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Your passport is you: Protect it

By ROBERT N. JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2005

Your driver's license might be sufficient identification for you to cash a check in the United States, but it carries no weight as proof of who you are in other nations.

The only universally accepted form of identification to the world's government officials is a valid passport. Because of that, a U.S. passport is highly valued by some thieves, so you must protect yourself against its loss.

The best protection is to not carry it when out on the town but to leave it in a hotel safety deposit box or in-room safe.

If you must carry a passport, such as when traveling between countries, keep it secured under your outer clothes. Travel merchandise companies, some motor clubs and retail stores sell various carrying cases that you wear around your waist, ankle or hanging from your neck.

While U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate staff can issue a replacement passport for one that is lost or stolen, you must provide a fair amount of proof as to your identity, and the number of your previous passport.

Even if you have memorized that nine-digit number, the quickest way to satisfy those questions is to present the employee a photocopy of the personal data pages of your passport; these pages at the front show your name, passport number, photo and date and place of issuance.

So before you leave home, make a color photocopy and and carry it with you while traveling, but never where you carry your passport or wallet. Keep it in your carry-on luggage or in a separate inside pocket.

If your passport is lost or stolen, report that immediately to the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate and to local police. Once you do this, the U.S. government will enter the information in its computer and that will tell all other U.S. officials that that passport cannot be accepted as proper identification for you or whoever is presenting it. Your emergency replacement passport is valid for one year but there is no fee to then replace it with a full-term passport.

The details

To apply in person in the United States for a passport, go to http://iafdb.travel.state.gov/ and search by ZIP code and by state for the offices that provide the service.

For a list of all U.S. embassies and consulates, by country and city, go to www.travel.state.gov/travel/tips/embassies/embassies_1214.html

To obtain a passport for the first time, you need to go to one of about 7,000 passport acceptance facilities throughout the United States. These include many federal, state and probate courthouses, post offices, some public libraries and a number of county and municipal offices.

You must bring two color photographs of yourself, proof of U.S. citizenship and a valid form of photo identification such as a driver's license. You must also bring payment for the passport; fees are listed below.

Your photographs must be 2 by 2 inches in size and identical. They should have been taken within the past six months and show your current appearance. The image must be a full face, front view. If you wear glasses for everyday use, you should be wearing them in the photo. You cannot be wearing a hat in the picture.

There are also 13 regional passport agencies, which serve customers who are traveling within 14 days and who do not have a passport. Appointments are required.

The nearest of these offices to the Tampa Bay area is the Miami Passport Agency, Claude Pepper Federal Office Building, 51 SW First Ave., Third Floor, Miami, FL 33130-1680. This office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding federal holidays. The automated appointment number is toll-free 1-877-487-2778.

If you had a U.S. passport that has expired, you must apply in person to any of the 7,000 offices if: that passport was issued more than 15 years ago, it was issued when you were younger than 16 years old, or it is not in your possession.

Fees for passports are:

AGE 16 AND OLDER: The passport fee is $55, the security surcharge is $12, the processing fee is $30, for a total of $97. This passport is valid for 10 years.

AGE 15 AND YOUNGER: The passport fee is $40, the security surcharge is $12, the processing fee is $30, for total of $82. This passport is valid for five years.

The fees to renew a passport, which can be done by mail, are, respectively, $55 and $12, for a total of $67.

For more information, the State Department's passport home page is www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html

[Last modified July 29, 2005, 09:22:04]

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