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All About Passports And Visas
We've had some questions in the past about what exactly is involved in obtaining a passport or visa. So, here's our crash course in both!
All About Passports
What is a Passport?
A passport is needed if you are going to be traveling outside of the country. The United States passport formally identifies you as an American citizen, and allows you to enter your destination country, and then to reenter the United States. Full information about the United States passport can be found at the U.S. Department of State Passport Home website.
Where can I apply for one?
You can apply for your passport at almost any post office. Many times, you will need to schedule an application in advance, as post offices can be very busy places and may turn away walk-in applications. You can search for post offices that take passport applications in your area here.
What will I need to take with me when I apply?
You will need some form of identification, such as your birth certificate (with the raised seal, not a copy). This is to prove that you are a United States citizen. If you do not have a birth certificate, other documentation can be used to identify you. A list of proper identification can be found here. You also will need to bring along checks to pay the application fee, which is different for minors and adults. In addition to your identification, you will need two identical photos (sized 2x2 inches) of your face, looking straight-on to the camera. Finally, you will need the passport application, which you can find here.
Where can I get my passport photos taken?
Sometimes the post office in which you will apply for your passport takes photos on site. If the post office near you does not offer this service, you can go to a packing/shipping store, such as FedEx/Kinkos or the UPS Store. Some pharmacies and other places that offer one-hour photo developing services also take passport photos. Bear in mind that you must pay for every photo taken; so if the site charges $13 per photo, you will be paying a total of $26, plus tax.
How long before I leave the country should I apply for my passport?
A passport generally takes six to eight weeks to process and ship. Mine took two weeks, but a friend of mine waited three months for hers -- so my advice would be to apply just as soon as you know you'll be traveling out of the country. You can have it expedited as well, which will cost extra, but will have a two-week turnaround.
For how long will my passport be valid?
Your passport will be valid for ten years, or until you choose to renew it. If you have had your passport for nearly ten years, you should have it renewed at least six months in advance before you plan to travel out of the country. This allows time to process and reissue the new passport.
All About Visas
What is a Visa?
A visa is a stamp affixed to your passport, allowing you access into a particular country. Whereas a passport allows you to travel to any country, the visa gives you permission to enter a specific place. However, this only guarantees you access into a port of entry (like an airport terminal), after which you'll have your application for entry reviewed by an immigration officer.
What is the difference between a student visa and a tourist visa?
A student visa is just that: it's a visa for students who wish to study in the particular country where they will be visiting. The general policy is that, if you want to take a course of 12 hours per week or less, then you can apply for a visitor visa. If you're going to be a full-time student (around 18 hours per week), then you can apply for a student visa. This tells the immigration officer of your host country that you plan to take classes while you are there.
Where can I apply for one?
This is kind of tricky. The requirements are different for different countries, so right now, I'll use Australia as an example. If you are going to be in there for longer than 90 days, you'll apply for a tourist visa with a long stay.
You will need your passport, which needs to be valid for at least three months longer than you plan to be in Australia. This is to ensure that, if you end up staying longer, you can still have a valid passport. Also, you will need a visa application form, which you can find online at an Australia visa service website. You will need to prove that you will have enough money to get by while you are in the country as well.
Along with these items, you will need a letter from your employer -- this is assuming you are not traveling with a student visa -- stating that you plan to come back to your home country and keep working after your stay. You will need a flight itinerary, a letter outlining what you will be doing in Australia, the completed Global Reservation Form, and a processing fee.
Once you have completed all of this, you submit your paperwork to TraVisa, which is based in Washington, D.C. Information about applying for a visa can be found here.
For how long will my visa be valid?
Unlike your passport, which is valid for ten years, your visa can have varying lengths for how long it will be valid. The standard, short-stay visa usually is valid for six months, but you also can apply for a longer stay one, which can be valid from one to five years.
This is not to say that you have permission to stay in that country for five years! You are only allowed to stay for as long as you are permitted by the immigration services of that particular country.
Image attributions: Rob Pearce and Mazzali, Flickr/Creative Commons.