Your passport is the ticket that keeps giving. Having the four-inch book only weighing 1.5 ounces is an incredible privilege. We know that because of governments, geography, and turmoil, some citizens are unable to leave their own countries, but if you have the ability to move freely, then why not? .

Why do I need a passport?

We get this question sometimes and it’s not someone asking what is a passport used for, but what’s the point? Sure, if you don’t feel like you’re ever going to leave home, then we understand your hesitation to get a passport. But to those people, we challenge them to think of what they can do with a passport rather than what they can’t do. It’s an unbelievable privilege to travel, to extend the borders of your own country and explore the culture of somewhere foreign. Even if it’s just to a neighboring country, traveling is enriching your life and those of the people you’re visiting. You’re boosting their economy through tourism and contributing to the wealth of locals all while enjoying a personal exploration of self and soul. Much like your right to vote, a wavering privilege for some, take advantage of the liberties you’ve been given.

What’s your reasoning for not having a passport?

This is our favorite question to ask. Not in a manner of judgment or attempt to make anyone feel bad, we just genuinely don’t see any negative side effects to having a passport, so why not own one? The biggest reason we’ve gathered from friends is money. It’s too expensive to have a passport. But if you break down the initial price of your passport into a daily or yearly amount, then money shouldn’t be the excuse. Passports are valid for ten years, which means $0.03 a day or $11 a year for the privilege to travel internationally. To us, there is no question; it’s worth it to pay the $110 to get an American passport—one of the most powerful passports in the world.

When researching passport data among the vast spaces of the internet, we were limited as to the conclusive evidence of who's traveling and why. We did find that America is tied with the UK for the most powerful passport in the world (2016), yet only thirty percent of US citizens have a passport. Why? The best answer to that question can only come from you, the public. We've created a small survey in hopes that real people will help make up this small study about travel in the twenty-first century. The survey will take less than a minute and we're not asking information that requires you reveal any personal information. We do ask an e-mail address just to verify that you aren't a robot. We will keep collecting data as we continue to travel.

How do I apply for a passport?

The application for the USA can be found here. This page will take you into a portal in which first-time applicants, renewals, lost, or name-change applicants can find their form. If you don’t fall under these categories for some reason you can search here and find the correct form for your particular case.

You’ll be able to fill out all the information required and upon saving you’ll be able to download the .pdf file. You’ll need to print, sign, and date this form. If you don’t want to fill it out online and you would prefer doing it by hand then you can print the files here or you can visit your local post office to pick up and fill out the application there.  We enjoyed being able to fill it out online, so that all of our information was legible, and then we printed it for free at our local library (yeah for libraries). The application is going to ask for personal information such as SSN, permanent address, name on your birth certificate, occupation and questions about your physical appearance. These are all measures to make sure that you are who you say you are and to avoid any sketchiness. The site projects that it will take 90 minutes to fill out, which we have no idea how they got that estimation as ours took only ten minutes. If you collect all your information prior to starting the application then this step should be no problem.

What do I need to get a passport?

We recently had to get new passports for our RTW trip and so all of our steps and tricks are applicable to 2017 (this is helpful for American citizens, but taking photographs yourself is applicable to all readers looking to get a new passport). We can’t help you cut down the price of the application fee, but we can offer our advice on the easiest way to get your application done in a day and avoid paying $15 to get your passport picture taken at a local drug store.

Whether you’re renewing a passport or getting a brand new one, the fee is $110 dollars for a passport book. A standard book comes with 28 pages but you have the option to choose a 52-page book (recommended for those expecting to travel frequently) for the same price. As of January 1st, 2016 there is no longer an option to add the 24-page insertion to an existing passport. 

Another option if you really don’t want to pay the $110 for a book is to get a passport card for only $30. The catch with a passport card is that it’s only good for “crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.” You need a passport rather than a card to visit Cuba. Because it is just a card, like a driver’s license, it is only for proof of ID and citizenship and it is invalid for international air travel. You do have the option to get both a book and a card when filling out the application. The price would be $140. The benefit we see in doing this is that you will have the book for immigration and more serious matters and the card can be used as a general identification card when you're out on the town. This could be handy in places where they require holding on to your passport for check-in, such as hostels, or renting motorbikes in Southeast Asia, and you feel uncomfortable leaving your passport book. You could hand over your card instead. We haven’t tried this as we don’t have the passport cards, but it does seem applicable for personal safety measures. We don’t think it’s necessary to have both, but we understand why some people do. You just need one or the other, depending on the extent of your travels.

Selfies...not for your passport.

After printing, signing, and dating your application (or filling it out at your post office) you’ll notice there is a square (2 x 2 inches) blank for you to attach your passport photo. The regulations for this are very specific according to the government requirements. This intimidates people into just having it done at a local Walgreens or Walmart where they’ll charge $12-$20 for having it done and printed. But we think if the world was capable of taking one trillion photos in 2016 (according to than you are capable of taking your own passport photos.

For our DIY method, you’ll need a blank white wall, a way to take your photo (phone or camera), a stable way to take your photo (selfies are not an acceptable way to take passport photos), a good looking smile, and a computer.

Not only is this way more cost efficient, but you can retake the photo as many times as you need in order to get that winning travel look or something like that. Contrary to what some speculate, you can smile in your passport photo if you would like. The site recommends that it be a “neutral” face expression. That way when you are questioned, compared or standing next to your passport book it’s not hard for the official viewing it to recognize that it’s you. 

Unacceptable Passport Photos

Requirements here

Too dark and too far out of frame

Too dark and too far out of frame

Not facing the camera and you definitely can't have your hands in the frame

Not facing the camera and you definitely can't have your hands in the frame

... not a "neutral" face

... not a "neutral" face

Not a "neutral" face, too close and not framed correctly

Not a "neutral" face, too close and not framed correctly

Acceptable Photos

Requirements here

For step two, sizing, we had to find a way to do this inexpensively and easily. We’re not graphic savvy and so finding a program or website to format our large files into the required size was our best option. We needed to figure out how to appropriately size our photos and avoid paying too much. Printing pictures at your local store usually cost pennies, but when in the specified 2 x 2 size they charge $12 for two of them. They know you’re printing it for an official document (being that you wouldn’t print pictures in this size for any other reason) and so they can charge you more.

The key to getting around this is using a website called Oddprints takes your passport portrait and positions it (according to your countries regulations and size) into a 5 x 7 frame. This is the cheapest size picture to print. You’ll want to make sure to check the “add grid lines” box before creating your .pdf file. This will make cutting out your photographs to the exact size easy. In just three steps, you can download your perfectly sized portraits for free. Next, you’ll need your pictures printed out on matte or glossy photo paper in order to attach to your application. You can easily order prints from, print them yourself, upload them at a photo kiosk, or order one-hour prints online to be picked up at a local place. In the one hour it took for our photos to develop (and we ordered 60 of them), we had filled out our application, had it printed, and taken a trip to the bank for personalized checks.

The last step is compiling all your hard work into one manila envelope. Included is your application, complete with your passport photo and a personalized check for the amount requested (either $30, $110, or $140). Make sure it’s securely sealed and appropriately labeled and then send it off. Passports can take up to six weeks to process, but it’s usually far less than that. We received ours in less than three weeks. 

What are all the symbols and stamps in my passport?

Passports are inspected upon exit and arrival into a foreign country. Immigration uses a passport to not only verify your identity, but they will use it to keep track of your pursuits and movement in their country. They will do so with different stamps and symbols. Typical questions you will be asked upon arrival include: what is the nature of your visit, how long are you planning to visit for, do you have proof of funds to be in the country, and do you have proof of exit. This is not a set list of questions, but at the very least they will want to know how long you plan to stay. 

Most countries in Europe allow a 90-day visa free allowance. The standard in South America is an allowance of up to 90 days but verify first that you're not required to get a visa before hand. Southeast Asia requires Americans to obtain a visa for most countries and some countries, like Russia, only allow for a strict 30 days with a visa.  

Make sure that after your passport is stamped at immigration, you inspect the stamp they gave you. Is the ink to faint to read? Do you understand everything that the stamp is saying? Most importantly is the date right? Lately, we’ve read about people having to jump through hoops when they exit a foreign country all because they didn’t double check their stamps upon arrival. If something is wrong with the stamp or if it looks illegible, you can politely ask the officer to fix the problem. 

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Our knowledge of stamps, so far, is based on travel in Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, Japan and New Zealand. But regardless of your destination the stamp you’ll receive at immigration will include how and when you entered/exited the country. Based on whether you entered by land, air, or sea your corresponding symbol will be either a plane, a boat, or a train. For the EU, the stamp will include either an arrow facing a small square in the bottom left corner or not facing the square. Each corresponds to whether you’re exiting or entering the country.  Inside this stamp with your symbol and arrows is your arrival date. This is an important date to know. This page and its stamp will be inspected when you leave the country to verify that you didn’t over stay your welcome. The stamp will also indicate in some instances, that you are required to check in with the local police department upon arrival (Ireland student visa). It will say so on the stamp. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It’s simply a safety precaution in place for you and the locals of the place you’re visiting.  

What does it mean to get a visa?

Entry visas are required by most of the world. The visa will outline the nature of your visit. It will include arrival and departure dates as well as whether you are permitted to legally work in the country.  Each country has specific rules and regulations concerning whether visitors are required to obtain a visa. There will be strict instructions on how to obtain a visa for the country. Go straight to the source, verifying with government websites to find out if one is required for your trip. 

There are three types of visas we've encountered thus far. The first is the full page on arrival visa. For Cambodia, we received a full page sticker during our overland entry. The second is the printed e-visa in which you apply for beforehand. Vietnam requires Americans to apply for a visa beforehand. Their e-visa takes 2-3 days to process and upon approval, you'll print off your physical visa. This will then be used at immigration and you'll receive the usual entry/exit stamps. The third is the transit visa that is electronically embedded in your passport. Austalia and the USA require transit visas for all passengers connecting and not visiting. Australia's was a $30 fee that's valid for up to ten years of transit. This transit visa is not to be confused with an entry visa. 

Most airlines will verify that you have the appropriate visa upon check-in. They're responsible for your return flight if you're denied entry into a country and they prevent this be verifying on their end first. Keep in mind that on arrival immigration will not accept a passport that doesn’t have at least three blank pages in it. Therefore, neither will the airlines.  

After your allotted time in a country, you’ll need to either exit the country, apply for an extension, or renew your visa. 

What’s the sticker on the back of my passport?

Along with stamps inside your passport, you may come away with ICTS stickers on the back of it. ICTS is a third party security company that closely works with airlines. If you’ve ever been asked the ridiculous questions at check-in or before boarding, such as “did you or someone else pack your bag?” or “have you left your bag unattended?” it's part of ICTS. They’re essentially an extra layer of questioning for security. This most commonly happens with international air travel when entering the EU or USA. The sticker on the back of the passport ensures that a particular person was “securely screened” and is safe to board an airline. It only benefits you to leave the sticker on the back of your passport while traveling. 

Things you need to know about your passport?

* Don’t bend or fold your passport. This invalidates your passport and ruins the vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip.

* Most countries will not accept your passport if it doesn’t have more than six months until its expiration. They do not want to be liable if you are stuck in their country (because of sudden civil war or natural disasters) with an expired passport.

* Immigration will not accept passports that don’t have at least three blank pages.

* READ your passport. It is one of the most important documents you will ever own. Not only is the information pertinent to your travel plans, but the quotes and history included in your passport are fascinating.

* Make sure to sign your passport so it's valid

What types of passports are there?

Passport book— standard 28 pages, non-standard 52 pages.

Passport card—valid for crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, not valid for international air travel or Cuba.

Official passport—issued to employees or officials of the US government for traveling abroad to carry out official duties, not for leisure travel.

Diplomatic passport—issued to a Foreign Service Officer or someone traveling for diplomatic duties, not for leisure travel.

Do you have a passport?

As in the beginning of this post, we've again included an option to take a passport survey. Feel free to participate and help us collect more research about who travels and why. It only takes two minutes.

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