They prove our citizenship. They protect us while visiting another country. They serve as a valid form of identification.
They can also be a hassle to obtain.
Unless you know the rules, follow the rules, and be patient with the rules.
So to save you all the drama that can be associated with the afore-mentioned learning, following, and being patient, I’m here to spill the beans on what you need to know about getting passports for your kids, or yourself for that matter.
Here’s everything I learned during a long, tedious 24-hour period one day last week. With three tired and hungry kids. With an ex-husband. In a place that seemed so very far, far away.
- Gather the documents. We are going to be traveling next March. As soon as I knew we were going, I decided to order all of our birth certificates. An original certified copy is required, and not returned to you. You will need to order new copies for your passport application so that you can still have at least one official copy with your household paperwork.
- Don’t waste time. While I ordered the birth certificates, once they arrived I took a deep breath. I figured that since the trip was almost a year away, we had plenty of time. Before I knew it, it was October and our tour group is requiring passport numbers by the end of November. Valuable tip with a hint of sarcasm: you don’t have the passport number until you have the passport, which can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to be delivered.
- Know before you go. Passports application offices are located within some, not all U.S. Post Offices.To find the office nearest you, go to http://www.usps.gov. That search will also tell you if an appointment is required or not. If an appointment is required, understand that you should allow 15 minutes per each person in your family. Since it’s four of us traveling, we needed to understand it would take at least an hour to process us. And the appointment thing is serious. My local post office as booked for appointments until November. Remember that little bit of information I must provide to the tour group? However, there are a couple of post offices that process passport applications on Saturdays and are available on a walk-in basis. You can also check this information on the USPS website. For us, this meant traveling to a suburb about 30 miles away on Saturday morning.
That alone made me think about Puerto Rico instead of South America as a possible destination for our next vacation.
4. It’s a family field trip. All family members who are getting a passport must appear in person. For any child under the age of 16, both parents must also appear in person. There are a few exceptions to the two-parent rule but it involves copies of court orders and such. If you are a single parent and you and the other parent have joint custody of the kids, you both have to go and show your government-issued picture ID. Fyi, this also means that if there is a 3-hour wait at the passport office, you are spending those three hours bouncing between awkward silence, miscellaneous small talk, and randomness about deals on local grocery stores and cell phone companies.
5. Don’t forget the photos. We had our passport photos taken at Walgreens. The passport office does have a camera and can also take photos for you. Ours cost about $13 per person. Y’all, the passport photo regulations are not big-hair friendly. I have big curly hair and CJ has a rather large afro. The lady taking our photos was a little perplexed at the size of our hair. I would even venture to say she became a bit frustrated. So much so we had to contain our hair with elastic headbands and it took several tries at photos. If you have big hair, beware.
This is the first post in what I imagine will be a series of posts in the coming months about international travel with my family. It’s been about 25 years since I travelled out of the country, and my kids have never travelled outside of the U.S. We are looking forward to this trip…join us on the journey!