Going overseas? Check your passport’s validity. An adult’s U.S. passport is valid for 10 years. But don’t plan on traveling overseas just before your passport expires, says Brenda Sprague, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for passport services.
Increasingly, some countries require that a traveler’s passport is valid at least six months from entry. In many European countries, three months is required.
So your passport still may be perfectly valid, but you may be denied entry to a foreign country (or not allowed to get on your flight). Sprague’s suggestion: “Once you pass the nine-year mark, it’s time to get a new passport.”
Why the six-month (or three-month) rule? Countries don’t want to risk having visitors overstay their passports’ validity, then being unable to travel and technically becoming their responsibility. (The U.S. also imposes the six-month rule for foreign visitors from certain countries.)
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You can find each country’s requirement about passport validity through the State Department’s website,travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html
Getting a passport: First-time applicants or those under 16 must apply in person. You used to be able to submit your application at almost any post office. Now not every post office accepts applications. Sometimes libraries do. Sometimes court clerks do.
The best way to find a passport acceptance facility is by searching by ZIP code or city at iafdb.travel.state.gov.
Within the Seattle city limits there are 10 places (including the King County Courthouse, post offices and neighborhood service centers) to submit passport applications in person.
People renewing passports can generally do so by mail: See travel.state.gov
Page-numbered passports: The days of passports with unnumbered pages (for country entry/exit stamps and visas) are numbered. Starting in 2016, pages will again be numbered so it will be easier to tell how many pages you have left. That’s important because some countries won’t accept passports that have fewer than four pages remaining.
Also starting in 2016, you won’t be able to add pages to your passport.
But you can order a passport book that’s 52 pages in total (with 43 pages for visas and countries entry/exit stamps) instead of the standard 28 pages (17 for visas), and it doesn’t cost extra. You also can request the 52-page passport now.
More security: The 2016 model passport will contain a polycarbonate page in which the info chip (which makes your personal data machine-readable) is embedded and thus better protected, something many countries are doing, Sprague said. The coating helps if your passport gets wet or you sit on it and bend it, she added.
Processing time: The State Department’s stated times it takes to issue a passport are generally four to six weeks, but, Sprague said, “we consistently beat that.”
Since summer 2007, when a record 18.3 million passports were issued and applications sometimes took months, the number of passport adjudicators has doubled, she said, improving wait times.
“Our goal is no missed trips,” Sprague said — trips that are missed because you don’t have your travel documents. (You’re on your own if you oversleep and miss your flight.)
More with passports: Remember when it was the rare American who had a passport? In 2013, 117.4 million Americans had passports; in 1989, that number was 7.3 million.
Kristin Jackson of The Seattle Times and Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.