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16 Tips for Preventing 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.

The majority of international destinations require a valid passport for entry. While you can enter some countries without a passport, you may still need a passport for reentry to the United States due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that was inaugurated in 2007. 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 or allow entry.

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3. Fill out the appropriate 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 on 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 should not be mutilated, altered, or damaged in any way.

You must send one passport photo taken within the last 6 months. It must be 2x2 inches with a plain white or off-white background. It has 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 photo must be in color. Black and white photos are no longer accepted.

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 at any time.

While Traveling Abroad

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 a coat pocket. Upon arrival at the hotel, put your passport in the hotel safe.

10. Never leave your passport lying 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 with 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 at no additional cost.

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 its 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 and/or entry stamps. 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 adequate number of pages, you need to submit your passport for a renewal. You can no longer apply for additional pages; this service has been discontinued effected January 2016.

16. Keep your passport in a safe place.

If you have a home safe, keep your passport there. If not, purchase a fireproof/waterproof case and keep your passport, along with other important documents in it. We do not recommend keeping it in a safety deposit box because you would be unable to retrieve it during non-commercial hours.

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About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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