Getting or renewing a U.S. passport is as simple as visiting a post office. Dozens in Southern California are designated to handle passport applications for the State Department. The passport agency in the Federal Building in West Los Angeles no longer handles routine applications, only emergency requests by appointment. (These are for travel within 14 days and require proof of urgency such as airline tickets.) Telephone (310) 575-5700.
General passport information is available 24 hours a day from the National Passport Information Center, tel. (900) 225-5674. A fee of 35 cents a minute will be charged to the caller. It takes about seven minutes to hear all of the general information. On weekdays from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., a service representative can be accessed at any point in the message by dialing 0 (zero). The representative can tell you which post offices taking applications are convenient to your ZIP code. Contact with the representative costs $1.05 per minute.
If you are using a phone that can't be billed, the same information is available at (888) 362-8668. This costs $4.95, billed to your credit card. Forms and information also can be accessed from the State Department's Internet Web site: http://www.travel.state.gov (click on Passport Information).
To obtain a passport for the first time or to renew a lost or expired passport, you must apply in person at a designated post office. You will need to show proof of citizenship and photo ID such as a driver's license, and submit two new 2-by-2-inch photos.
Starting July 2, both parents must sign the application, in person, for a child 13 or younger. Many countries will not accept a passport that's within six months of expiring.
The cost is $60 for a new adult passport (age 16 and older), $40 for renewal, $40 for a child's.
Most countries that are popular travel destinations for Americans do not require entry visas.
Travelers can get visas from embassies or consulates, or from local companies that specialize in this service. (See the Yellow Pages under "Passport Services.")
A list of countries that require a visa can be found at the Internet site http://www.travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html.