It would be convenient to blame Les Leach of Thousand Oaks for my current obsession with the documents one needs (or will need) for travel. Leach wrote to ask what one should do if a passport is misplaced or lost.
But instead I will thank him because his question spurred a productive chat with a State Department official who offered lots of info, including:
— The cost of a passport book or card for first-time applicants and those younger than 16 will increase by $10 starting April 2.
— People are increasingly getting the passport book and card. (The card is easy to carry, although it generally can't be used for border crossings by air.) If you apply for both, don't panic if you don't get the card when you get your passport book.
— If your passport is 9 years old, get a new one, especially if you're going to Spain, Italy, France or one of 22 other European countries.
— If you think you've lost your passport, look again. It's a pain to replace if you're abroad.
The "execution" or acceptance fee that first-time applicants and applicants younger than 16 pay is going up.
The agencies and entities that handle those applications — think post offices, libraries, court clerks and others — charge a fee that's wrapped into the total cost. That fee has been $25 for about a decade. It's increasing to $35.
Fair? Although much of life is not, this may be. "This is a revenue stream for them," said Deputy Assistant Secretary Brenda Sprague. "It encourages them to stay in the business."
New prices: first-time adult book, $145; first-time adult card, $65; child's passport, $115; child's card $50.
If you're renewing by mail — which means you already have the book or card — your costs won't go up.
You will be able to renew online one day, but that is not now. Sprague keeps pushing for online renewals but it has been slower than she would have liked.
Where the heck is my passport card?
If you applied for both the passport book and the card, they probably won't be returned in the same envelope. Wait about 10 days before reporting the card lost. The card will be returned in a separate cover after the book, and your application materials will be in a third mailing, Sprague said.
You can find the lost passport or card form under Passports on travel.state.gov. (Look for "Think your passport is lost in the mail?") at lat.ms/lostpassportform
When to renew
Those countries mentioned above and 22 other European countries are part of what's called the Schengen area, not to be confused with the European Union.
If you're a U.S. passport holder, you are allowed to stay in a Schengen country (the list at lat.ms/schengencountries) for 90 days.
What you do need is six months of validity on your passport, the State Department suggests, because the Schengen areas think you'll stay the allowed 90 days and those European countries want your passport to be valid for 90 days beyond that.
Your passport might look valid, Sprague said, but those countries and many others can be strict about validity. See country-specific information at travel.state.gov to read about what your intended destination requires.
Why do it a year in advance? "Although we have been very, very proud of our ability to meet our service timelines, you never know" when demand might surge, she said.
A tip for parents with a child studying abroad or anyone who has a family member overseas: If you don't have a passport, get one, Sprague said. If you need to get there in a hurry, having a passport means you can go ahead and book your ticket — and avoid expedited fees.
Don’t lose it when you lose it
To Leach's point about preemptive action, being prepared for the worst is the smelling salts for the "I-want-to-faint" feeling when your passport is missing. If you're at home, make sure that it's not tucked in the sock drawer or the safe. Same if you're abroad.
But if it is gone, you'll have an easier time replacing your passport if you have:
— Color copies of your information page, which will have your passport number.
— At least two extra passport photos with you.
— Proof of citizenship (one of the uses for that passport card).
Note that there may not be an embassy where you're visiting, and even if there is it may be closed on the weekend or for a holiday.
If there's any good news in this, your passport information will be in a system that allows the replacement process to begin.
Real ID update
I applied for my Real ID driver's license on Jan. 22 and was told I would have it in about 10 business days. It arrived Feb. 2, so that info was right on.
Some points to understand about Real ID:
— You don't need a Real ID license to board an airplane until October 2020. Other forms of identification such as passport also will get you on a plane. You can see the list at lat.ms/TSAAcceptedID.
— Real ID licenses help only for domestic air travel, not international air travel. You will still need a passport book for international travel by air. If someone at the Department of Motor Vehicles tells you that a Real ID is like a passport, as one reader reported, that is not correct.
— The font used for the word "California" is different on California's Real ID license. Otherwise, to my unpracticed eye, the changes didn't stand out, except that the person staring at me from the picture now looks much, much older, and she clearly fudged the truth when she said her hair was brown. (There was no category for brown with many gray highlights.)
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