How to travel outside the U.S. without a passport

The fee to apply for a new passport in 2011 is $135.  Any person who wishes to travel outside of the U.S.  has another option if they do not want to pay this fee.

All U.S. citizens can travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda without a passport, but they must have a passport card, which costs $55 in 2011.  The important thing to remember about this is that airline travel is not allowed with a passport card.  If a person wishes to go to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda with the card, they must go via ground (car/train/bus) or sea (cruise/boat).

Although more than 2,700,000 passport cards have been issued to U.S. citizens, there is not much chatter about them.   This is most likely due to the limitation they place on where/how to travel.  However, if one has no desire or reason to go to any of the places not listed above, there is no reason to spend the extra money on a regular passport.  There are 26 countries in the Caribbean alone, so anyone who loves the beach could spend a lifetime of happy vacations without a passport.

Passport Card (US Dept of State via WikiCommons)

The card looks similar to a U.S. Driver’s License.  It has a vicinity-read radio frequency identification (RFID) chip in it that does not contain any personal information.  The technology allows Customs and Border Protection inspectors access to photos and other biographical information that is stored in secure government databases, not on the chip itself.  The information can be read by Customs when the traveler nears the inspection point.

The following is a direct quote from the U.S. State Department website regarding the chip:

“The passport card uses state-of-the-art security features to prevent against the possibility of counterfeiting and forgery. A protective RFID-blocking sleeve is provided with each passport card to protect against unauthorized reading or tracking of the card when it is not in use.”

How to get a passport card: There are 9,400 locations across the country.  Most post offices offer this service, but there are other locations also.  Click Here to find the one closest to you.

You must apply for the card in person if any of these are true:

You are applying for the first time
You are under age 16
Your previous U.S. passport was issued when you were under age 16
Your previous U.S. passport was lost, stolen or damaged
Your previous U.S. passport was issued more than 15 year ago
Your name has changed since your U.S. passport was issued and you are unable to legally document   your name change.

If none of the above conditions are applicable and you already have a U.S. passport, you may apply for a passport card by mail.  However, in my opinion, there is no reason to do so.  Keep the book and travel the world.

Documentation required to issue the card is the same as needed for a passport.

Bring the following to your application center:

One of the following forms of proof of U.S. citizenship:
Previously issued, undamaged U.S. Passport
Certified birth certificate issued by the city, county or state (a certified birth certificate has a registrar’s raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar’s signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar’s office, which must be within 1 year of your birth.  In addition, all birth certificates must include the full names of the applicant’s parent/s.)
Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certification of Birth
Naturalization Certificate
Certificate of Citizenship

If you do not have any of the above, Click Here for Secondary Evidence of U.S. Citizenship options.

One of the following forms of I.D.:
Previously issued, undamaged U.S. passport
Naturalization Certificate
Valid Driver’s License
Current Government ID (city, state or federal)
Current Military ID (military and dependents)

If you do not have any of the above, Click Here for Secondary Evidence of ID

A copy of the front and back of your form of ID above.  Note it must be on plain white 8-1/2″ X 11″ paper with the images on only one side of the paper.  You may use two pieces of paper.  The image may be enlarged but not decreased.

Form DS-11 – Click Here for form.  Do not sign it, as it must be signed in front of processing personnel.  Your Social Security number will be needed.

Fee: $55 for adults, $40 for minors under 16.  If applying at a Passport Agency (Click Here for locations), payment may be made via credit card (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, Discover); debit/check cards; checks (personal, certified, cashiers, travelers – make payable to “Department of State”); money orders and bank drafts – make payable to “Department of  State”.

If applying at one of the aforementioned Passport Acceptance Facilities (Click Here for locations), the application fee ($30 Adult/$15 Minor) is to be paid via personal checks, money orders, bank drafts (make payable to “Department of  State”) or exact cash (at some locations).  The execution fee ($25 Adult/Minor) is to be paid separately by money orders or bank drafts (payable as instructed at Acceptance Facility), personal checks and exact cash (at some locations), and credit cards at post offices and some other locations.

One passport photo – Click Here for photo requirements.

How long does it take? The card will come in the mail.  As of today, applications take approximately 4-6 weeks.  For expedited service (an additional $60), cards are issued in approximately 2-3 weeks.

May 10, 2011

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  • It’s really a nice and useful piece of information. I’m glad that you shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’d just like to clarify that you CAN travel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix) WITHOUT a passport if you are a U.S. citizen, as these are U.S. territories. You must show an official government-issued photo ID, such as a current driver’s license or a state ID card, and proof of citizenship (such as a certified birth certificate). If you, however, travel to another island during your travels that is NOT a U.S. territory, you would need a passport.

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