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Five ways to avoid passport delays

By Catholic Online
May 10th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

If there is some exotic locale in your travel plans for the immediate future, you'll need to pack more than your toothbrush, suntan lotion and a favorite novel in your carry-on bag. You'll need a United States passport, the all-critical key to successful travel beyond U.S. borders. New government travel rules that went into effect in 2007 require that all U.S. citizens have a valid passport when traveling by air to and from Bermuda, the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada. This legislative change resulted in unprecedented demand for passports over the summer. In June of 2007, the U.S. State Department reported that there were nearly three million applications pending for passports, pushing the turnaround time from the standard four to six weeks to twelve weeks or longer.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Don't let your travel plans get sidelined before they ever get off the ground. To ensure your trip is smooth and delay-free, keep these five passport guidelines in mind:

1. Be mindful of the expiration date.
If you've had a passport for a while, take a moment to check the expiration date; you won't be able to travel if the date has already passed. If it expires after you leave, you may have problems being allowed back into the country. Also, bear in mind that certain countries require that passports be valid for three to six months after your arrival. The exact amount of time varies, so contact the U.S. State Department or your travel agent for the entry requirements for your destination.

2. Apply as far in advance as possible.
The first six months of the year are the busiest for passport agencies, so give yourself at least two months if you're ordering with regular delivery or three weeks for expedited service (add an extra $60 to your passport fees for expedited service). Traveling within 14 days? Make an appointment with the closest regional passport office. You can check the State Department Web site (http://travel.state.gov/) for locations or visit the trusted passport expediting services posted on www.OfficialTravelDocuments.com.

3. Take a clear photo following passport photo guidelines.
There's no need to wait in line at a photo studio. Your local copy shop or drugstore may be equipped to take instant passport photos at an affordable rate. You'll need two copies (2 inches by 2 inches in size) of the same photo, but photocopies are unacceptable, even if you use a good color printer. Your head must take up 50 percent of the photo, so don't try to submit a full-length shot of your body. Have your picture taken against a plain background with no hat or dark glasses that could cover your face, and print the picture on photo-quality paper to ensure clarity. If the photo is too dark, your application might be rejected, and you will have wasted valuable time.

4. Make sure you have your birth certificate.
If you are applying for your first passport, or if you need new passport and don't have your old one handy, you will need a certified copy of your birth certificate as proof of U.S. citizenship. All official birth certificates must be processed through the city, county or state where you were born. If you can't find your old copy and need new one fast, you can visit the vital records office in the city where you were born, if you still live there, and request the record in person. Or, you can avoid the hassle of driving, parking and waiting in line, and simply order the record online through the company authorized by government vital records agencies nationwide--VitalChek Network, Inc. a ChoicePoint company. With online expedited ordering services available at www.vitalchek.com, you have a safe, convenient and quick way to get a certified copy of your birth records at affordable prices set in conjunction with the government agencies.

5. Carry a photocopy of your passport.
What do you do if you lose your passport while you're in a foreign country? Report it to the local police in case it was stolen and contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The more information you have about your missing passport (the passport number, when and where it was issued, etc.) can help speed up the process of getting a replacement so you can return home. Make a photocopy of your passport before you leave on your trip and keep it in a suitcase or purse, just in case. You may even want to leave a second photocopy of your passport with a family member at home for additional security.

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