Passport Requirements for U.S. Families
Rules are changing, so make sure you do your homework early
They say less than a third of Americans hold a passport. Maybe it’s because the powers that be don’t make it an easy process – keeping up with the ever-changing rules and regulations is as labor intensive as giving birth.
The requirements are different whether it’s your first time applying or if you’re renewing an existing document. It’s different whether you’re applying from within the States or outside of the country. There are specific procedures when applying on behalf of your child, and these steps can change depending on the age of said child.
Here’s the lowdown of some pertinent passport issues for US citizens, which may echo requirements in other countries as well.
- Parents and legal guardians can apply for a passport on their child’s behalf, but there’s a recent change to the procedure – you must now take the child with you in person to process the application (now doesn’t that sound like a fun family outing!).
- Both parents should be there in person, too, otherwise a notarized statement of consent from the absent parent is required.
- Single parents need proof of sole authority via a judicial declaration or death certificate.
- First-time passports must be applied for in person, whereas renewals can be done by mail. Look online for a passport office near you – some are found in local libraries, post offices and court houses – and double check their hours of operation and accepted methods of payment (they vary and are often limited to exact cash, personal check or money order – no ATM cards accepted). Part of the fee must be paid to the State Department and part to the acceptance facility, so you might need to have two separate checks with you.
- Currently the fee is $97 for those 16 and over and $82 for those under 16 (this includes the new $12 passport security surcharge). Renewals cost $67.
- Don’t sign the application form until you are asked to by the passport officer. If a child is too young to sign, the parent or guardian must print the child’s name and then sign their own name, indicating the relationship in parenthesis.
- If you’re going to be traveling a lot, request a 48-page passport (as opposed to the standard 24-pager) so you have lots of room for visas and stamps.
Travelling to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean
It used to be that US citizens could cross into Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean without a passport (a drivers license or birth certificate would suffice for ID). As of January 2008, however, all adults need a valid passport for travel to and from these previously excepted countries.
American children under 15 can still use a certified copy of their birth certificate for land and sea travel between these countries, but this will most likely be phased out soon. A new wallet-sized US Passport Card is being developed for spring 2008 to facilitate entry and expedite document processing for land and sea travel in this region, which is a boon for family road trips and cruise travel (but why not just get a standard passport and be open to other destinations as well?).