What Is a Passport?
is a passport? Bear with me as I start at the beginning of planning for
an international trip. If you're a citizen of the world for whom these
are commonplace, you'll be wondering "Who doesn't know THAT?" Well,
many Americans for one thing.
The United States is a large, diverse country. People can and
do live their entire lives without traveling beyond its borders.
There's plenty to see and do in this country. There is, in fact, a
large percentage of Americans that do not travel internationally. I'm
not sure there is an official count on this. I've read all kinds of statistics
including the fact that there are over 113 million valid passports in circulation.
So for those Americans and any others who are
unclear on this, let's get really basic. What exactly is this document?
To quote the United States Department of State, "It is a document
issued by a country to a citizen of that country, allowing that person
to travel abroad and re-enter the home country." There's a government
definition for you!
Every country in the world issues their own. Citizens of all
countries need passports to travel out of their country and into
another. There are exceptions, but that needs to be addressed in
The format is a small booklet that is 3 1/2 inches by 5 inches.
Applicants can choose between a standard passport with 28 pages or the
non-standard book with 52 pages. At the front there are the official
identification pages that contain your name and your officially affixed
photo. (You supply a 2 inch by 2 inch photo when you apply). This page
also contains the information on your birth date, where you were born,
when and where the document was issued, when it expires, and that
all-important passport number. You must sign it when you receive it for
it to be valid. In the United States, they are valid for ten years for
adults, and they're valid for five years for children 15 years of age
The pages that follow are empty waiting to be used for exit and entry stamps. Those empty pages are also where visas
will be stamped if they are required. (Again, that will take another article.)
When you're leaving the United States, there is no government
document control station. Your passport (and visas) will be checked for
validity by the airline
you are traveling with. When entering a new country, the Immigration
Officer will check your documents. They may stamp it with the date of
your entry. In most countries, you are allowed to visit for a limited
amount of time (generally thirty days) without officially applying for
an extended visit, so this stamp marks the start of your visit.
The Immigration Officer will check that date at your departure and
stamp you out. For most travelers, these stamps are great memories of
O.K. maybe you knew most of these. It's just good to understand
everything when you're planning your first big international trip. So
now that you know what a passport is, you can move on to getting one
and planning your itinerary!
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