A passport is your global ID card—and, technically, the only thing absolutely required for travel abroad

When it comes down to it, you really only need three things to travel to Paris: (1) a plane ticket, (2) clothing, and (3) a passport. (Money also helps.)

Yes, you need a passport

This pages focuses on how to get a passport for U.S. citizens. If you hail from another country, use the links on the right under "Travel paperwork" (or embassyworld.com) to find the site of your local equivalent to the State Department or Foreign Office to get the details.
A valid passport is the only legal form of identification recognized around the world.

Your driver's license is not going to cut it in Paris. It only proves that some U.S. state lets you drive (though you will need that to rent a car).

You cannot cross an international border without a passport.

Well, OK, since 1997 you can criss-cross most of Western Europe without flashing a passport, but you still need it to get into France in the first place, plus to go to Great Britain and Ireland (it's an insular thing), Switzerland (it's a neutrality thing), and most of Eastern Europe (it's a holdover-from-the-Iron-Curtain-days thing).

You do not need a travel visa for France

Citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and most other countries in the developed world do not need a travel visa to get into France. (You are automatically issued a 90-day tourist visa when you enter the country.)

How do I get a U.S. passport?

Getting a passport is easy—all it takes is two photos of yourself, some government forms, and $135—but it takes some time to complete the process.

Make sure you start the paperwork at least six to ten weeks in advance of your departure. It'll probably only take 3-4 weeks (and there are ways to expedite it—for a fee), but don't tempt fate.

This process involves showing up in person at a Passport Acceptance Facility (which includes many major post offices, some libraries, courthouses, and other government buildings; the list is at travel.state.gov). You cannot simply apply for a passport by mail.

Since all the current details on how to apply for a passport are so readily available on-line, there's little reason for me to rehash it all here—just go to the excellent State Department site (travel.state.gov) and it'll walk you through the process. But here are a few useful pointers:

Tips for getting a passport

You'll need two identical passport-size photos

You'll need two identical passport-size photos (2" X 2"), which you can have taken at any photo shop or most major chain drug stores.

You cannot use the strip of pictures from one of those photo vending machines.

Go ahead and get six made up. You'll need extras to apply for an International Driving Permit, student or teacher identification cards, and sundry other reasons.

Take the rest of the photos with you. You'll occasionally need one for random reasons on the road and—heaven forbid—if you ever lose your passport, you can use one as a replacement photo.

You'll need to bring proof of U.S. Citizenship

Proof of American citizenship usually means a previous passport or a certified birth certificate with both parents' full names (not a photocopy, but a certified copy and a registrar's seal—usually raised or embossed—and signature; you can order one from the state in which you were born).

If you are a citizen but were not born in the U.S., you can bring a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Certification of Birth, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Certificate of Citizenship.

Note you must also bring a photo ID, so if you don't have an old passport, you must bring a driver's license or equivalent (military ID or other government-issued photo ID)

When you go to apply for your passport, bring two checks.

For reasons known only to the federal bureaucracy, you have to fill out two separate checks (one is an Application Fee, the other an Execution Fee).

Silly? Of course. Still, its impossible to argue with the federal government: just bring two checks.

You want the "Passport Book," not the "Passport Card"

You'll be given a choice of a Passport Book, and Passport Card, or both.

What you want is the "Passport Book." This is the traditional, old school passport.

The "Passport Card" was essentially designed as a low-cost alternative ($55 versus $135) for truckers and others whose business constantly takes them back and forth across the border with Mexico or Canada (though it is also valid for Bermuda and most Caribbean countries, so it is used by some cruisers and snowbirds who don't bother traveling anywhere else).

You cannot use a Passport Card to go to Europe—or to Asia, South America, Africa, or anywhere else besides the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. It is, therefore, pretty pointless.

It can take up to 10 weeks to get your passport

Ten weeks is the best the government will promise (actually, they don't even promise that; they simply state it as a ballpark).

In practice, it usually only takes about 4–6 weeks (I once got a renewal passport just two weeks after dropping off the forms), but don't count on it arriving sooner than 10 weeks.

There are three ways to get it faster:

  • You can pay the government a $60 expedite fee and they'll try to get the passport to you in 2–3 weeks.
  • You can pay for an expedite service like RushMyPassport.comRushMyPassport.com (see to the box on the right), where fees start at $99 to get a passport in 8–12 business days (up to $299 for 24-hour service; see next tip for details).
  • If if is a life-or-death emergency, the government can get you a passport in 24–48 hours, but you have to apply in person at a Passport Agency (there are only 25 of those in the country) and bring poof of the emergency.
What if I need a passport in a hurry?

You can get an expedited passport in as little as 24 hours—if you're willing to pay for it.

Services like our partner RushMyPassport.com (www.rushmypassport.comRushMyPassport.com) can get you a new passport, or renew an old one, quickly for an expedite fee, which goes up depending on how soon you need it:

• 8–12 business days - $99
• 5–7 business days - $149
• 3–4 business days - $199
• 2 business days - $249
• 1 business day - $299

Note that those prices are just for the fast service; you still have to pay the government fees for the passport itself.

"Almost expired" is the same as "expired"

Note that most countries will not let you in if your passport is set to expire within six months.

If your passport is getting on in years and is due to expire within six months of your return to your home country, it's wisest to replace it with a new one before your trip.

Tips for carrying around your passport

Make three photocopies of your passport

Make three photocopies of your passport (the open page with all the personal data, not the cover).

This is the main item on your backup info sheet (along with other IDs, the numbers to call if you lose your credit cards, etc.).

  1. Keep one copy with you at all timesseparate from the original
  2. Keep the second copy hidden in your bag somewhere (or have your traveling companion carry it)
  3. Leave the third copy at home with a trusted friend, neighbor, or relative who can fax it to you in case of emergency.

Full story

Keep your passport with you at all times securely in your money belt.

Keep your passport with you at all times securely in your money belt.

The only times you should ever hand over your passport are:

  • At the bank for the tellers to photocopy when they change your traveler's checks
  • At international borders for the guards to peruse (this includes giving it to the conductor on overnight train rides)
  • Whenever any police or military personnel ask for it
  • To the desk clerk at your hotel (briefly) when you're checking in if asked (see next tip).
Hotel front desks will often want to keep your passport overnight.

Hotels have to register you with the police, and some like to pile all the passports in a drawer until the evening so they can do all the guests' slips at once.

Smile and ask politely whether they can do their paperwork on the spot—or at least let you come by in 15 minutes or so, after you check into your room, freshen up, and are on your way out to hit the town.

I always tell them I need it to go exchange money at the bank, whether I'm flush with cash or not.

If you lose your passport, go to the nearest consulate of your home country

Head immediately to your home country's consulate. Do not pass go, do not collect €200.

Bring all forms of identification you have, and they'll get started on generating you a new passport.

Needless to say, this is a hassle that should be avoided at all costs. Again: carry your passport in a moneybelt at all times.

And yes, it is your country's consulate you want, not the embassy (though they are often in the same building; for Americans: france.usembassy.gov/pass-lost.html). » more




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The passport office in Washington, DC
The passport office in Washington, DC (you can just mail in the forms, though.)