It turns out that Project Pacific Circle was the last tour of duty my old passport would see, as its expiration date later this year loomed on the calendar. When it came time to renew, I not only found out what I’d need to do to put another ten years on my international travel clock; I also learned a few fascinating facts about passports that everyone should know!
1) You Can Renew Your Passport By Mail
I always thought renewing my passport would require a trip to the local Passport Processing Center at my Post Office. In fact, I was able to handle the whole renewal process by mail. The State Department’s website includes instructions on how to renew your passport by mail. You can fill out most of the paperwork right on your computer, then print it out and sign in two places and be ready to go.
2) You Can Take Your Own Passport Photos
Not only will the State Department’s website help you fill out your renewal paperwork online, it’ll also help you take your own passport picture and save an unnecessary trip to your local photo shop. Along with details on how to frame your picture, the State Department’s website also includes a simple tool to crop your picture to just the right size and resolution. Print out the finished product at home, staple it to your paperwork, and you’ll be ready to go!
3) Your Passport Doesn’t Belong To You
You might call it your passport, but it isn’t, really. Your passport is US Government property, according to Title 22, Section 51.9 of the Code of Federal Regulations. As the inside of your passport reads, “It must be surrendered upon demand made by an authorized representative of the United States Government.”
4) John Kerry’s Got Your Back
Have you ever read the very first page of your passport? The same sentence appears in English, French and Spanish just inside the cover:
The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.
This request harkens back to the earliest days of the passport, when written notices signed by monarchs and other ruling powers would serve as a request for safe passage and assistance and provide a level of diplomatic immunity to nobles, diplomats and other travelers away from their lands on official business.
The earliest evidence of a passport-like document dates back to roughly 450 BC, issued by the King of Persia and requesting an official’s safe passage to Judea. That first paragraph of your passport can be directly tied back thousands of years, and similar requests can be found in the front of nearly every other passport issued worldwide.
5) It Doesn’t Count If You Don’t Sign It
Make sure to sign your passport when you receive it! Without a bearer’s signature, your passport is invalid. If you’re helping a young child or someone else incapable of applying their own writ to a passport, you may sign it on their behalf, but a signature of some sort is still required.
6) You Can Get A Passport With More Pages For Free!
This is an important one for diehard travelers. Some folks might only attain a few passport stamps over the ten years their passport is valid, but passionate travelers are liable to fill theirs up. While standard passports have 32 pages, many of them contain information or can only be used for endorsements, leaving less space for the visa stamps you receive when entering a country. Some countries like Brazil even take up a full page, rather than the standard quarter-page-sized stamps most countries use.
However, there’s an easy solution: on your passport application, you can request a 52 page passport instead of a 32 page one. That’ll give you 20 full pages of additional space for more stamps. Best of all, there’s no additional charge for these thicker passports!
7) You can Get A Second Passport
Having a second passport can be useful in a variety of situations.
For one, some countries might hold onto your passport for a significant amount of time while processing a visa for future travel, and you might need your passport for another trip in the meantime.
Second, if your primary passport is running out of space for new stamps, a second passport can provide some breathing room.
Third, a second passport can be critical when traveling to certain areas of the world for political reasons. For example, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen bar entry by travelers with proof of visits to Israel in their passport. Using a second passport allows you to circumvent this rule, so long as you keep one clear of stamps from travel to Israel.
Second passports are good for just 2 years, rather than ten. Because many countries require at least 6 months’ worth of valid time be left on your passport, that means an effective use time of about 18 months.
You may request a second passport by completing Form DS-82, including your existing valid passport, proof of departure dates for an upcoming trip and a letter explaining why you require a second passport. A $110 fee can net you a second passport in roughly four weeks, while $170 will earn expedited service. Our friends at The Points Guy have a full guide to getting your second passport.
8) Your Passport Cover Is An RFID Shield
Since at least 2006, all newly issued passports in the United States have included an RFID chip. A lot of paranoia swirls about the possibility of personal data being lifted off of passports by malicious hackers. This has given way to a cottage industry of passport shields and various covers that purport to keep hackers away from your passport’s data.
According to the State Department, the truth of the matter is that your passport’s own cover is all the shielding you need from rogue RFID sensors. The chip can only be successfully read while your passport is open, so skip spending the extra for a wallet or shield duplicating this clever functionality.