How to Get a Passport
By Maggie Lee
(ABOVE) UC Berkeley Passport Office: 2301 Bancroft Way
If you have never had a passport and you are thinking about fleeing to Canada once Trump becomes our new president, as if that’s your only choice, it would be wise of you to get one now. Life is full of uncertainties: where might you end up next year, next month, tomorrow—who knows? You might receive a scholarship and be in Italy next semester, or you might meet a wanderlust who invites you to come along for his/her next adventure, which starts tomorrow. Your golden ticket, your romantic escape, or your plan to become a righteous American refugee will only be a dream if you don’t have your passport ready by your side.
A passport not only allows you to travel to another country, but is also a legal form of identification that serves as both a valid photo ID and proof of citizenship combined. This comes in handy when you are starting a new job where the company requires you to submit both. If you have a passport already, check for the expiration date. Most countries require your passport to have at least 6 months’ validity after your intended return date.
“Are you serious? This is my third time at a passport office!” said a frustrated applicant at the UC Berkeley Passport Office. They are for real. Passport agents deal with frustrated applicants all day, every day. Whether the applicant is missing an official birth certificate, valid ID, or a check for payment, 3 out of 5 applicants don’t have all they need and get turned away by the agent.
According to the U.S. Department of State, the current routine processing time has changed from 4 weeks to up to 8 weeks. In many countries, you need to have your passport months before the departure date for visa and air ticket purposes. Although many countries don’t require a visa, it is still better to be safe than sorry by making sure to double check the destination visa requirements.
If you’ve got the cash to burn and the time to spend, you can expedite the passport process and cut the processing time to 2 to 3 weeks by paying about $100 more than the regular process fee. Or you can go in-person to the closest federal agency when your travel date is in less than 2 weeks away and wait for up to three hours in line. But forget the stress and think about what you can do with that extra $100! Applying for a passport is not as easy but also not as complicated as you may think. With a little planning, you will get your passport and you will travel.
Bottom line: be the adult you are and be prepared! Here is the ultimate checklist, with tips on how to apply for a U.S. Passport:
● Go to the Passport Office at UC Berkeley during the weekdays before 5p.m. There’s little to no line! See: recsports.berkeley.edu/u-s-passports/
● The passport photo must be taken WITHOUT glasses, effective November 1, 2016, and must have been taken within 6 months.
● An abstract birth certificate is unacceptable! How do you know? Look for the word “Abstract.” If you see the word, get an official full-size copy from your birth county’s vital records office ASAP.
● Get a passport card! With an additional $30 added to your passport book fee, you can get a passport card. It’s a wallet-size ID, and although you cannot fly internationally with only the card, it is still a valid photo ID which proves your citizenship. This card may come in handy when you encounter unexpected events abroad (e.g. you’ve been mugged).
● Do take advantage of the mail-in only renewal form if you are eligible. Repeat: Mail in only. Do not use this form if you want to process your renewal in-person. For in-person it will be the DS-11 form, regardless of whether it’s new or a renewal.
● You need a passport to travel to Mexico and Canada, too!
● If you have a passport, make sure you have at least two blank pages and your passport is not DAMAGED.
● A starter check is an unacceptable form of payment. Starter checks are temporary checks the bank gives you when you first open a checking account.
Last tip for you: Don’t be lazy. If you are reading this article 6 months after it’s published, chances are some regulations have changed since. Always check the U.S. Department of State’s official website travel.state.gov for up-to-date information.