Passport Day is coming! Do you have one?

Saturday April 9th is Passport Day. U.S. Passport agencies and participating passport acceptance facilities will be open to serve you. Savvy travelers know a passport is required for entrance in to the United States. No big news there. What some travelers don’t know though is how easy it can be to get a passport and the benefits of having one.

Right now is a great time for to apply for a first-time passport or renewal. The U.S. Department of State estimates processing times of 4 to 6 weeks. I recently had my passport renewed, sending the paperwork off on January 16th and had a new passport in my hand three weeks later. Look for processing times to increase as we get closer to the busy summer travel season.
The cost of your U.S. passport will depend on the type of passport you request and how quickly you need it. Adults will pay $110 for a passport plus a $25 execution fee for first-timers. Renewals pay the $110 passport charge only. The passport people recommend paying an additional fee for overnight delivery which allows tracking of your passport once produced. I did that and the total came to $124.96 for my renewal.

Passport Services recommends that those with family living or traveling abroad, thinking about a vacation abroad, or those with a job that could require international travel maintain valid U.S. passports.

U.S. Citizen cruise travelers sailing on itineraries that begin and end in the United States can get away with not having a passport. This is not always a good idea though and those people could end up kicking themselves for not going ahead and getting a passport.

Yes, you can board the ship, get off at the ports and get off the ship upon return to the United States with an original birth certificate and photo ID. But if you should have to fly back in to the country for some reason, you would be in trouble.

When heavy fog kept ships at sea, unable the dock at the Port of Galveston last month, passengers on the next sailing were mad. While safety-first is an admirable quality the cruise lines all share, it is of little consolation to those (literally) waiting for their ship to come in. In the case of some Carnival Cruise Line passengers, they could have taken advantage of Carnival’s exclusive Vacation Guarantee:

“Simply book your cruise vacation and sail away on a “Fun Ship.” If you are not completely satisfied with your cruise vacation experience, all you need to do is notify us before arrival at the first port of call and you must debark at your ship’s first non-U.S. port of call. Carnival will refund the unused portion of your cruise fare and pay your flight back.

These people, rightfully or not, were very upset but had used birth certificates to board the ship and could not take advantage of the cruise line’s generous offer because without a passport they could not board a plane outside of the United States for their free ride home.

That’s a pretty good benefit of having a passport.

Passport Cards are another matter altogether. They can get you into territories in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which includes Canada, Bermuda, Mexico and the Caribbean, but by land and sea only. Passport Cards cannot be used to gain entry into countries if you’re flying internationally. The lower price ($55 for first-timers, $30 for renewals) is attractive but Passport Cards are not good for much. Bite the bullet and get a book, then you know you are covered for any travel, anytime, anywhere.

Flickr photo by Dyobmit

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