When was the last time you looked at your passport? For many clients, their passport is kept in a safe place until they decide to go on a vacation out of the country. If you do not travel out of the country very often, it could be that the last time you looked at your passport was years ago. You do not want to be in the situation that your passport has expired or is about to expire and you are planning a great vacation. It is always a good idea to check on your passport every year or so, first to remember where you keep it and second to know when the expiration dates are.
When renewing your passport, it is best to start the process within a year of the expiration. This way, you will have plenty of time to get an updated photo and any other information you may need. You will also not have to worry about processing times for your passport to be returned to you. If you were in a situation that you needed to fly out of the country at the last minute for an emergency, you want to be prepared for any last minute travel.
Some recent changes with passports are your passport photo. As of November 1st, 2016, the US Department of State will no longer accept passport picture with glasses. All glasses must be removed in the photos for renewing passports. This change was implemented since customers were submitting poor quality photos for passports and the number one reason was glasses since the individual could not be clearly identified in the picture. There is one exception for individuals who need glasses as a medical necessity. For more information on this change, check out the State Department. website at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/news/no-glasses.html
I have clients often ask if they need a passport if they want to go on a cruise. My answer is always YES. The only exception to this is a Closed Loop cruise, a cruise that begins and ends in the same U.S. port and is traveling to destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Some cruise lines will allow adults and children to travel on an original or certified birth certificate and one other form of identification, but you are own your own if you step off of the ship onto foreign soil and something happens to you. The US Government will not allow you to fly back to the United States if you do not have a passport. All of the major cruise lines strongly recommend traveling with a passport since you do not know what can happen. The primary reason for not wanting to get a passport is the cost, but the fees for a passport are well worth the flexibility to travel out of the country.
Another recommendation to my clients is to keep a copy of your passport with you but separate from your passport while you travel. This way you will have a copy if you were to lose your passport or someone stole it. The US Consulate in the country you are traveling can help you faster with a copy of your passport. It is also a good idea to leave a copy of your passport with a family member or your travel agent. Before traveling enrolling in the STEP, Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Why enroll in STEP? First, stay informed of the latest safety and security information for the country you are visiting. Second, being enrolled helps the U.S. Embassy contact you in the case of an emergency. Lastly, it will be easier for family members to contact you in an emergency.
Here is a great video on the STEP program and being prepared for travel overseas by the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria and Rick Steves.
Next week I will talk about TSA Pre-check and Global Entry and why do you need it.
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