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You dream of strolling through the Louvre, sailing on the Nile or savoring authentic Tuscan cuisine. But there’s only one thing between you and your fantasy getaway-a passport.
According to a 1997 study by the Menlo Consulting Group of Palto Alto, California, 44% of African Americans don’t have a passport. That means most countries-with the exception of Mexico, Canada and some Caribbean islands (on a short-term basis)-are out of their reach. Even if your trip is confined to foreign destinations that don’t require a passport, “it could be problematic when you return,” advises Nyda Budig, press officer of the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service still requires proof of American citizenship and identity to reenter the country. As outlined by the U.S. State Department, you can prove your citizenship by showing an expired U.S. passport, a certified copy of your birth certificate, a Certificate of Naturalization, a Report of Birth Abroad or a Certificate of Citizenship. You can prove your identity by presenting a valid driver’s license or government identification card (including military ID or current work ID) that includes a photo or an adequate physical description. Of course, a valid passport takes care of both of these requirements in a flash.
“[A passport] is a form of ID that is widely accepted even when traveling in the U.S., and if you move around a lot, it doesn’t tie you down to one particular place,” says Bergen County (New Jersey) Clerk Kathleen A. Donovan, who accepts passport applications for residents. The Bureau of Consular Affairs suggests you pencil in your phone number and address, so you don’t have to worry about getting a new passport every time you relocate. Plus, acquiring a passport is relatively simple. Here’s how to get the process started:
- Get an application. Visit any of the 1,100 post offices, 2,500 courts and municipal offices or 13 major passport agencies nationwide to pick up an application. To find a passport agency near you, call the National Passport Information Center (900-225-5674 or 888-362-8668), or download an application from the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Website (http://travel.state.gov).
- Apply at least six weeks prior to the date of travel. “The normal processing time is five to six weeks,” says Donovan. Nearly half of the passport agencies require appointments, so “you can’t just walk in,” notes Budig.
- Have the right documentation. Take a passport application, proof of U.S. citizenship, proof of identity and two professional 2-by-2-inch photographs. You shouldn’t wear any hats or head coverings in your photos, unless they are required by your religion. Sunglasses or nonprescription eyewear is prohibited.
- Be prepared to pay the price. “The fee for a passport is $60 for ages 16 and older, while the total fee is $40 for ages 15 and under,” says Donovan. Expedited service-where a passport is issued in seven to 10 days-is available for an additional $35.
- Don’t forget to renew. The standard price for renewal is $40, whether it be by mail or in person. According to