For summer trips, passport season is in full swing

April 09, 2006|By TOM PARSON | TOM PARSON,THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS

As we enter the peak summer travel season, travelers won't be competing just for bargain airfares. They might also be competing with fellow travelers to get their passport application processed.

Normal passport processing time is six weeks, but it's already the peak period, according to the U.S. Passport Bureau. So those who need a passport -- even infants and children must have their own -- shouldn't delay.

A passport is an internationally recognized document verifying identity and nationality. Effective Dec. 31, anyone traveling to or from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda must present a valid passport if they are traveling by sea or air.

Starting this summer all applicants will be issued new, state-of-the-art electronic passports, a State Department official said. The new passport, the same size as the old one, has redesigned interior pages and a small integrated circuit, or chip, embedded in the back cover. The chip stores the same data that appears on the data page as well as a biometric identifier -- a digital image of the passport photograph and a digital signature to protect the stored data from alteration.

By the end of the year, the United States plans to introduce a "travel card" that would allow U.S. citizens to travel by land to Mexico and Canada. The card, similar to a driver's license, will likely cost about $50.

To get a passport the first time, go to one of 7,000 passport facilities, including many post offices, some public libraries and a number of county and municipal offices. Passports for those 16 and older are valid for up to 10 years. The cost for those 16 and older is $97; for those 15 and younger, $82. Credit cards, checks, money orders or bank drafts are accepted, depending on location.

The Passport Bureau will expedite the application for an additional $60 plus the cost of two-way overnight delivery (U.S. mail, $11.75 each way). For one-day service, independent expediting service companies charge up to $145, plus the regular fees.

Passports can be renewed by mail if the current passport isn't damaged, was issued within the past 15 years, the holder was older than 16 when it was issued, and their name is the same or they can legally document a change, and they have the two required photographs.

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