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How important is a passport?

What’s small and blue and opens the doors to the world? A passport. Of course, I’ve been traveling for so long that I can remember when all I needed to get into Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean was a driver’s license and a birth certificate. Those days are gone because now every single country outside of the United States requires us to have a valid passport as of January, 2007.

I hear people moan and groan all the time about the paperwork they have to fill out (2 pages), the expense ($110 depending on your age), and the hassle (maybe an hour of time). In truth, I’ve had driver’s license renewals that were more aggravating. The end result, though, is that the passport will be the single most relevant document that you will have as a U.S. citizen. It’s issued by the U.S. Department of State and is virtually impossible to forge. This makes having one a very valued form of identification. If you travel internationally, whether for work or pleasure, you really can’t leave home without it. It is your entree into most countries.

A passport also helps you keep track of where you’ve traveled and it becomes a diary of sorts. One of my favorite things is looking through my passports, both old and new, looking at the stamps and reminiscing about the trips I’ve made. It brings back some wonderful memories. And if I’m totally honest, I also get a good laugh at looking at my old passport photos.

There are two types of passports, the book and the card, and there seems to be some confusion regarding one versus the other. The passport card is merely for use if you’re driving across a foreign border. You cannot use it to fly internationally. With that being the case, I advise that everyone get the book instead. It’s good for 10 years for persons over 16 years of age. For those under 16, it’s good for five years.

In situations where people are sailing on a closed loop cruise, which is a cruise that originates and ends in the United States, a passport is not required. The only requirement is an original or certified birth certificate and a government issued ID. However, I cannot stress enough the important of having one. I know of a traveler that was cruising to Mexico and had a scooter accident while there. Although it wasn’t life-threatening, he needed to return home in order to receive medical treatment. A greater problem was that he had no passport, so while he was in a state of emergency, he had to go to the U.S. Consulate’s office where it took him hours to obtain the proper documentation to return to the U.S. People aren’t bullet proof on vacation and things do happen. Having proper documentation will help you in the event that you are traveling abroad and need to return home due to an emergency. Otherwise it becomes a case of “Houston, we have a problem”.

As a general rule passports should have at least six months of validity when traveling internationally. Most countries won’t permit a traveler to enter their country unless the passport is set to expire at least six months after the final date of travel. So a word of caution, dust off your passport, don’t assume that you remember the expiration date, and double check to make sure it’s still valid.

A passport makes travel so easy and convenient. If any last minute deals arise and you have a passport, then you can hop on a plane to Paris, Rome, or a tropical island. The world truly is your oyster, but only if you have that little blue book.

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