll need to contact the U.S. Consulate in that country instead of the U.S. Department of State. They will tell you exactly what to do. Contact information for a U.S. Consulate is widely available and the front desk of your hotel probably has it on hand.

Here’s where it pays to travel with a photocopy of your passport and an extra photo. This information will help any foreign consulate track your records quickly and get you a new passport issued without too much hassle. You could even get a new passport issued the same day. Turn around time is much faster outside the U.S. since, in most cases, the traveler will have to depart the country sooner rather than later.

It’s important to mention that a U.S. citizen can’t possess two valid U.S. passports. So if you recover your passport after you have reported it lost or stolen, it can’t be re-validated. You have to submit it to the address listed above for it to be destroyed. Or if you like to keep your old passports, you can opt for it to be canceled and returned to you.

All of this information is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website. Its FAQs section is very extensive as well, but if you still have questions, don’t hesitate to write to me.

How to apply for a U.S. passport

What’s the one thing that practically everybody needs at some point and most people don’t have? And you can’t say money.

Times up! The answer: a passport. It doesn’t exactly jump to mind as a necessary piece of personal documentation, unless you have to take an unexpected trip abroad for a business meeting, a family situation, or a vacation.

Honestly, even if you don’t plan to leave the country, a passport makes for an excellent form of identification. You never know when it will come in handy. In fact, you even need one now to go to Canada.

Figuring out all the things you need can be daunting. Everything is located at the U.S. Department of State’s website, but I’ve tried to make it easier for you by distilling the pertinent information right here. Here’s how to apply for a U.S. passport.

First, get “Form DS-11: Application for a U.S. Passport” and fill it out. You’ll find it online or you can pick one it up in person at your post office or some other municipal government building.

Fill out the form and bring it to a passport acceptance facility. You have to apply for a passport in person. You cannot mail the form in. I went to the Passport Office in Philadelphia, but you can just as easily go to your post office.

You’ll need to bring three items with you: proof of citizenship, identification, and a recent photograph. You’ll need your birth certificate to prove you are a U.S. citizen. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to find something that will work just as well. For example, certificate of citizenship, baptismal certificate, census record, early school record, or family bible record are all acceptable.

Next you’ll need identification. You can use a valid driver’s license, a previously issued U.S. passport, naturalization certificate, or a current government or military I.D. Lastly, you’ll need a photo. You can get that taken anywhere, including Walgreen’s, where I got mine taken in less than five minutes. Remember, you don’t have to look like a movie star in your photo, just be recognizable. And yes, you can definitely have your photo taken in color.

When you get your photo, it’s a good idea to purchase some extras. Chances are you’re going to need visas at some point, and it’s cheaper to buy a few additional photos and keep them to use as needed. When everything is signed and verified, your application will be processed, and you’ll receive your passport in the mail four to six weeks later.

If you’re under 16 and need a passport or want to get one for your child, the same steps apply but with a few slight alterations. The biggest difference is that the minor must apply in person with both parents or a guardian.

The parents or guardian must also submit evidence of their relationship to the minor. This can be proven through the minor’s certified U.S. birth certificate, certified foreign birth certificate, or their report of birth abroad with both parents’ names. Also acceptable are an adoption decree with adopting parents’ names, court order establishing custody, or court order establishing guardianship.

If you’re anxious to know where your passport is in the application process after you’ve applied, you can check the status of your U.S. passport application online. When it finally arrives, sign it right away. Then make a couple of nice, crisp photocopies of the signature and photo pages. File away one copy, and put the other one in your wallet. This is in case you lose your passport, but I’ll talk about what to do if that happens in a later post.

If you’re considering getting a passport, I suggest applying very soon. I told you before that the fees for applying for a passport and other services might be increasing substantially in the near future. So save yourself the few extra bucks and get it taken care of now.

If you have any questions, the U.S. Department of State has comprehensive list of FAQs or you can write to me. In addition to telling you what to do if your passport gets lost or stolen, I will also cover how to renew your passport, and how to add visa pages to your passport in upcoming posts.

Update your passport now, or it’ll cost you

While nothing has been set in stone, it’s very likely that the U.S. Department of State will increase fees for new passport applications and renewals, as well as other services. If you’ve been procrastinating getting a passport or getting one renewed, don’t wait. The increases are substantial.

Here’s what they’re proposing. The cost of a new passport will increase from $100 to $135 for adults and from $85 to $105 for minors. Renewals will increase from $75 to $110 for adults and from $60 to $80 for minors. Travelers who need extra visa pages could soon pay $82. Currently, this service is free.

While no formal implementation date has been given for the changes, the U.S. Department of State has indicated that it intends to implement the new fees once it has had time to consider public comments. The public comment period ends on March 11.

ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) will be filing comments on March 11, urging restraint in fee changes. If you also feel strongly about the new fees, you can submit your comment on the U.S. Department of State’s Web site. Traveling is expensive. If we get a say in not increasing these fees, we should take that opportunity.