Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Have Passport -- Will Travel

On Saturday, March 10, the U.S. Department of State celebrated its 4th annual Passport Day in the USA and the holiDAYtrips blog was invited to attend a behind-the-scenes tour of New York’s main passport agency, located at 376 Hudson Street. How in the world could we pass that up! Well, luckily, we didn’t; and, here is the account of our day and the answers to some questions that we were excited to get to ask the folks in know!

The Passport Agency is located in the Greater NY Federal Building.

We were hyperaware all day that we were fortunate to be on the premises and to have this special access. And, there is nothing more exciting than walking into a government agency with a camcorder and a still camera (and permission to use them) and having the sign above be one of the first things you encounter!

Groovy Passport Day logo!
Our tour was conducted by Customer Service Manager, Kathryn Foss, and we were joined later by Regional Director, Michael Hoffman. Once the tour began, we headed first to where the passports are crafted. I was particularly excited to check out the inserts that we savvy travelers tend to send a away for, when our standard size passports start to get too full to accommodate our stamps. And, that’s when I got my first nugget of great news...

Listen up, this one’s good! When you fill out an application for a new passport, you can select the option to get the larger, 52-page book (with the insert pages already included) for NO ADDITIONAL COST!! There’s an additional box (to the right of the option for the standard size, 28-page book) and if you didn’t know to check it, you’d never know that you could save yourself a massive headache and some bucks down the road!
(I’m slapping you a virtual high five from here over this one!)

Sam Eagle is totally giving you the stink eye.

Ms. Foss even noted that the Department of State was surprised by how few of the larger books get ordered, being that they’re offered at no additional price.

Want a visual? Let me break it down for you here:

And, I will freely admit, I was angling hard for them to give me a free insert of pages -- to strictly make the video segment more informative, of course! (No dice! They were professional and probably extra hip to my game. Sneaky world travelers!)

Next we had a really satisfying Q & A. Here are a couple of particularly great gems that we sniffed out for you guys,  mingled in with some of my personal tips for passport etiquette:

  • The U.S. Department of State has a really handy app, called Smart Traveler, that iPhone and iPad users can utilize prior to and during their travels. Two of my favorite features are the “know before you go” section which includes country specific entry/exit requirements, up-to-date travel alerts, maps, and embassy locations; and, the “smart traveler enrollment” feature, which allows you to upload your itinerary directly to the state department. That way, they can better assist you in case of an emergency. (And, guys, whether you use an app or not, this should be a drill you are already implementing. Registering your travel with the Department of State is the smart thing to do – it’s safer for your government to know where you are.) And, if you don’t have an iPhone, the Department of State's mobile site is “compatible with virtually all mobile devices” – according to their official website. The only thing I wish the app included is CDC recommendations for any vaccinations and meds you might need when abroad. They do link to the CDC website, but it would be great to have all the info in one place.
  • You’ve heard this tale of warning many times, but I got firm confirmation that some countries WILL DENY YOU ENTRY if you don’t have a full 6 months before your passport expires. Could you imagine getting off a 16+ hour flight in coach, only to be turned around and sent back?! So, be keenly aware of when your passport expires. Better yet, subtract 6 months from that date and consider that to be your new expiration date.
  • Similar to the last one, make sure you check out how many pages the country you are visiting requires you to have unstamped. Some countries REQUIRE SEVERAL FULL PAGES for their visa, and will not permit you to enter if you only have one page left unstamped. 
  • This one is for the families who received passports at the same time. Typically, children’s passports expire before adult passports. So, if you got a passport to go on a family holiday when you were a teenager, don’t assume that you’re okay to book a new family vacation based on mom and dad’s passports having plenty of time on them. Check everyone’s passports separately.
  • Keep your immunization records with your passport. I have a special spot in my passport holder just for this. There are some countries that REQUIRE PROOF OF IMMUNIZATIONS before they will allow you entry. Once you’ve gone through the trouble to get your shots, make sure that you have visual evidence of the pain!
  • Steer clear of holidays! When you know you are going to need a new or renewal passport, avoid submitting your application right before seasons that many others will be doing the same. The best times to apply, should you want to get your docs back quickly, would be well before the spring, summer, and winter break seasons.

The US Passport Card...Good for Land or Sea
  • The US passport book vs. the US passport card. I’ll admit, I needed the skinny on this one. Basically, the book is used everywhere, at all points of exit and entry; and, if that is your only passport type, you’re covered. The card only works in places to which you are traveling by land or sea. Again, if you are flying, you cannot use the US passport card. However, the card is an especially good idea if you live in a city (like NYC) where you don’t drive. The card may then be utilized as your standard government ID, in lieu of your lack of a driver’s license.
  • Make a copy…or several. Whenever I travel, I make a photocopy of my passport and keep the copy on me whilst leaving my actual passport in the hotel safe. This way, I don’t risk getting it lifted and still feel secure in having my identification on me. Additionally, I have entrusted pdf versions of my passport to close family members; and, they can always forward that copy to whomever might need it, should I get into an unforeseen scrape!

Honestly, our tour of the NYC passport office was pretty thrilling. Everyone was exceptionally welcoming and willing to answer all of our questions – even when they were along the lines of “Why does it take so damn long to get my passport renewed?” And they were especially accommodating when we asked to see the “archive” of old passports, or “past”ports, if you will…

Overall, I was really impressed with our tour and the promotion of the event, as a whole. Reaching out to travel bloggers in order to let the public in on the behind-the-scenes activities of a government agency was a refreshingly modern concept for Passport Day! Kudos, Department of State! (If I was allowed to wear a hat in my passport photo, I would tip it to you!)

Happy Travels,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:


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  4. Please take down the blank passport card image. It is being used by crooks to make fake passport images. I'm a merchant who requested a photo ID to verify an online order, and was given this image filled in. It nearly burned me for over a thousand dollars. Please remove the image.