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How to get a Passport

Updated on August 28, 2010
Photo by Phillip Bramble
Photo by Phillip Bramble

A passport a document given by the competent officer of a national state, permitting the 'person named therein to travel. It is usually a formal document establishing the holder's identity and citizenship, permitting him to leave the state, and requesting protection for him abroad. A United States passport, for instance, requests, in the name of the secretary of state, that the holder be permitted "safely and freely to pass," and in case of need be given "all lawful aid and protection."

Passports have been used for centuries as a means of identification and protection of persons traveling in foreign countries in times of peace or war, but the universal adoption of the passport as a state document and as an essential travel requirement is a development of relatively modern times. In the United States passports were issued by local authorities ard notaries as well as by the secretary of state until 1856, when, because of the refusal of foreign governments to recognize passports issued by local authorities, their issuance was confined to the secretary of state. Except for the Civil War period, however, passports did not become compulsory for foreigners traveling in the United States until 1918. Similarly, Great Britain did not require compulsory passports for aliens until shortly after World War I. Along with the adoption oi the compulsory passport, there also developed the mandatory visa, or endorsement of a passport by an official of a foreign state as a prerequisite for travel in that state.

After World War II a growing realization of the cultural, social, and economic importance of international travel, especially tourism, led to widespread efforts among the nations to relax or simplify passport, visa, and other travel regulations. As a result, many countries, especially in western Europe, made arrangements with other countries to permit tourists to enter without visas and, in some cases, without passports. Another relaxation took the form of the reduction or elimination of visa fees. The United States waived nonimmigrant visas for Canadians, British subjects resident in Canada or Bermuda, and certain Mexican citizens, and requires no passports from such persons provided they are traveling in the Western Hemisphere only. Similarly, United States citizens need no passports or visas for travel in Canada or Bermuda or for travel within certain duration limits in Mexico and a number of other Western Hemisphere countries. In many countries a simple tourist card is accepted instead of a passport.

Applications for U.S. passports may be made before passport agents in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, and Honolulu, or before clerks of 3,800 federal and state courts that naturalize aliens. In the case of native-born citizens, proof of citizenship is needed in the form of a birth or baptismal certificate, or an affidavit by a parent, a close, older blood relative, or some other person hating personal knowledge of the date and place of the applicant's birth ; a naturalized citizen must present a naturalization certificate. Persons claiming citizenship through a native or naturalized citizen must submit evidence of that person's citizenship. A previously issued passport is accepted as evidence of citizenship. Applicants must establish their identity through personal knowledge of the agent or clerk, through acceptable documents, or through an identifying witness. Two duplicate full-faced photographs, in black and white or color, both signed by the applicant and taken within the previous two years, must accompany the application; a group photograph is preferred for a family passport. Photographs may not be larger than three by three inches or smaller than two and one-half by two and one-half inches. On August 26, 1968, a new five-year passport law went into effect. All U.S. passports issued henceforth would be valid for one period of five years from the date of issue (rather than the previous three-year period) and were not renewable. All currently valid outstanding passports were automatically extended to a date five years from the date when originally issued, with no renewals. Passports already renewed were not affected. Also, it was possible, under certain conditions, for a person who had previously obtained a passport to apply for a new one by mail rather than in person.

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