It is now federal law that to leave the United States of America, a citizen must have a current U.S. passport, or in a few circumstances, a passcard. It is no longer possible to travel to Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, Bermuda, the Caribbean Islands and Central America with just a birth certificate or driver's license. Getting a passport is not hard. Below is the basic information you need to know about getting a United States passport.
To get a U.S. Passport, it is necessary to apply IN PERSON. Even minor children must appear in person. The United States Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Passport Services/Customer Service has designated many post offices, clerks of court, public libraries as well as other city, county and state government offices as able to accept passport applications. Using the Passport Facility Acceptance search engine (link below) you can search via state, city or zip code for the facility most convenient to you.
When you go to apply for a passport, you must take with you proof of citizenship, proof of identity, completed DS-11 application for passport form, a valid photo ID such as your driver's license, and an official copy of your birth certificate with the embossed seal on it to prove you are a United States citizen. You will have needed to provide a 2" by 2" photograph taken of yourself within the past six months. The requirements for the photographs are quite precise, and are listed on the website linked below. You will also need to bring payment for the appropriate fees. Bring with you a photo copy (front and back) of every identification document (such as a driver's license) that you plan to present. Execution fees are paid separately and some locations do not take credit cards or checks and may require cash.
Not all cruises (dependent upon destinations) require a passport. Nor do you need a passport to visit U.S. Territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, it is highly recommended that you get an official U.S. Passport nonetheless. Why? Because if your ship stops in at a foreign port of call and you are taken ill ... you will not be allowed to fly home, not even for medical treatment, unless you possess a valid U.S. Passport.
Private expedition services are available and are a racket. They claim to be able to tell you at any point in time where your application is in the process, and that you will not be able to know this information otherwise. This is not true. On the United States travel.state.gov website (link below) there is a link for "application status" that lets one know where their application is in the progress of the process at any time after five to seven days of the application having been submitted. At present (July, 2011) it takes, on average, 4-6 weeks, with regular service, and 2-3 with door to door, expedited service.
If your current passport is undamaged and caqn be submitted with your application, was issued when you were sixteen years of age or older, was issued within the past fifteen years and was issued in your current name (or if you can legally document your name change) then you may apply for a renewal of your passport via mail. You must fill out U.S. Form DS-82, which is available at http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/ds82/ds82_843.html.
Be aware that when you plan to enter a foreign country, that you must have at least six months remaining on your passport (and at least one blank stamp page) even if you plan to only visit for one week!
Never had a passport yet. Good points for when I finally travel away from the Lower 48. H5
Great helpful passport information presented well.
Thanks for the passport info. H5
Although I have a passport, I did not realize that if you do not have one and you get sick on a cruise ship in a foreign port, you may not be allowed to fly home for treatment! Thanks for this info. H5
select one here...