Getting a kids passport is required before traveling internationally with your child. This week I’m starting with information on how to apply for or renew a kids passport, then I’ll share a couple of passport-related stories from our year-long trip around the world.
Since January 2007 all travelers entering or leaving the U.S. by air must have a passport – even infants. Passport cards are required for sea and land travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean region, and Bermuda as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
Get used to checking your passport and your kid’s passports as the first step in planning a trip outside of North America. A valid passport has an expiration date that is more than six months beyond the departure date of your trip. There should be between two and four blank visa/stamp pages available. If you’re flying, not meeting one or both of these requirements could cause you to be denied boarding. If you’re traveling via car, not having passports could lead to unwanted hassles and a delay getting back into your country at the end of the trip. Adult passports are valid for 10 years. Passports for children under 16 years of age are valid for 5 years.
If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see that we were not so careful on one of our trips. One of those passports has an issue location outside the U.S. Trust me, the experience of being denied boarding on your flight home is not one I’d wish on anyone – with or without kids!
HOW TO APPLY FOR KIDS PASSPORTS
If you are applying for passports for the first time for your children, read through the instructions provided on the Department of State website thoroughly before you complete the application. Their requirements for applying for a child’s passport include:
1. Proof of U.S. citizenship
2. Evidence of relationship to parents
3. Parental identification
4. Parental permission to apply for a passport
The parental permission requirements are very important. Both parents must be present when the passport application is submitted. If one parent cannot be present either proof of sole authority to apply or notarized permission from the non-appearing parent must be provided. In addition to all the above paperwork, you’ll also need to have two photographs of each applicant which conform to the State Department requirements (provided on the passport form and on the website).
Passports for children under 16 cannot be renewed by mail. Treat each renewal as a new application i.e. bring original documents with you each time – the expiring passport is not valid as proof of citizenship for children under 16.
If you’re renewing a passport for you or your child over 16, you can do so via mail by sending form DS-82 along with your most recent passport, two passport photos, and funds to cover the fee to the National Passport Center. Mail-in passport applications can be expedited for an additional fee and extra shipping charges. (See travel.state.gov for current fees).
WHERE TO APPLY FOR KIDS PASSPORTS
The many locations where you can pick up passport forms are post offices, city halls and courthouses. Passport applications are not processed at these locations. There are 13 regional passport agencies where you can submit passport applications in person at which applications are processed on site. These applications are treated as expedited passport requests – with the associated fees. You must have an appointment to apply for your passport at one of these agencies and appointments are issued only if you can prove that you will be traveling within 14 days (by showing an airline ticket or similar documentation at the appointment). Applications submitted at passport agencies are fulfilled within 48 hours.
These days with e-tickets, automated check-in machines and ground staff who are very busy, it’s important to take responsibility for your own paperwork – so you don’t end up stranded somewhere. Be particularly vigilant with your children’s passports. Five years can pass so quickly.
If you are a U.S. citizen (or the parent of a U.S. citizen) applying for a passport for the first time, you can pick up passport application forms at one of many locations across the U.S. These form(s) can also be downloaded from the Department of State website and submitted by mail. The processing time for passport applications is about six weeks.
Once you submit your application, you can use either the Online Application Status Check tool on the Department of State website or call the National Passport Information Center to get information on your application. Don’t leave your applications or renewals to the last minute. If you think you might be traveling within the next 12 months, send in the application.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR KIDS PASSPORTS (AND YOURS)
Your passport is the most valuable item you’ll carry with you when you travel. Keep copies of the front page of your passport and your children’s passports both at home and in your luggage. Some countries require that hotels register guests with the police and will ask for your passport as ID. While this is a normal procedure, the U.S. government recommends you retrieve your passport the very next morning. If possible, leave a copy of the passport rather than the original.
For our year-long trip we scanned our passports and stored those digital copies on internet-accessible storage (e.g. Google docs or DropBox). We also carried paper photocopies of the passports – which we had to re-create at least a couple of times along the way as the originals got battered from too much use.
If you lose a passport while traveling abroad, immediately contact the local authorities and the nearest embassy or consulate for your country. If you have a copy of the lost passport, it will make the replacement process go much more smoothly. If a valid passport is lost or stolen while you are at home, alert your passport agency and apply for a new one.