Staying Documented – Obtaining and Protecting Your Passport

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There’s nothing worse for travelers than making plans for a trip abroad only to realize at the last minute that their passport has expired. In the United States, obtaining or renewing a passport can be a very time-consuming process, and it’s required for nearly every trip out of the country, with the possible exception of cruises or visits to US territories. To avoid paying hundreds of dollars for someone to fetch your expedited passport, it’s best to thoroughly prepare before your trip and know how to protect your passport after you’ve received it.

As a rule, give yourself six months to receive a new or renewed passport. Expedited processes add many unpleasant costs on top of the already high cost of a passport. If you’re someone who travels outside the country often, remember to ask for the larger booklet; it’s free to receive more pages at the outset, but getting them added in later will cost you. Likewise, remember to save money by getting your passport picture taken at a drug store or big box store, many of which offer cheap passport photo services. Be sure that you need a passport in the first place. US citizens traveling to Mexico, Canada, or some islands in Bermuda or the Caribbean can often travel only using a “passport card,” which is cheaper and quicker to receive, though not accepted when traveling by air.

Once you have your passport, remember that it’s very important not to lose it, as it will dramatically affect your travels. The only time you will need your original passport is while crossing borders, whether on the ground or via airports. Otherwise, you should use a photocopy, which will be sufficient for practically every other purpose. When traveling with your passport, consider buying a specially made wallet for it that sits under your clothes, as official documents like these are always popular among thieves. At all other times, leave your passport in your room, preferably in a safe, and carry a reproduction with you. It can be helpful to make several copies, including digital copies on your smartphone or a USB drive, and don’t forget to leave another copy with friends or family at home in case of an emergency.

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