Passport to Problem-Free Travel

Carelessness is the No. 1 reason for a passport application being rejected or delayed, or for a passport being lost, stolen, or damaged. What steps are necessary to prevent these things from happening? How can you take care of your passport? Here are some practical tips you can follow to acquire your passport, keep it in your possession, and preserve it in good condition.

Before You Leave on Your Trip

Check to see if you even need a passport. Countries can, and often do, change foreign entry requirements. Verify the foreign entry requirements for the country you plan to visit as early as possible.

Apply for your passport early. You should apply for a new passport at least 90 days before your departure date. For a renewal, begin the process eight to 11 months before your passport expires. Many countries require that your passport have six to eight months of validity remaining before they will issue a visa.

Fill out the correct form correctly. Each type of passport service has specific criteria that must be met. Make sure you get the right application form, and then fill it in carefully.

Follow the specifications for the required documents exactly. You will need a certified birth certificate for proof of citizenship, together with a valid driver's license for proof of your identity. Your driver's license must be more than six months old. You must send two identical passport photos taken within the past six months. The photos can be either color or black and white.

Sign both the passport application form and your check. Surprisingly, many people forget to sign either the passport application form or their check to Passport Services.

Request additional passport pages. If you travel extensively, request a 48-page passport. It doesn't cost more and will allow you to travel longer before having to replace it.

Sign your passport and fill out the emergency information.

Make two copies of your passport and photos. Give one copy of your passport to a friend or relative who can be easily contacted in case of an emergency. Take the other copy and the extra photos with you on your trip.

While You're Traveling

Always keep your passport in a safe place. Never leave your passport in your baggage, backpack, purse, car, or hotel room. When you carry your passport, keep it in a money belt or inside coat pocket. Upon arrival at the hotel, put your passport in the hotel safe.

Never lay your passport down anywhere. Passports placed on a counter, phone booth or table can be easily forgotten or stolen. Practice the habit of immediately putting your passport away after using it.

If you travel as a family or as part of a group, don't let one person carry all the passports. The odds are much greater for one person carrying all the passports to lose them or have them stolen than for all the passports to be stolen or lost if each individual owner carries them.

Never let anyone leave your presence with your passport. When you're checking in at the airport, passing through customs, exchanging currency, or doing anything else that requires you to show your passport, never allow the person examining your passport to leave your presence. If the person starts to leave, call their attention and request to accompany them.

Immediately report the loss of your passport. Notify the local police and then proceed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Take the copy of your passport and extra photos with you. You will be issued a temporary passport that you can replace upon returning to the United States.

After You Return

Schedule your passport renewal. Check the expiration date and make a reminder to renew your passport at the proper time. Remember, you should begin the process eight to 11 months prior to the expiration date. Put the reminder somewhere where it won't be forgotten.

Check the number of blank pages remaining. Some countries require a blank page for their visa. If you plan a future trip on which you will visit various countries, you might need the same number of pages as countries to be visited. If you do not have an adequate number of pages but your passport is not due for renewal, you can request additional pages.

Store your passport in a safe place. If you have a safe in your home, keep your passport there. If not, consider a safety deposit box at your local bank.