If you want to leave the country, you need to have a passport. Your passport is a document issued by the State Department that permits you to leave and reenter the country lawfully. Without one, your international travel plans may be useless.
For the most part, the process for getting a passport is simple and unchanging. You can find and print the correct application for your needs online, or visit a United States Post Office that offers passport services and fill one out there. After a period of processing (and, potentially, the need to supply secondary documents or further information), you’ll receive your passport and be ready to travel.
However, there are a handful of changes about to occur-both in the form of new laws and application trends-that you should be prepared for if you plan on traveling outside the country in the next few years.
Changes to Come
These are some of the most important changes coming to U.S. passports:
1. The 10-Year 2007 Surge.
In response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks (and the resulting aftermath), the United States government passed a law in 2007 that formally required anyone visiting Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean to have passports. As a result, there was a surge in applications for 10-year passports as millions of people who never needed passports before suddenly feared they would be required. This shouldn’t affect your chances of getting or renewing a passport successfully, but it will influence your turnaround time. Already, it takes six weeks or more to process passport applications and renewals, so if there’s a sudden surge in applications, that delay could be extended even further. Plan ahead by applying earlier than you think you need to-or use the help of a registered passport expediter like FastPort Passport.
2. The REAL ID Act.
The REAL ID Act is complicating matters even further. Under this piece of legislation, states are required to update their forms of identification to include higher-level security features, such as embedded chips that can be easily read by machines to verify authenticity. Some states are ahead of others, but starting in January 2018, travelers using old driver’s licenses or similarly obsolete pieces of identification could be turned away at the gate-even for domestic flights. All licenses must comply with these new standards by 2020, but in the meantime, travelers are beginning to take extra precautions.
3. Better Security Features.
Soon, you can also expect passports to come with better security features. Some of these include an embedded chip, which can help verify its authenticity, ink and artwork that is harder to replicate by counterfeiters, and a lower page count to encourage people to get new passports more frequently. The pages are also going to be perforated with tiny holes that vary in size, intended to make it harder to make alterations (and hopefully cutting down on theft and replication).
Tips for New Passport Holders
If you don’t currently hold a passport and you plan on leaving the country sometime in the next few years, follow these tips to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible:
- Apply early. Time estimates hover around six weeks for processing time, but that may take significantly longer, especially if there’s a sudden influx in applicants and renewals. Apply early-several weeks earlier than you think you need to apply. It’s better to have a passport approved early, well before you need it, than to have it stuck in processing when you’re ready to leave the country.
- Prepare for new security standards. For the most part, the security features on your new passport will simply entertain you, but you may have to prepare for new security standards at airports, including chip readers and more intense scrutiny.
- Keep your passport safe. This has always been practical advice, so don’t let the new safety features lull you into a false sense of security. Keep your passport safe and well-protected at all times, at home and abroad.
If you already have a passport, and it’s going to expire within the next few months, be proactive and get it renewed now. The sooner you apply, the less likely you are to face a delay that will interfere with your international plans.