Your passport is easy to take for granted . . . unless you need it and you can’t find it, or it’s stolen, or it’s expired. But the US Department of State doesn’t take it for granted. Here are some ways that they’re working on improving your passport, as well as tips on how to keep your travel headaches to a minimum.
No more adding pages
• As of this January, passport holders are no longer able to add pages to an existing passport so that it can hold more entry and exit stamps. Travelers previously could add 24 pages to a full passport, but now, with that no longer an option, passport applicants outside the US are issued a 52 page book, while those in the US can choose between 23 and 52 pages.
(U.S. Department of State, “Extra Visa Pages No Longer Issued Effective January 1, 2016,” November 19, 2015)
Why carrying copies is a good idea
• At “Lost or Stolen Passports Abroad,” the Department of State advises travelers overseas to take along a photocopy of their passport ID page. I recently had the chance to ask a foreign service officer what purpose that serves and here’s what he said: While US embassies and consulates have the ability to replace a lost or stolen passport without you providing any documents or ID, there are other reasons for having copies. The passport copies are most helpful to carry with you while you leave the real thing in a safe location. If someone asks to see your passport while you’re out, you can show your copy; or if a place such as a hotel asks to hold your passport, you can offer your copy instead. He suggested carrying two color copies for this purpose. While officers can give you a new passport without presenting any documents or identification, it’s better, according to the Department website, if you have a photo ID, a police report (or, says the officer, the ability to say that you tried to get one), your passport copy, and your travel itinerary (to document that you need the new passport quickly.)
What about a passport card?
• Whenever I see a passport application, I wonder about the advantages of getting a passport card. Now I know why I probably don’t need one. A passport card is not a replacement for a passport book for general international travel. Instead, the card can be used only for land and sea travel between the US and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. The card could be useful in any country in place of a color photocopy for getting a replacement passport (see above), but it won’t work for air travel, regardless of your destination. Even in the countries where the card can be used, without your passport book you’ll be in trouble if an emergency occurs and you need to fly back to the US. Also, if you’re on a cruise and for some reason miss the boat (literally), you won’t be able to use your card to fly—to catch up with the ship or to go back home.
(Ned Levi, “Passport Card: Does It Make Sense to Purchase One?” May 10, 2010)
Don’t get below 6 months
• While many countries require you to have at least 6 months left on your passport before they’ll let you enter, the Department of State suggests you replace your passport when you cross the one-year-left mark. Not only will this keep you from being caught unprepared, but if you enter a country with only six months left on your passport, stay for a while and then decide to go to another country with the six-month restriction, you’ll be denied entry.
Expect more changes
• US passports are scheduled for a big design update this year. The security updates will include an information page with a polycarbonate coating and containing an embedded data chip, the number laser-cut through pages, raised designs, and ink that shows multiple colors when viewed from different angles.
(Katherine LaGrave, “U.S. Passports to Get a Makeover in 2016,” Condé Nast Traveler, February 22, 2016)
Registering is easy
• This one isn’t directly related to passports, but it does apply to international travel. (Consider it a bonus.) The Department of State encourages citizens to register with them when traveling abroad, but what does that entail? It’s as easy as going to step.state.gov and signing up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). You can also enroll to receive advisories and alerts, even when you’re not the one traveling, so that you can keep up to date while others are outside the country.