March 9, 2012 at 8:53 AM ET
Need a passport or some extra pages for the one you’ve got?
To show up at most of the country’s 25 regional passport agencies you typically need a weekday appointment, plans to travel within two weeks and an extra $60 for the expedite fee.
But no appointments or travel plans are necessary this Saturday at the 25 regional passport offices during the U.S. Department of State’s annual Passport Day in the USA. (While many of the non-Department passport acceptance facilities do have regular Saturday hours, some that do not will also be open March 10. Check the Passport Day site to find out what's open and when.)
“This is the only Saturday that passport offices will be open this year,” said Elizabeth Finan, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. “And it is a good opportunity for people who work during the week and parents who need passports for their children to take care of this task.”
On Saturday, travelers will be able to apply in person for a passport that requires standard processing, which is 4-6 weeks. Those who need expedited processing (2-3 weeks) will still have to pay $60 extra.
Finan said the bureau picks this time of year to hold its annual Passport Day (this is the fourth year) “because we want it to be at a time that’s convenient for people who are starting to plan their summer vacations.”
She also recommends that passport seekers arrive early because, at some agencies, the lines may be very long. Customers are also encouraged to complete applications online and bring their completed, unsigned forms.
In 2011, almost 110 million Americans — just over a third of the U.S. population — had a passport. The number of passport holders has more than doubled since 2001, when just over 52 million citizens had passports.
More than 12.6 million passports were issued in 2011, including 1.2 million passport cards. These wallet-sized cards are less expensive than passport books ($55 for a first-time applicant; $30 if you already have a passport vs. at least $110 for just a passport book) and, if lost, are easier and less expensive to replace than passport books. The cards are fine for traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda, but are not valid for international air travel.
The cards can be applied for through the mail or at an acceptance facility, but the U.S. State Department is running a pilot program that allows travelers already holding a passport to apply for the cards online. “The turnaround is faster,” said Finan. “You also save some money because you don’t need to mail in a form.”
And it’s never too late to become a world traveler even if you don’t yet have a passport book or a passport card.
In a short video titled “My First Passport” on the Department of State website, Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton shares the fact that the first time she used her passport was on a trip to London with her husband, Bill, and that now as Secretary of State she’s been to more than 100 countries and traveled more than 700,000 miles.
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