Passports . . . Are you handicapped too?

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» Posted by on Apr 22, 2013 in Government Traveler Comments, Industry Postings, Travel Professional Resources, White Papers | 0 comments

My husband and I talked about visiting Canada a few years ago to see Niagara Falls, but now we can’t. My sister moved to Australia two years ago and I would love to visit “the land down under”, but I can’t. You may be saying, “Why can’t you? Are you handicapped?”. Well I do have a condition that prevents me from going. I don’t have a passport. However, in a few weeks that’s going to change.

I thought getting a passport was going to require a bunch of red tape, but I was wrong. I did have to gather up some information and get some things done, but it was really a simple process. I wish I had done it sooner.
I picked up an application form at my local U.S. Post office. The form is called a DS-11: Application For A U.S. Passport and can also be found online by searching passport application or visiting website travel.state.gov. The form only has two pages to complete, but four pages of instructions. Of course I was thinking this is typical of a government form.

I was prepared for a bumpy ride when I sat down to start on the application. The top of the form wanted me to select whether I wanted a Passport Card or a Passport Book. Forget the bumpy ride. The bridge is out. I can’t move and I haven’t even started on question one. I didn’t know the difference between a Passport Card and a Passport Book, but a small paragraph at the beginning of those four pages of instructions made it easy for me to decide. If I only wanted to go to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, then I needed a passport card. If I wanted to travel internationally, then I needed a Passport Book. Okay, that was simple enough. I needed a Passport Book since I want to visit Canada and Australia.

The next nine items on the application were a breeze. I didn’t even need the instructions. It only asked general information about myself such as name, date of birth, sex, place of birth, social security number, email address, phone number, mailing address and any other names I had used (Maiden Name, Legal Name Change, etc). I also thought question ten was going to be easy since it was asking for parental information, but I got stuck when it asked me for my parent’s place of birth. I knew the state where my parents were born, but not the hospital. After a couple of phone calls, I learned they were both born at home and the respective towns where they lived. I’m glad they asked me that question.

There’s also a small box for a photo on page one. A small paragraph on page two of the instructions said it had to be a color photograph of you alone on a white background. It also gave some other criteria such as the photo had to be taken within the last six months, size of the photo and things you couldn’t wear. I know what you’re thinking, “I have to dress up to have my picture taken?” That’s not it at all. They want you in street attire, but you need to take off your sunglasses, baseball cap, “Bluetooth” device, etc. Sorry, no jamming to your music or talking to your friends while they are taking your picture.

I had seen signs in a few stores that they took passport pictures, so I called a local store that’s usually not too busy to verify I didn’t need an appointment. I walked into the store, got my picture taken, paid my $6.50 and was out the door in less than 15 minutes with two color 2 x 2 passport pictures. Of course I can’t guarantee you will get your passport picture done that quickly, but that’s one advantage of living in a small town.
Let’s get back to the application. There’s a big warning at the bottom of page one saying not to sign the application until told to by an authorized agent. Yes, I was ready for page two. You might be saying “That was easy, but she’s going to come to a standstill soon”. That’s what I thought too; however there were more easy questions on page two. I needed to reiterate my name and date of birth and then answer some simple questions like my height, hair and eye color, occupation, employer, contact phone numbers, permanent address and emergency contact information for someone who would not traveling with me. They also wanted to know my travel plans, if I had been married and information regarding my husband and that significant date we got married. Finally it asked if I had ever applied for a passport book or passport card before. Yes I said finally, meaning that was the last two questions! As I said in the beginning, the application was simple.

I had my application completed and my passport pictures, now I needed to find proof of U.S. citizenship and proof of identity. Luckily I found my certified birth certificate – the one with a seal, as the proof of U.S. citizenship. If you can’t find your certified birth certificate, you can request an official birth certificate from the county courthouse where you was born. If you don’t have a U.S. birth certificate, there are a few paragraphs devoted to proof of U.S. Citizenship in the instructions. This includes a section on U.S. Citizens born outside the United States.

Proof of identity was easy for me. I could use either my driver’s license or my government identification badge since both of them contains a picture of me and my signature. There’s also a section on proof of identify in the instructions if you need it.

Last but not least, they wanted my money. Of course, they accept payment in several forms – checks, major credit cards, money orders and cashier’s checks. If you apply at a designated acceptance facility such as the U.S. Post Office, then you have to pay them too since they review, complete and submit your paperwork.
I called the local U.S. Post Office that processes passport applications and set up an appointment. On my appointment date, I took my unsigned application, passport photos, official birth certificate and driver’s license to the post office. He looked over my application, attached my passport photo to the application, and looked at my birth certificate and driver’s license. Once satisfied I was the applicant and the application was complete, he had me sign the application, give him a check for $25.00 payable to the U.S. Post Office and a $120.00 check payable to the Department of State. He said I’d receive my passport in the mail in four to six weeks. I don’t have my passport yet, but it’s only been two weeks.

You are probably wondering what was in all those four pages of instructions. There were sections on special requirements for children, federal tax law, notice to customers applying outside a state department facility, remittance of fees (separate from the fees section), other uses of social security numbers, notice of applicants who lost or had a previous passport book/card and of course the paperwork reduction statement.
Now wasn’t that easy? Don’t put off that trip like I did. Enjoy traveling the world. I’ve heard there’s amazing sites to see and I’m looking forward to seeing it firsthand. Bon Voyage!

By Dean A. Cox

“The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect any position of the Government or my agency.”

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