The Skinny on Passports
Traveling under the protection of one ruler or land while in the land of another has probably existed since the beginning. The earliest mention of this arrangement was in 450BC when the Persian king Artaxerxes went with letters from the king requesting safe passage to the lands beyond the Euphrates.
First American Passports
The first American passports were issued to some of the citizens of the thirteen states during the War for Independence (1775-1783). Benjamin Franklin, then the minister to France, designed these first documents. U S passport were issued by the Department of State as well as states, cities and notaries public.
This lead to confusion abroad and some European countries refused to recognize those not issued by the Dept of State. In 1856 Congress gave the Dept of State sole authority to issue U.S. passports. Still, there was not any statutory authority requirement until World War I. Required passports for Americans under U.S. law began in 1941. A 1978 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 finally made it illegal to enter or depart the U.S. without an issued passport.
Changes Over Time
U.S. passport design and contents have changed over the years. In 1926 it had a red cover and was 32 pages long, from 1941 to 1976 the cover was green then changed to its current blue. Additionally there are currently brown covers (US employees stationed overseas and members of Congress), black covers (American diplomats), blue-green (refugees, permanent resident aliens).
There also is a U. S. passport card which is a small ID card which can be used for crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, Caribbean and Bermuda. It is not, however, valid for air travel.
Acquiring a Passport
There are 22 regional passport agencies in the U.S. We are very fortunate to have one close to us in Norwalk, CT (overflow from NYC office). The agencies can produce a passport within 24 hours for emergency situations. Additionally, 9000 passport acceptance facilities including post offices, courts, libraries, county and city office accept routine passport applications. There also are Passport Expediting Companies to assist those who can’t submit their application at any of the Regional Agencies.
Fees are based on the type of document. A first time adult applicant pays $110 per passport book, $30 per passport card plus a $25 execution fee for 10 year vaildity. Minors (up to 16 years) pay a $80 application fee and $15 for passport card plus $25 execution fee for 5 year validity. If you require faster processing, there is a $60 expediting fee (2-3 week processing time) And my “tip for the day” is to request additional visa pages to your passport book at time of application, there is no extra charge and the number of pages in your passport increases from 32 to 52. If you need to do this after the passport has been issued there is a charge of $82.
Every person who is a US citizen must have a passport when leaving the US. That includes all persons born or naturalized in the US plus persons born in Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, Mariana Island. When applying for your first passport you’ll need your orginal birth certificate, wedding license if you name is not as on your birth certificate plus two 2X2 passport photos. Additonal information is required for children under 16 years.
The most recent change in passport has been the legal driving force of biometric passports. All passports issued after 2006 have a microchip which stores the photograph of the passport holder,passport data and personal data of the holder. This radio frequency identification chip (RFID) is large enough to store biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and retina scans. The data is scannable by readers which speeds up immigration processing. The passport cover contains a radio-frequency shield, so the cover must be open for the data to be read.
Having your passport at the “ready” gives real credence to the phrase “don’t leave home without us”. Additionally, it’s a good idea when traveling, to have a copy of your passport and extra photos, in case your passport is lost or stolen you’ll have something to present to the closest American embassy to get a new passport.