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16 Practical Tips to Prevent Passport Problems

Carelessness is the main cause for a passport application being rejected or delayed or for a passport being lost, stolen or damaged. But what steps are necessary to prevent these things from happening? How can you take care of your passport? Below are practical tips you can follow to acquire your passport, keep it in your possession and preserve it in good condition.

Before You Go

1. Check to see if you need a passport.

Countries can, and often do, change foreign entry requirements. Arrive at the airport without the required documents and you will be denied boarding. This is not covered by travel insurance.

Presently, more than 80% of the world's countries require a passport for entrance. If you have any doubt about your planned destination, visit our Foreign Entry Requirements Page.

2. Apply early.

You should apply for a new passport at least three months before your departure date. For a renewal, start 8 to 11 months before your passport expires. Why so early? Many countries require that your passport have six months validity remaining before they will issue a visa.

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3. Fill out the correct form correctly.

Each type of passport service has specific criteria that must be met. Make sure you get the right application form. Then fill it out carefully. Double-check each entry. Ask a friend or relative to verify it as well. Errors made on the application form can lead to rejection of your passport request. If the State Department does not catch the error and prints it in your passport, you could find yourself being barred from entering your plane.

4. Follow the specifications for the accompanying documents exactly.

When applying for a new passport, the most frequently used documents are a certified birth certificate for proof of citizenship and a valid driver's license for proof of identity.

Your birth certificate must be a certified copy with a registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within 1 year of your birth. No photocopies are accepted. Your driver's license must be more than six months old.

For a passport renewal, your previous passport serves as both proof of citizenship and proof of identity. It cannot be mutilated, altered, or damaged in any way.

If you do not possess any of the above documents, click here for a list of alternative documents that are acceptable.

You must send a passport photo taken within the last 6 months. They must be 2x2 inches with a plain white or off-white background. They have to be full-face with the head being from 1 to 1 3/8 inches from the chin to the top of the head. The photos can be either color or black and white.

5. Sign both the application form and your check.

Surprisingly, many people forget to sign either the passport application form or their check to Passport Services. Once again, check everything twice and ask for someone else to verify.

6. Request additional pages.

Are you a frequent flyer? Ask for a 52-page passport at no additional cost. It will allow you to travel longer before replacing it.

7. Sign your passport and fill out the emergency information.

When your passport arrives, check to see that all the information contained in it is correct. If it is, sign it and fill in your current address and the name of a person to contact in case of emergency. If not, return it to the State Department for correction.

8. Make two copies of your passport and photos.

Give one copy of your passport to a friend or relative who can be easily contacted in case of an emergency. Take the other copy and the extra photos with you on your trip. If you use an online document storage service, you can scan your passport and upload a copy. That way, you can access it from any cybercafe in the world.

While You're Away

9. Keep your passport in a safe place.

Never leave your passport in your baggage, backpack, purse, automobile, hotel room or elsewhere. When you must carry your passport, keep it in a money belt or inside coat pocket. Upon arrival at the hotel, put your passport in the hotel safe.

10. Never lay your passport down anywhere.

Passports placed on a counter, phone booth or table can be easily forgotten or stolen. Acquire the habit of immediately putting your passport away after using it.

11. If you travel in family or in a group, don't let one person carry all the passports.

The odds are much greater for one person carrying all the passports to lose them or have them stolen than for all the passports to be stolen or lost if they are carried by each individual owner.

12. Never let anyone leave your presence with your passport.

When you are checking in at the airport, passing through customs, exchanging currency or doing anything else that requires you to show your passport, never allow the person examining your passport to leave your presence. If the person starts to leave, call their attention and request to accompany them.

Law enforcement records show that U.S. passports are sometimes used for illegal entry into the United States or by criminals abroad seeking to establish another identity. You would be pretty embarrassed if your name were associated with illegal activities.

13. Immediately report the loss or theft of your passport.

If you are careful and follow the tips above, you shouldn't have any problem with the loss or theft of your passport. If it does occur though, immediately notify the local police and then proceed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Take the copy of your passport and extra photos with you. You will be issued a temporary passport that you can replace upon returning to the United States.

After You Return

14. Schedule your passport renewal.

Check the expiration date and make a reminder to renew your passport at the proper time. Remember, you should begin the process 8 to 11 months prior to it's expiration. Put the reminder somewhere where it won't be forgotten.

15. Check the number of blank pages remaining.

Some countries require a blank page for their visa. If you plan a future trip on which you will visit various countries, you might need the same number of pages as countries to be visited. If you do not have an adequate number of pages, you will have to apply for a renewal early.

16. Store your passport in a safe place.

If you have a home safe, keep your passport there. If not, consider a safety deposit box at your local bank.

BONUS TIPS: How to Avoid Problems When Expediting Your Passport

All the tips for regular passport processing also apply when expediting your passport but there are three more that are specifically relevant to acquiring your passport quickly.

Get your new passport application adjudicated.

Some people mail their application for a new passport directly to the passport expeditor thinking that they can present it to the passport acceptance agent. They can't. The person applying for a new passport must personally appear before the acceptance agent.

Send an Authorization Form

No passport expediting company can present your passport application to the State Department without your written authorization. You can get this form from the passport expeditor you choose to contract. Print the authorization form, fill it out and sign it.

If you are applying for a new passport, make sure that the acceptance agent does not seal it in the envelope that the courier service will carry to the State Department. If this happens, the expediting service will not be able to open the envelope to get it out. Therefore, they will not be able to present your passport application for processing.

Send your itinerary.

If you purchased your ticket online (e-ticket), you can print either the confirmation message in your browser screen or the email confirmation and send that. If you go through a travel agency, ask your travel agent to print off a copy for you. If no printed itinerary is available, you can personally type one and print it off.

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