If you have to eat two frogs, the old saying goes, eat the bigger one first.
For those planning a trip abroad, getting a passport or visa is like that frog entree: It may be distasteful, but once it's done, you can move on to more interesting trip-related tasks.
The State Department is trying to help travelers get things done more efficiently by providing forms and information on its Web site and by aiming to deliver the final document within 25 business days.
There's even help for those who have waited a little too long to eat the frog.
If you are an adult applying for a new passport, begin by finding a "passport acceptance facility," such as a post office or a courthouse, where you can obtain an application form. Or you can go to http://www.state.gov, which has application forms that can be downloaded and can tell you where your nearest application facility is. You will need proof of U.S. citizenship, a certified copy of your birth certificate from the county or state (not a hospital birth certificate), or a consular report of birth abroad or certification of birth, or a naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship.
You will also need two recent, identical passport photos, 2 inches square, color or black and white, shot against a white or off-white background, and $60. New applicants must appear in person (and may need an appointment, so call before you go), at which time they must present proof of identity, such as a driver's license. The U.S. passport is valid for 10 years.
An adult renewing a passport may do so by mail. Forms are available on the federal Web site above and at approved facilities.
An important change for parents is the new rule governing passports for children. Both parents must sign the application for a child younger than 14. "It's a congressional mandate to address the problem of child abduction," said Tom D. Reid, regional director of the Los Angeles Passport Agency. The child also may need to go with the parents for the application; to be sure, check with the facility. Minors' passports generally are good for five years and cost $40.
Another change: Photographs on new passports are digitized onto the page, making them more difficult to tamper with, Reid said.
If you are going abroad within two weeks and don't have a passport, help is still at hand. The Los Angeles Passport Agency, 11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1000, in the federal building at Interstate 405, can help you speed the process. The office serves as many as 700 people a day, so you must have an appointment. Call (310) 575-5700 for information. You will receive your passport within about two weeks and perhaps sooner in extreme cases.
You can have someone else handle the details of the rush process by turning to a private company that specializes in quick turnarounds. "We basically take your ulcer," said Michael Callahan, president of Passport Express Services Inc., (800) 362-8196, http://www.passportexpress.com.
Such companies have grown quickly in the last few years as international air fares have declined and more people venture abroad.
These companies work to get passports quickly--sometimes within 24 hours--but at a cost, sometimes as much as $150 (in addition to the cost of the passport), depending on how fast you need the documents. Make sure, though, that you're dealing with a reputable company by checking with the Better Business Bureau.
If you need a visa, you will need to apply to the embassy or consulate of the country you will be visiting. To see which countries require visas, go to http://www. travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html. The publication "Foreign Entry Requirements" may be ordered for $2.75 from Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; (202) 512-1800.
Some rush-order passport companies also can handle visa services. Fees vary from $50 to $75 plus the cost of the visa.